Missouri State University
Sociology Blog

Public sociology benefits community

“Is the market solution the only solution? Do we have to abandon the very idea of the university as a ‘public’ good? The interest in a public sociology is, in part, a reaction and a response to the privatization of everything” (Burawoy, 2005).

According to former American Sociological Association president Michael Burawoy, there are four types of sociology: professional; policy; critical; and public. The types of sociology can be distinguished by asking the questions: “Sociology for whom?” and “Sociology for what?” The first question refers to sociologists’ intended audience. Sometimes the intended audience is other professional sociologists and social scientists, and sometimes the intended audience is a part of the general public. The second question, “Sociology for what?,” refers to the purpose of sociology. It focuses attention on the “means” (why are things the way they are?) and the “ends” of sociology (how can we make things better?).

At Missouri State, our faculty practice all four types of sociology. For example, we practice professional sociology by presenting the results of research at national and regional sociology conferences, and we publish research findings in academic, peer-reviewed journals. We practice policy sociology by conducting research and producing reports for community organizations. The Springfield/Greene County Social Capital Report, the 2010 Missouri Civic Health Assessment, the Ozarks Regional Social Capital Report, and the 2010 and 2011 Racial Disparities in Traffic Stops reports have all been used by policymakers and other community leaders to inform public policy and to assess the results of community programs. Our faculty practice public sociology by voluntarily serving on public committees, writing op-ed pieces for the Springfield  News-Leader and other newspapers, attending and speaking at public meetings, incorporating opportunities for community engagement into class, and by inviting community leaders to speak to students about how the sociological concepts they’re learning in class relate to important public issues.

This is what distinguishes the sociology major at Missouri State from sociology majors at other universities. Our students are trained in the theories and methods of professional sociology, and they are trained in ways to use those tools for purposes of public sociology. Some graduates of our program decide to become professional sociologists and go on to pursue master’s degrees and doctorates upon graduation. Others decide to use their sociological training to address issues that are important to them by taking positions in nonprofit, governmental, and charitable organizations. By making the professional practical the sociology program at Missouri State provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful and productive members of the workforce, and to be informed and engeged leaders in their communities.

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Community assessments showcase strengths, weaknesses

Civic engagement makes or breaks a community. Engagement can take many forms, whether it’s working with neighbors to create a welcoming environment in a neighborhood, voting for legislation to improve quality of life or volunteering through a community organization to help others. The key to effective citizen participation is social capital, defined by social scientists as social networks characterized by norms of trust and reciprocity. This idea of social capital is of great interest to Dr. Michael Stout, associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University, who conducts research on community and economic development in order to better understand the ways social capital and civic engagement serve as resources that provide access to opportunities.

Using the community as a laboratory for his research, Stout, along with colleagues Drs. John Harms and Tim Knapp, conducted a series of community assessments investigating how social connectedness, membership in voluntary associations, and participation in the community are related to economic opportunity. They published their research in two reports and have shared findings with community leaders and policy makers.

Read more with Dr. Stout.

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Dr. Knapp recognized for public affairs work

The Missouri State University Board of Governors awarded its new Staff and Faculty Excellence in Public Affairs awards to five faculty and staff who excel at carrying out the public affairs mission during its May 17 meeting.

Dr. Tim Knapp, professor of sociology and anthropology, was one of the faculty member recognized. He helped establish and educate the City of Springfield about social capital and worked with colleagues to conduct the first-ever statewide civic health assessment.

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