Why study Sociology?

Below, Dr Amanda Haynes writes about why she chose Sociology:

amanda-haynes“I never expected to study sociology. I came to the University of Limerick with a completely different plan in mind. I had the opportunity to take a class in sociology in my first term however, and from the second the lecturer started to speak I was converted. I had always had a keen interest in human rights, equality, global development and social justice. As a teenager I had joined organisations addressing these issues and participated in some calls to action. I had pursued these interests outside of school however, and I hadn’t connected the two parts of my life. Here though was an academic subject that focused precisely on such issues; that encouraged me to question the fairness of the distribution of power, authority and resources in our society. Here were lecturers asking me to imagine ways in which the world might be more just and to examine the possible paths to that future.

I took a chance and specialised in sociology during my undergraduate degree. It did not disappoint. My education as a sociologist gave me a new more critical and incisive way of looking at the world around me. The cognitive tools of sociology, its theories and concepts, gave me the means to achieve a deeper understanding of the dynamics of social groups:  to interrogate the distribution of power within relationships and the patterns of advantage and disadvantage that they sustain, for example. The methodological training I received was second to none, and I was taught how to use, critique and generate both textual and statistical data, and to argue persuasively for my interpretation of their significance and meaning. I was encouraged to apply this learning to topical social issues including the effectiveness of prison in addressing crime, the pay gap between women and men, intergenerational unemployment, and the status of Travellers in Irish society.

Many of the men and women, who were students at the same time as me, now work across a range of fields in which they have the opportunity to impact the very issues that we studied in our sociology lectures at the University of Limerick. They used their sociology major to access postgraduate programs in areas such as social research, social policy analysis, community development and social work. They work as policy consultants, counsellors, university lecturers, social workers and community sector mangers. They are located across the public, community and private sector.

For my part, I am a senior lecturer in sociology at my alma mater, the University of Limerick, I research hostility towards difference, particularly crimes motivated by prejudice. I use the tools of sociology to better understand the dynamics of violence towards minorities and to produce evidence-based recommendations for improving official responses to targeted victimisation. My research is conducted with and used by national level civil society organisations advocating for the rights of minorities. My work has been referenced in the Dáil and has been discussed on radio, television and in the press. My skills as a sociologist have given me the opportunity to shape public and political debates about important social issues.  As a lecturer, I have the opportunity to pass on the learning I have gained as an active researcher to a new generation of novice sociologists. I share with my students the advances to my methodological skills and the knowledge I have gained about topics from crime and policing to belonging and prejudice. Of equal importance, I get the chance to pass on my passion for a subject, which has not only given me a good career and a job that excites and challenges me, but also an orientation to social justice that informs every aspect of my life.

As a lecturer, I am very excited about the opportunities for learning sociology which are offered by the new Bachelor of Arts LM002. This new programme offers students who are interested in sociology greater flexibility and choice than ever before. It offers the opportunity combine a major in sociology with a wide range of highly complementary subjects which will enhance students’ understanding of the social world and their career options. It is one of only two programmes in Ireland to offer the choice of focusing solely on sociology from year 2 onwards.  For students who know that their future lies with sociology, this is a particularly attractive option. Most significantly, this programme gives first year students who have never encountered sociology before the chance to try on this new way of thinking about the world around them. Like me, you might just find yourself hooked!”

Dr Amanda Haynes