Sociologists Outside of Academia: Solutions to Everyday Problems. An Interview with Professor Nick Fox
I attended my first British Sociological Association Conference at the University of Manchester, 4-6 April 2017. I’m not a sociologist, nor a journalist, unless we’re counting a short stint as a reporter for an Irish Dancing magazine in 2004. I’m a publisher, and I came to the BSA Annual Conference firstly as an exhibitor, attending to promote the societies, journals, authors, contributors and community who publish with us, and secondly, with a more personal agenda to immerse myself in the landscape of sociology, to challenge myself to learn, connect and question all that I can in this wide, important area of research and practice.
Sociology and sociologists have never been so relevant, and so needed, a fact that became ever clearer to me as I attended the conference sessions and spoke to researchers, society officials and exhibitors. I found myself particularly interested in Sociologists Outside of Academia (SOA), a BSA special interest group which creates a support network for sociology graduates whose careers are either part or fully outside of academia. SOA provides a forum for graduates to stay connected to their field and retain their identity as sociologists within their chosen career path.
Speaking about SOA’s objectives and activities, co-convenor of the group Professor Nick Fox said: “The first thing is that we put people in contact with each other. When SOA was first established about 11 or 12 years ago it was a group of people who felt very isolated, and they felt that academic sociology wasn’t taking seriously the reality that there are a lot of non-academic sociologists, so they really wanted to stand up and say ‘we are sociologists, but we’re not academics’. Then that has moved into a much broader group of people who for one reason or another want to continue to have a sociological identity.
“The second thing we do is put on events. Sometimes it’s just giving an opportunity to meet, though typically it will be around someone talking about some aspect of doing sociology outside of academia. The event we had last year was called ‘Practical Sociology: An Agenda’, and what we were looking at was the application of sociological theories, ideas, knowledge, skills, to the everyday problems in the world of work or in communities or families and such like, and actually finding ways for us to attach those sociological aspects to things that are entirely non-academic – nothing to do with research – this is about intervention. This is about finding solutions to everyday problems. And I think as sociologists we should be taking on board the importance of that as something which our discipline can offer.”
Looking around the BSA Conference, most of the delegates were academics, though it’s interesting to see exhibitors such as such as SOA and WJEC Eduqas as examples of the BSA reaching beyond academia to different areas of practice, as well as to teaching and education. “This is now a priority area for the BSA, within their vision they actually talk about as a priority working with sociologists outside of academia, so they’re interested in this and they want to recruit new sociology graduates that have nothing to do with academia whatsoever” said Professor Fox. “What I would say is that there needs to be continuing work within the BSA to provide benefits for people who are non-academic sociologists. We are a free group, anyone can join us’.
SOA is about to start a development project surveying 3rd year sociology undergraduates about what they need from a professional network focusing on those people who are not looking for an academic career, but want to continue to have a sociological identity.
SOA is interested to learn from students the need for, and extent to which, SOA should offer resources on topics including careers and job hunting advice, post-graduate studies, news about recent sociology developments in policy and practice, networking and events with other sociology and non-sociology graduates, linking in with the wide range of BSA and other events, possibly even training and workshops for soft skills and professional development.
It’s an objective that certainly sparks the imagination. As Fox says, “Sociology is too important to exist just in academia; the reason we’re here is that we believe that sociology can make a difference, and we need sociologists everywhere continually offering a sociological perspective on the world and what’s going on in it. […] Looking around this conference, on the Publisher’s stalls is the work that’s reaching out beyond academia, it’s saying these are the things we know about and we’re making strong arguments about the way the world should be.”
Nick Fox is honorary professor of sociology at the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield, and is co-convenor of the British Sociological Association Sociologists Outside of Academia.
Francesca Halstead is a Senior Journals Publishing Manager at John Wiley & Sons.
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