One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a Sociology student is, ‘why study a Social Science?’ Shouldn’t I be studying something like a hard science, economics or business management if I want to get a “serious job”? Why should employers be interested in a social science degree? I must say, I find these assertions a little disingenuous. Quite aside from the benefits which come with any degree – research and analytical skills, an increased ability to work independently etc – I believe that Sociology is one of the most applicable degrees available.
Boiled down to its simplest elements, the word Sociology means the study of society, which makes it a discipline grounded in an ever-changing social world and one which is always relevant. The close relationship the subject has to everyday life and current affairs makes it an exciting one to study, prompting its students to look at the world around them anew. As well as this, this relationship makes the discipline a very important one, with those working within it tackling such problems as the refugee crisis, urban deprivation and crime.
While society has always been subject to upheaval and unrest, I do believe that we are currently experiencing a particularly tumultuous period, the gravity of which people are only just beginning to understand. It would seem that the consensuses established after 1945 are being undermined at an alarming rate. Since the financial crash, we have seen an unprecedented rise in nationalistic, anti-egalitarian movements which no one could have really predicted. From UKIP’s rise in the UK, to the Front National’s in France and the PVV in the Netherlands, nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-EU parties are surging. Even in Germany, the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement has rapidly grown in popularity – particularly after the attacks in Cologne. In no small part, the growth of these sentiments has been fuelled by the refugee crisis putting pressure on European border policy, and the expansion of ISIS and renewed threat of Islamist terrorism.It is clear that the very foundations of European co-operation and liberal democracy are seriously threatened for the first time in the postwar era.
A protest against the ‘”Islamisation” of Europe, by the German far-right street movement ‘PEGIDA’. (Photo Jan Meyer/AP)
Coupled with this are seemingly ever-increasing divisions between social groups. Only last week, the so-called pick-up artist and anti-feminist ‘Roosh V’, a more grotesque example of the growing ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ movement, had to cancel a series of meetings of his ‘neo-masculinist’ movement. This was largely because of threats he had received as a result of his stance on legalising marital rape. Thankfully, such extreme views are rare, but it cannot be denied that the climate of debate in general has become more toxic – especially with the advent of social media. Debates between left and right have become increasingly polarised, with personal insults, censorship and threats now commonplace – a state of affairs which should worry anybody who values democracy and debate.
All this being set against an increasingly insecure job market, a hacking back of the state and revolutions in digital technology makes the future very uncertain, even rather dangerous. We have made the mistake of assuming that ‘progress’ is something easily defined and linear, and we forget that society is able to fall back into darker times far easier than progress to brighter ones. If our present is marked by anything, it is uncertainty, and it is the job of sociologists and anthropologists to try to both understand and explain what is happening. In my opinion, we are experiencing a backlash against rapid social change which has left an increasing amount of people ontologically insecure and in need of something to stake their colours to.
For my part, studying Sociology has led me to the thought of Émile Durkheim, and I believe his belief in social solidarity and collectivism in preference to the individual has great pertinence for our age. However, I realise there are plenty who would disagree with me, and it is this that makes Sociology a stimulating subject to study. In 2015, Exeter was ranked as one of the top 10 Universities in the UK for Sociology by both The Complete University Guide and the Guardian newspaper. Coupled with the broadness of the course and specialisms of the academic staff, studying Sociology at Exeter can equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to help combat some of the most pressing issues of our time.