education sociology

Sociology is a discipline with a messy face

“That’s not fair” is one of the first concepts that toddlers learn and use to make sense of their worlds. Perhaps this is proof that a sense of justice is in some way ‘natural’. I normally would be extremely reluctant to claim that any human behavior is ‘natural’ (that’s the job of evolutionary psychologists), but in this case I feel comfortable making such a statement, because that’s what I would like to believe. Sure, the Hobbesians among us might see this tendancy as an indication of selfishness, but I’m content framing it as an innate inclination towards valuing justice.

For many of us, we carry this sense of fairness throughout the our life course. Sociologists (try to) turn it into a career. This certainly describes me.

My soap boxing got more intense in my teens.  I started seeing a lack of fairness everywhere. Sometimes I would feel that I wasn’t being treated fairly, and other times I would see that another human or animal was not getting their fair share. Eventually, I began to notice that it wasn’t just individuals who weren’t treated justly, it was groups and categories of people.

Meanwhile, I was not the best student. I didn’t find much enjoyment in my classes. Math was a joke. I was remotely interested in some aspects of History. My grades were barely good enough to get me into University. The only time I enjoyed school was when we were covering topics that focused on social issues. Whenever I had a choice in terms of school projects, I would write about prostitution, or the role of American First ladies in American politics.

After high school, I ended up at wonderful University. My decision to do so was pretty much based on where my boyfriend at the time attended school. I planned to obtain what I saw as a token 3 year BA. Then I ended up in an Intro Sociology class.  Over the course of the next few months, I was given the tools to see, critique, and make sense of the social inequality. My random observations and emotions began to come together in a cohesive discourse. It was validating not just because my grades were good, but I discovered that the commentary going through my teenage head actually had a name. For years I had been a sociologist, and I didn’t even know it.

My relationship with the discipline/perspective has not always been easy. There have been some great memories, but we also had some difficult times. We even broke up for awhile.  Sociology hasn’t always been fair to me. Sometimes it isolated me from my friends and family. Other times. Currently, we are facing another challenge in our long, passionate and tumultuous relationship; in September, I am no longer going to be teaching at the college where I work.

I remember that intro course that I took many years ago. The first thing that my professor said to us was “Sociology is a discipline with a messy face”. Over a decade later when I had my very own class, I opened with the exact same line, just as I had fantasized that I would.  I’m not exactly sure where I will end up now, but I know I’ll be “committing sociology”.

– DS

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