“Sociology helped me cull out the vital facts which require focus without being biased or prejudiced”
Loy Maria Jose, Regional Manager, Make a Difference
Qualifications: MA/ MSc Sociology
Prominent institutions: JNU, D-SChool, BHU, Pune university, Madras university, MSU-Baroda, Allahabad university
Careers: Academic and research institutions, NGOs, professional research agencies, market research organisations, consumer insight companies, advertising agencies, and select government organisations
ARE you fascinated by the society you live in or would like to become an agent of social change? Sociology could be an appropriate vocation for you. “Without the tools of sociology, it is hard to come to grips with societal problems,” says Professor T. Raha, Head of Department of Sociology, Jesus & Mary College, Delhi University. It is intuitive to realise that an intelligent understanding of the society and initiation of any structural change in it would not be possible without the knowledge of its structure and mechanisms, which is valuable in social research. “I always tell students to apply sociological theories in day-to- day life,” Raha adds.
Interpreting social reality
The moment you start looking at the society through the sociological lens, a new picture emerges. Sociology studies how individual and group behaviours are influenced by social processes. It makes sense of how we interpret our changing social structure, that is, groups, organisations, communities, social categories (such as class, sex, age, or race), and various social institutions (such as kinship, family, economic, political and religious groups).
The beginnings of the discipline
In comparison to other social sciences, Sociology is a relatively new discipline. French philosopher Auguste Comte, who defined Sociology as a science of society, is widely considered to be the founder of the discipline. Sociology questions the causes and effects of social changes and the difficulties involved in planning intended to adapt to such changes. As an academic discipline, Sociology originated in the West. In 1919, University of Bombay became the first Indian institution to offer a course in the subject.
What do sociologists do?
Like any other scholar, a sociologist gains, advances, and applies knowledge. They study people as a part of social processes - culture, values, socialisation, cooperation, conflict, power, exchange, inequality, deviance, social control, violence and order. They analyse societies both as isolated entities and from a global perspective.
Sociological insight helps a society understand how its present might shape its future. For instance, sociologists can suggest policies that are most likely to help a society achieve its objectives. They can forecast the possible trends and changes in society. They can plan and conduct community action programmes to deal with alcoholism, family violence, social exclusion, prison reform, natural disasters, mental illnesses, and any other social problem.
Discovering independent research!
MA, MPhil in Sociology, JNU
Appearing in MBA entrance exams was quite a logical decision for Suvrata, a BCom graduate. When she failed to get into any worthy B-School, she just shrugged and moved on. Heeding her elder sister’s advice, Suvrata began to prepare for the entrance exam for MA in Sociology at JNU. How did she go about it? “Reading the theories and keeping myself abreast of all news,” she shares.
Sociology allowed her to study about social classes, racism, classism, gender, socialisation, social control, and a host of other fascinating sociological facts and theories. “I wanted to know about the world I had been plopped into and sociology provided the answers.”
MA papers preceded a lot of interactive sessions among students and teachers. “I gained a lot of insight from rural sociology and methodology of social sciences. It exposed me to the rigours of field investigation.” After her MA, she also got through her UGC-NET exam and earned junior research fellowship, which kept her out of the hustle and bustle of the job market. After her MPhil she decided to enter the world of independent research.
She registered for a PhD and the title of her thesis is “A study of Local Weekly Markets in Delhi”. Almost every neighbourhood in Delhi has its own tradition of weekly market on a given day in a particular neighbourhood with vendors selling anything and everything of everyday use – utensils, ready-made clothes, fruits, vegetables and much more – at reasonable prices. The markets are ambulatory in nature; most of the participating vendors just move from one weekly market to another. Suvrata is trying to unravel the peculiar ethnography and structure of the markets. “I am coming out of my comfort zone and facing day-to-day challenges. It helped me write reports and develop my way of looking at things instead of following the status quo,” she says.
Suvrata says society cannot be seen in isolation and to understand society one has to be aware of its political, economic, and historical context. As for the career, she has already chosen her vocation by embracing the academia.
Entering the field
At the university level, sociology departments invite students from any discipline to join their BA and MA programmes. The eligibility criterion varies from university to university. For instance, some universities conduct an entrance examination for their MA programme. They might also insist on a minimum of 50 percent marks at the Bachelor’s level. Master’s degree-holders in Sociology can advance their career by doing an MPhil and PhD.
What do you learn?
In most institutions, the course structure of sociology is being revised. The emerging themes in social consciousness are being gradually incorporated into the curriculum. “Earlier in the stratification paper, we would just look at caste, class and power. Today, the syllabus has introduced universal themes like gender and globalization which has broadened the spectrum of the stratification paper. From next year, the university plans to introduce sexuality as well,” says Mahima Verma, a lecturer at Jesus & Mary College, Delhi University.
The discipline conditions students to approach questions on oneself, one’s religion, customs, morals and institutions, among others.
For each paper, students have to make projects. Some colleges have dealt with fascinating projects. “I gave a project to students where they had to pick up various fiction books that dealt with race and gender. It was an attempt to apply these themes in the syllabus and to give them a chance to engage in public speaking,” adds Mahima. “We witness a change in the presentation. Earlier, students used to do reading from the books prescribed by the syllabus as a part of the project. Teachers then realized that it was not enough.”
Deborah Patel, a second-year student of Sociology at Jesus & Mary College, recalls her first research topic – “Culture in Cuisine”. The entire class was divided into groups based on differences in regional affiliation. The focus of the study was on how food patterns changed after migration. “We focused on Kerala, and made questionnaire for about 30 Malayalee families living in various parts of Delhi. We wanted to ascertain whether they remembered the ingredients of their native dishes? Do they cook with all those ingredients available in Delhi? Do they use the utensils for particular dishes as they do back in Kerala, for instance, “chatti” (clay pot) for fish curry?” said Deborah. Interacting with people from different age groups during field work boosted her confidence level.
Many students choose Sociology because it can lead to a fulfilling career in law, social work, media etc.
Civil society: It is an area where sociology students are in large demand. Sociologists have the capability to make sense of social psychology through an interpretative analysis of social pathology, communal tension, poverty, corruption, drug addiction, human trafficking and such other phenomena.
Governance and Public Administration: Sociologists can work in administrative positions that require an understanding of the condition of various sections of the society. Generally, sociologists make good public administrators as they can easily relate to issues involving caste, gender, power, race, language, race, ethnicity, organisational power and identity. They are trained to understand group dynamics – from a small group to a micro-organization, from socialisation in the family to globalization.
Media: Since the media reflects and influences culture and society, sociologists have a role to play here; they can be instrumental in analysing new modes of social relationships and ways of relating to oneself and others. After an MPhil in Sociology, Arpita Dasgupta chose to work with a reputed academic publishing company. “Editing books of social sciences helps me gain knowledge of advanced academic works and also keeps alive the sociological imagination in me,” says Arpita, Editor, Sage India.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): A good number of students can fit in CSR activities. Through CSR, most corporations encourage activities relating to the protection of environment, welfare of the consumers, employees, communities, and other stakeholders. Tapasi Malhotra, who did MA Sociology from JNU, for example, says her analytical skills have been valued in the corporate sector. Working as an Associate at the CSR division of Ernst & Young, an accounting and consulting company, she used her sociological skills to investigate a company about which no information was found in the book of accounts or websites. “I build a discreet interface with people to find out the reality of the company. When we go to the field, we do the compliance check with regard to factory laws, that is, we ascertain whether the factory or plant or working area is compliant with the laws,” she says. To excel in the corporate arena, one must possess managerial skills along with theoretical knowledge.
Teaching: It is an area of great interest for most sociologists. Mahima, a lecturer at Jesus & Mary, says, “I love interacting with young people. Their experiences and views are always a source of new perspective about the society we are part of. It develops my thought process.”
Sociology, an open-ended field of inquiry
Dr. Anand Kumar
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)
Q: Sociology is a relatively new discipline. How is it relevant?
A: When vertical knowledge streams like philosophy, history and political science were found insufficient to interpret certain aspects of social reality, the science of Sociology became more relevant. Post-colonised world saw changes at multiple levels – right from marriage norms, family bonds and forms of government to nation states. Sociology was born out of the great need to make sense of social transformation – the contemporary reality. When there is cultural, economic, ideological, political and economic crisis, the role of Sociology becomes important.
Q: Students are being sensitized to the needs of the marginalised groups. When did this trend arise?
A: In the 1990s, when women, Dalits, religious minorities and other marginalised groups across the world, such as blacks of South Africa and Mujahirs of Pakistan began raising questions about their existence and asking for empowerment, space and recognition. They did not get adequate answers from disciplines like Political Science which applies rational choice theory to concepts of power. These groups are as much interested in identity as power. They have irrational expectations about how modernity, untouchability, racism and democracy can go together. So, a sociologist sees reality from the angles of both the victim and perpetrator of the crime (minority and majority, racist and anti-racist). All of these make Sociology an open ended field of inquiry. This becomes an attraction for all those who believe in the adventure of ideas.
Q: You teach political sociology. How do your students respond?
A: My subject talks about the relationship between politics and society. In the last 30 years of my teaching experience, I found that students coming from politically sensitized areas have endless questions compared to those coming from comfort zones (where answers are already there). If I talk about language as a barrier to access power – then my class gets divided. Students from English medium schools find it a non-issue while those from non-English background get excited. Similarly, when you talk about gender dimension, eyes and ears stand out.
Q: What is the scope of sociology?
A: Sociology has developed the capability to see the social side of every branch of knowledge. People often question – Why, Sociology is everywhere! You can study sociology of medicine/law/media/music/dance. I say why not? It creates a passion beyond rationality among masses. Sociologists will find a welcoming atmosphere in the academia, research, public administration, media, NGOs and as civil society personnel, leaders and activists. So sociology is a soft branch. It relates more to common sense, down-to-earth approach than to more abstract forms of knowledge.
A person hired on the strength of their qualifications in Sociology can hope to start with a monthly packet from Rs. 15000-25000 based on the nature of the work. In corporate houses, a fresh graduate can expect Rs. 2.5 lakhs per annum. A postgraduate can expect around Rs. 3 lakhs.
Shaping a better world
By embracing all aspects of social experience and activity, sociology provides a body of knowledge that enables us to improve social conditions. It helps one become a sensitive thinker. It is difficult to imagine a social problem that Sociology can’t help analyse and solve.