Sociology Graduates Require Pathways, Not Employment Destinations: The Promise of Experiential Learning

By Tolich, Martin | New Zealand Sociology, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Sociology Graduates Require Pathways, Not Employment Destinations: The Promise of Experiential Learning


Tolich, Martin, New Zealand Sociology


Abstract

Ironically, the discipline of sociology appears oblivious to the social forces that threaten it: the discerning parent's investment in their offspring's education, the mounting individual student debt and the New Zealand government's intention to collect and report data by discipline on recent graduate incomes. Sociology departments both nationally and internationally market boundless career possibilities for their graduates, but fail to identify the pathways to these lucrative destinations. The following discussion focuses on potential pathways. The article presents a response to these social forces: the establishment of a research based internship in a remote New Zealand university isolated from ideal placements in government ministries or NGO headquarters. The article outlines the setup of a research focused public sociology internship and argues for the centrality of an ethics application as a pedagogical device as the first step into research focused experiential learning and teaching.

Personal troubles, public issues (C. Wright Mills' Sociological Imagination):

This is personal. Parents' telephone me in my role as sociology programme coordinator at the University of Otago and ask me how their child's BA in Sociology can translate into meaningful employment. Parents do not see the conversion from learning about society to being employed by society. They are not alone. Sociology undergraduates ask a similar question: what can you do with sociology beyond its emphasis on an academic critique of sociological research and society? (Finkelstein, 2009 p.90) This uncertainty may be the nature of a Bachelor of Arts degree (Spalter-Roth, Scheuer Senter, Stone, Wood, 2010). English, Geography and Anthropology BA graduates experience uncharted pathways to employment. This situation is not ideal in an economic environment where education is accompanied by significant costs which often leave students and their families in debt (Finkelstein, 2009).

Sociology is not a vocational degree like social work or education. Social work and education students do not ask where their degrees lead to, as their pathways are prescribed for them. These students, subject to demand, will be employed as social workers or teachers. Moreover, academic institutions place undergraduates in vocational settings, immersing them in the real world, which allows them to quickly discover if this vocation is for them and if they are for it. Social work students at the University of Otago spend 60 days on placement in each of their third and fourth years of study (900 hours in total). Trainee teachers also spend multiple hours in situ. University of Canterbury Primary Trainees spend two periods of three weeks in year one, and two periods of five weeks in years two and three (http://www.education.canterbury.ac.nz/ coursegroups/ECE12/BTchLn_EC.pdf).

Sociology students spend no time on placement, and are socialised by the vagaries of the "promise of sociology" (Mills, 2000) or "sociology as a humanistic perspective" (Berger, 1963) or more recently, "sociology as a martial art" (Bourdieu, 2001). Bourdieu warns undergraduates about the power of the discipline, urging them to use their sociology only in self-defence. These promises and perspectives do not translate into an employment pathway (Finkelstein, 2009: p.93). Sociology offers only destinations. For example, Auckland University's website Sociology and your career states:

Sociology develops analytical and research skills. Sociology graduates have careers in policy analysis, central and local government, the media and journalism, social and health research, business, marketing and union advocacy.

Similarly, the sociology website of the University of California at San Diego is one of many sites which promises its sociology graduates limitless employment destinations:

One of the virtues of a major in sociology is flexibility in the job market. Actual entry-level job titles of UCSD sociology graduates show this diversity; operations planner for a defence firm, program assistant for a social service agency, teacher, programmer, production coordinator for a publishing firm, social worker for a large, local health agency, communications technician for a telecommunications company, sales representative, analyst, and health intake counselor (http://sociology.

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