What does the future hold for sociology?

June 29, 2001

"Disappointment in the achievements of sociology has often come from excessive expectations of different sorts, while announcements of its demise are usually accompanied by fanfares for alternative discourses and post-disciplines that turn out to require a strong sociological dimension.

Looking ahead, we will want to continue to make 'structural' sense of our societies, so the basic rationale for sociology remains compelling. A different problem is that a growing amount of sociology is now conducted by journalists, think-tanks and private research organisations. This gives rise to the paradoxical, mistaken view that academic Sociology lacks public relevance.

One could see a future where there is plenty of sociology, but no Sociology going on. As long as universities are allowed to continue to carry out "intrinsic" research and debate, this could be progressive, relieving sociologists of the burden of presenting and defending 'the discipline' in rather stilted terms."

Gregor McLennan , head of sociology, University of Bristol

"Where much of 1990s sociology was about defining and assessing the extent of globalisation, sociology in the 21st century seems to be more about looking for ways of responding to and resisting globalisation. Sociology today seems to be about the search for forms of democratic agency in a world of 'networks and flows' of information, capital, consumer marketing and media saturation and the increasing blurring of the distinction between the social and the natural or physical."

Austin Harrington , department of sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

"I have not been in sympathy with culturalist, poststructuralist, and postmodernist 'turns' within sociology. We do need theories, but our theories should be systematically evaluated in relation to society.

I think a sociological tendency to move on too quickly has resulted in our being left with areas of unfinished business. The area that interests me is the division of labour, in which "labour" is taken to include non-market as well as market 'work'.

Changes in the position of women mean we need a renewed emphasis on the articulation between employment and domestic and family life. Despite the current emphasis on globalisation, nation-states have a crucial impact in this area. Thus we need comparative empirical work - as C. W. Mills put it: we should be working at the conjecture of 'personal troubles' and 'public issues'."

Rosemary Crompton , department of sociology, City University

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