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Sociology strives to keep pace with technological advancement and social change

By Yang Min | 2013-08-29 | Hits:
CSST: In the wake of the recession, higher education has seen ever escalating budget constraints. What challenges does this pose for sociological researchers?
Louise Ryan :Sociological research underpins a range of policies, service developments and training. It has a key role in discussions about the society we would like—how we might care for the vulnerable, guarantee education across the generations, ensure social cohesion along with economic sustainability. Sociological work has a major impact on social developments and policies. We need to highlight this and build our research with the range of users.
Mentioning challenge, I think, often sociological research takes longer than privately funded projects or those undertaken by NGOs. In the context of the economic downturn and government cut backs to public funding, the impact on sociological research has been marked. The main sources of funding for sociological research in the UK are research councils (Economic and Social Research Council in particular, ESRC) and trusts which support social science research (Leverhulme, Nuffield, etc) as well as some large charitable organisations that commission specific types of research (e.g. Joseph Rowntree Foundation).   Unlike business, science or health researchers, social scientists rarely get funding from the private sector.
Linda McKie: As research funding has become more difficult to secure, competition has become more intense. For example, only 15% of grant applications to the ESRC are successful. Because of university pressures to engage in income generating activities, research is now increasingly expected to be funded through external sources, such as research grants. It is now very difficult for academics to pursue their own research interests without securing external research funding. Thus, one could argue that much social science research in the UK is becoming driven by the kinds of research for which fundingis available. In other words, some subject matter is seen to be more ‘fundable’ than others.
CSST: How is technology such as social media influencing and impacting sociological research?
Louise Ryan: As mentioned above, in our research at the SPRC, we use a range of new technologies. In a recent study we are using google maps to produce interactive visual tools showing the location of services for older people in particular areas of London. Used in this way, new technology can create all sorts of new tools, not just for researchers but also for producing practical tools for people in the general population.
Linda McKie :As society is transformed through new technology, particularly social media, it is important that sociologists keep pace with these changes. The role of new technology in recent social events, such as the way in which young people communicate through Twitter, Facebook and the internet, needs to be fully understood by sociologists. The role of Twitter in the London riots in the summer of 2011 is just one example of how new technology can impact on forms of social communication and mobilization.

CSST: What changes will sociological research go through because of challenges?
Louise Ryan: In terms of teaching and learning the key elements remain. New areas for teaching might include social media and the ongoing growth in technologies that support elements of research and dissemination. Also, they might include the impact of research and research processes on users.
As sociological research enters the future, trends such as aging in some parts of the world, high fertility rates in some countries, beliefs, religion and ethics, gender, violence, conflict and abuse are among some of the major social problems communities, governments and supranational organizations are grappling with.  After all, the core of sociology and sociological research is to explore how groups in society engage with each other and to offer peer reviewed material that provide insights and options and inform choices.


Professor Louise Ryan, co-director of the Social Policy Research Centre, Middlesex University, London, England, UK.
Professor Linda McKie, professor of sociology and director of research, School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, England, UK.
The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No.418, Feb.22, 2013.