February 2, 2018
Every aspect of our lives is shaped by our relationship with society and its influences. Sociologists' observations about society and how its influences affect us generates important information used to help us relate to one another, whether as consumers, citizens or community members.
Who are we and why do we do the things we do? How do people relate to one another despite their differences? What lies behind the conflicts that we can't seem to move past? Sociologists endeavor to answer questions that perplex us when we look at not only individuals but society as a whole.
Paul explained how sociologists look at how the different societal aspects can be compatible or conflict with one another. Think about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. If an incident occurs, such as what the public views as an excessive use of force by a police officer against a citizen, these two components of society must deal with increasing tensions. Pew Research Center looked at the social components of how police officers view their jobs versus the public's perception of the police officer's role in their community, the incidents that lead to protests and the aftermath. "When components conflict," Paul said, "social problems result, and this is an important aspect of sociological research." Information learned from this research is used to educate members of the community, provide demographic information to governments, help businesses better market their products and more.
The methods sociological researchers use to collect their information is similar to those of other sciences. Beginning with a question or a concept, researchers collect data using social experiments, surveys or participant observation. To give more substance their theory and how they plan to collect their information, researchers revisit existing sources available through academic or government research sites.
If a researcher wanted to explore the differences in how men and women take up physical space, how could she go about gathering data on this concept?
The observations made by sociologists contribute to many fields, including social services, criminal justice, journalism and even politics. "Sociology contributes to these fields as a knowledge base on how social and cultural factors impact people in different ways. It also contributes expertise on research methodology and statistical analysis required in these fields," Paul said.
An example of sociologists at work can be found in the collaboration between the justice system and community agencies. Sociologists and criminologists have been working for decades to find a way to reduce the number of repeat offenders and make it possible for the newly released to have a more positive transition back into society.
"Research demonstrates that offenders who earn a high school equivalency diploma while behind bars are more likely to get jobs after release," said Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. "Those who receive vocational skills training are more likely to get jobs and higher wages after release. And those who go through intensive drug treatment programs in prison are less likely to relapse outside of it," she said. "If we could implement effective programs, we could expect to reduce recidivism by 15 to 20 percent."
Petersilia said an approach to help make this successful would have to include community partnerships. "An excellent example is the Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI)," she said. This interagency program has social services, law enforcement agencies and religious institutions coming together and working with prisoners prior to their release, with continued support from the day they get out of prison to help them get reinstated into the community.
With mentorship and treatment options available thanks to this community collaboration, researchers found those in BRI had a 30 percent lower rate of rearrest than those not involved in the program. Research on programs like BRI continue to make progress on the issue of how to use social services in conjunction with the justice system. These programs are helping to find ways to reduce taxpayer spending on prisoners and lower crime rates while helping rehabilitated citizens get a fresh start.
There may be an opportunity for an entry-level position in the field, but most graduates with bachelor's degree in sociology gain their initial experience by finding jobs in related fields.
The community and social services sector is an in-demand field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social services will see a faster than average growth through 2026.
Earning a bachelor's degree in sociology with a concentration in community health can give you the opportunity to help the public. Community health workers gather information from people in their service area to address specific concerns that may be present, such as an increase in substance abuse or a need for diabetes education. Health educators strive to inform the community of issues regarding physical and mental wellness. Health educators and community health workers will see a 16 percent increase in jobs through 2026, according to the BLS.
The research that sociologists do have far-reaching effects. Their studies direct the steps taken to improve results in health, justice, human services and marketing fields. Earning your bachelor's in sociology opens up a wide range of opportunities to create change and impact the lives of people in the community.
Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a bachelor's in English language and literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on Twitter @AshDWallis.
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