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Why Is Sociology Important? - Applications in Public Policy, Social Change & Personal Growth

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  • 0:05 Applying Sociology to Life
  • 0:37 Public Policy
  • 2:17 Social Change
  • 4:47 Personal Growth
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
How can theoretical and abstract ideas from sociology be used in the 'real world?' This lesson covers three applications of sociology. First, we'll discuss public policy, such as welfare. Second, we'll cover social change, including change in the economy, cities, and politics. Finally, sociology is applied to personal growth, including motivation and citizenship.

Applying Sociology to Life

The field of sociology has a lot of big, abstract ideas about politics, economics, and how people grow and change over time. How do these big, abstract ideas translate into the real world and the lives of everyday people? How do they apply to your life?

This lesson will discuss three specific ways that sociology can be applied to the real world, and all three ways highlight why sociology is important to study and understand. The applications will be public policy, social change, and personal growth.

Public Policy

Many sociologists focus their research on how the field can improve the lives of every individual in society. This often means that people are trying to see ways that the government or public institutions, such as schools, can change to promote equality for everyone. So, what are some examples?

The running of public school systems is a major public policy issue.
Education Public Policy

Many government lobbyists and politicians debate the role of programs such as welfare and social security. These programs are funded by the tax dollars of every citizen in the country, but they only benefit certain groups of people. Is it fair for those funds to go only to certain groups? Do these groups 'deserve' this special treatment? What kinds of rules should go along with using government money?

Another example of public policy is how public school systems are run. How should neighborhoods be divided to make up school districts? What happens if a particular neighborhood is mostly made up of low-income families? That probably means that their tax dollars won't be as high, meaning that school won't have good equipment, computers, playground equipment, and so on. Is that fair? Should richer neighborhoods pay to increase the education of children in poor neighborhoods because an educated population eventually benefits the entire society? Sociologists have done studies comparing children who grew up in different neighborhoods and went to different schools to see if this early public environment really affects them in terms of future careers, crime rates, and so on.

These theoretical ideas are discussed by sociologists and examined in research projects. Sociologists have many interesting ways to view these questions and often can use findings from research studies to make their arguments stronger. What do you think about these questions?

Social Change

Next, let's talk about how sociology is applied to social change, or how societies try to improve themselves over time. Sociology really started as a field as a result of three big changes in European society in the 18th and 19th centuries. What were these three big changes?

First, two hundred years ago there weren't really big factories in Europe. Most people either farmed their own land or had a small shop doing personal crafts, such as woodworking or running a forge. These small scale-shops were the original manufacturing shops, which means to make something by hand. However, over the last couple of centuries, societies have seen a huge increase in industrialized factories that mass-produce items. Sociology studies how big changes like this affect people. Factories completely change how we shop, what jobs are available, and the number of people who have a boss at work instead of owning their own business.

Sociologists study the social effects of the Industrial Revolution.
Social Change Industrial Example

The second big social change relevant to sociology is the change from people mostly living in rural areas, so they could run a farm, to mostly living in big cities, where they can work for factories or big corporations. Do you live in a small town or a big city? Think about all the ways that affects your life. It probably changes whether you live in a house or an apartment, and whether you have a yard. What about traffic? Can you walk around at night and feel safe, or not? Is there a bus or metro system you can take to get to and from school or work? For example, sociology studies different crime rates in rural versus urban communities and tries to explain why we see differences.

Finally, the third big social change that applies to sociology is political change. Sociology studies how politics have changed over the last 200 or 300 years. In general, many societies have shifted from a class-based system, such as one with lords versus peasants, to one in which every person demands rights and representation. We can see two big examples of this in the American and the French Revolutions in the 1700s. Another example is how women in the United States worked toward earning the right to vote in the late 19th century. Sociology studies how people in different kinds of political systems are more or less happy with their government and how they see their country compared to others. How do you feel about your own country? Can you think of advantages and disadvantages of the political system you have? Would you like to be involved in political change?

Personal Growth

The last application of sociology for this lesson is in the area of personal, individual growth. A man named John Macionis wrote a very popular textbook called 'Sociology,' in which he describes many over-arching themes within the field. In this book, he identifies four specific ways that sociology benefits people in our daily lives. So, let's go over these four ways.

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