When you are new on a job or a new in graduate school, the perennial question people ask is this:
"What was your course back in college?"
And of course I tell them, "Sociology."
This is almost always followed up by another question, "What is Sociology anyway?" "I never quite got what a Sociologist actually do..."
Of course I say, "Sociology studies human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society; Sociology studies social institution or societal segment as a self-contained entity or in relation to society as a whole.
As I explain this, it is almost always the conversation follows a long pause, as if people did not quite understand what I was talking about.
It's hard to make people appreciate the course. It takes so much reading, research, and meditations to actually appreciate the art.
I guess the first step in appreciating Sociology is through Sociological Imagination.
Coined by C. Wright Mills in 1950's, he argued that ‘nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps’ . Mills maintained that people are trapped because ‘their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family [and] neighborhood’, and are not able to fully understand the greater sociological patterns related to their private troubles.
A lot of times people feel that they are trapped because they feel that they are so consumed with their personal lives. People feel that this life is a mere trajectory, a mere routine, a mere series of personal events. It is common that they feel this is a dog eat dog world, a rat race, a personal struggle to be solved.
Yet, if you look at it in a different perspective, "Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both" (Mills, 1956)
This understanding is what Mills calls the Sociological Imagination: the 'quality of mind' which allows one to grasp "history and biography and the relations between the two within society"
Ordinary people do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world." It is only with this interconnectedness of society and the individual that we can truly understand and possibly solve societal or individual problems/issues.
Sociology probably can not be contained in a single definition. Its meaning may vary from one experience to another. But one thing that all sociologists share is the ability to look beyond one’s own everyday life as a cause for daily successes and failures and see the entire society in which one lives as potential cause for these things.
For me, it seems that Sociology is about reading, feeling, and understanding a lot -- and then reading, feeling and understanding some more. For me, it is about fighting for what is right and just. It is about questions to be answered and answers to be questioned so that at the end of the day -- we may gain epistemically and be in a position to make better choices in life.