Sociology is worth saving

October 29, 2009

We were dismayed to read your brief report about the possible closure of the University of Birmingham's department of sociology ("Entire department may close", 24 September). Although the outcome of the university's departmental review has not yet been made public, any loss of teaching and research capacity in sociology is highly regrettable.

It is inconceivable that any serious university with a mission to serve its region and wider society can abandon its commitment to high-quality and high-quantity sociology. Many other social sciences are either offshoots of or are underpinned by it. In addition to the direct contribution they make to public life through stimulating commentary and debate, these disciplines produce thousands of graduates each year, many bound for jobs in public administration, journalism, health and social care, planning, marketing and teaching.

Beyond that, there are issues about building and maintaining research capacity and supporting scholars in the early stages of their careers. It was unrealistic of Birmingham to expect a newly established department made up mainly of early-career scholars to make a significant impact in the 2008 research assessment exercise. While we acknowledge how important such exercises have become, it is also the case that this kind of "stop-go" policy runs counter to the prevailing philosophy of science funding here and in Europe, namely an emphasis on long-term infrastructures that encourage the pursuit of strategic objectives and allow continuity.

Sociology is a broad-based analytical discipline that provides vital transferable skills. We therefore urge the relevant decision-makers at Birmingham and elsewhere to re-evaluate their decision. They should protect and nurture resources in our discipline rather than pursue short-term targets that will damage the ability of UK social science to make a full contribution to the wellbeing of Britain and the European Research Area.

The Council of the British Sociological Association.

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