Sociology and Social Problem Research *. (Notes on the Discipline/Notes Sociologiques)

By Ping, Huang | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Sociology and Social Problem Research *. (Notes on the Discipline/Notes Sociologiques)


Ping, Huang, Canadian Journal of Sociology


1. For more than one and a half centuries,, sociology has been a discipline which constantly deals with the social problems as sociological issues. This is also true in China where sociology is much younger. But from the early beginnings of the establishment of sociology in China in the 1920's, sociology was considered as a "a branch of (natural) science of/for society" specifically created to deal with the social problems that ordinary everyday people have to face. Now is not the time for me to list such social problems which we all have known very well, nor is it the time for me to introduce the work that my colleagues in China have been doing. For instance during the last 15 years my Institute and some other colleges in China collectively have done research on the social problems and sociological analysis and, as a result, we have published annual reports on the social issues since 1992.

2. However, at this time, the time we all have encountered the challenges from globalization, we need to acknowledge that, ironically, along with the development of sociology as an academic discipline, social problems actually increase in almost all parts of the world, and also they extend to regional, transnational or global levels. Sociologists in China, like those colleagues all over the world, today seem intellectually less influential, and practically less useful, than before. This is so partly because our interpretations of the quickly run-away global world are left far behind the actual pace of the change; and sometimes, because of this, are so different from and even contradictory to, the common sense of ordinary people; partly because we have been so professionalized that ordinary people cannot really follow what we are talking about, even they wanted to, and even if we want to talk to them, usually because we are using some very specific categories, too professionalized in many cases, to describe an d to explain the social world where ordinary people organize and comprehend their activities and interactions.

3. In other words, we enjoy too much talking to/among ourselves in order to make distinction from others, not only from the ordinary people, but also from those in other disciplines. What is more, even amongst sociologists, we do not really talk to others often, once again, because of the high professionalization of the discipline. Professionalization is necessary, of course, for the development of sociology as a specific academic discipline, which no doubt needs further intellectual division of labor amongst ourselves.

4. As a consequence, however, when others increasingly feel difficult, and thus are not able/do not want, to listen to us, we gradually isolate ourselves from others. Being increasingly professionalized we believe we have developed some very systematic and analytical frameworks for interpretations of the ongoing social change and social problems. On most occasions, however, not only our interpretations seem too specific, but also we do not like to provide any practical solutions to people either in policy making or in the actual life world. Each time when we simply try to show ordinary people, and to the business elite and policy makers, how complicated the possible reasons are behind any visible social problems, their typical response is: "interesting, but so what?"

5. This very difference between sociologists and other professionals, especially economists and, in many cases political scientists, tells us why we are so marginal and they are increasingly so central.

6. I have always encouraged my colleagues in China by pointing out the very fact that it is sociologists since the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, if not earlier, who have shaped the very basic ways of thinking about, and presenting of, modern societies. As a result, people in modem times, almost all became sociologists to a certain extent, even without awareness of being so. …

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