“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.