Sociology doesn’t receive much attention in high school. While students learn math, reading, history, science, physical education and art early in their education, sociology is typically not offered until junior or senior years of high school. Even then, it is only an elective. I was an upperclassman when I took the intro to sociology class that piqued my interest in the discipline. I wondered why it wasn’t offered to underclassmen.
After taking college classes specifically focusing on sociology, I realized why the discipline wasn’t taught at an earlier age. Often clumped under the “social studies” heading, sociology is neither easy nor comfortable. One of the most prominent sociologists of the 20th century, Peter Berger entices students to join sociology by claiming that “things are not what they seem.” David Snow echoes these ideas when he developed the “ironic perspective” as one of the “values of sociology.” The irony in the sociological imagination is that it reveals things that are different than they appear or are expected to be. Sociology asks, “What is really going on in this situation? Is social life truly as I have been led to believe?” The answers to these questions can be upsetting.
For an example of the ironic perspective, consider the extreme death toll of the 1995 heat wave in Chicago. The number of deaths is attributed to more than personal sickness and hot weather. The city’s policies and the unusually high rate of people living alone in low-income housing contributed to the overflowing morgues. On a less fatal yet nonetheless sociological engaging topic, sociology can explain why an upstart sport like disc golf is caught between the counter-cultural and the mainstream.
The diversity in subject matter is one of the reasons why I am enamored by this discipline. The theoretical versatility produces a variety of subject matter. In any situation, when people gather together, sociological analysis can offer a better understanding. People engaging in small-scale interactions? There’s a sociological theory for that. It’s called symbolic interaction. People participating in organizations that contribute to society’s overall operation? There’s a sociological theory for that, too. It’s functionalism. People clashing over economic differences? The sociological perspective for that is the conflict theory.
Within all of the theories lies a sort of humanism. Sociology concerns itself with the issues and problems of human beings. It aims to offer more detailed understandings of people’s interactions with each other and with “the system.” For these reasons, I landed on the bulls-eye when I chose sociology as an undergraduate major. After I graduate in the spring, I have decided to pursue a doctorate in sociology. I can’t get enough of the discipline’s ideologies and worldviews.