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What is Sociology and why study it?

What does it mean to understand the world in which you live? What will your contribution be to this changing world? How do your own experiences and life chances compare to those of others?

Welcome to Sociology.

Humans are social animals. And Sociology – the study of humans in society – attempts to capture, perhaps more than any other discipline, the rich variety and
complexity of human social life. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any area of social existence that a sociologist wouldn’t be interested in examining, from the most
intimate of personal relationships to the worldwide circulation of ideas, beliefs, goods and people.

Sociologists are generally encouraged to cultivate a ‘sociological imagination’. This is the ability to see our own lives and the lives of those we study as intrinsically linked to wider social processes and structures. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the relationships we form, the pets we keep, the money we use, the consumables we buy, the languages we speak, the ambitions we pursue, and even the opinions we hold are all dependent on the particular historical and social context in which we find ourselves. This context is the wellspring of sociology.

With the study of social life at its heart, the scope of sociology is almost limitless. Its subject matter encompasses family life, education, crime, work, war, religion, capitalism, power, food, leisure, love, health, sleep, the body, the self, human–animal relations, art, tourism and the media, to name just a few. Sociology also has an abiding concern with the main markers of social difference in modern society – class, gender, ‘race’/ethnicity, age, sexuality and (dis)ability – and how these often intersect in shaping the life chances and experiences of individuals.

In light of its very broad focus – the social behaviour of humans – sociology appeals to students from a wide range of backgrounds. You may be familiar with the subject or have taken other subjects such as psychology, geography, media studies, law, english, history and philosophy. As a sociology student you are taught to think critically and to understand social processes and people. You also learn how to generate and analyse quantitative and qualitative data. The skills you acquire along the way are very appealing to employers, and sociologists end up in an increasingly diverse and interesting range of careers, including: local and national government, public relations, NGOs, sales and marketing, education, charities, recruitment, human resources, social work, counseling, law, TV production, publishing, urban planning, journalism and politics.