Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflections on Sociology

Throughout our course, it has become increasingly clear that topics falling under the social studies umbrella are largely interdisciplinary. For example, to truly understand sociology, one must understand economics, history, politics, and a host of other disciplines. Each is connected to the other in ways that make them challenging to study on their own.  Sociology itself is the study of interconnectedness. It is the study of how people and groups interact. It is reflective of our culture, our time, our history, our current events, our economy, where we live, how we think...all of these. Any silos that are studied in sociology are examined in relation to the whole.

In her post "Sociology, Sidewalks and Walking" on the Everyday Sociology blog, Teresa Irene Gonzales discusses the affect that environment has on the speed at which people walk.  She cites sociologist Georg Simmel and activist/journalist Jane Jacobs when she points out that in high-energy urban environments - she specifically mentions Chicago - she, and others around her, tend to move quickly; people cannot help but feed on the excitement with so much to see, do, and experience, and so they move rapidly from place to place.  Conversely, in smaller towns with a slower pace, people tend to "meander," as Gonzales puts it.  The energy of the world around us affects us, and we then affect that energy.  We are all part of the same whole.

This leads to an interesting question: is what we believe to be true actually true?  Do we move quickly because we feel energetic, or because people around us feel energetic and we feel that we should, too, even when we want to meander?  Do we go with the flow because it's easier and expected?  It's a chicken-and-egg question, really: how do we influence our environment, and how does our environment influence us?

Take, for example, economic indicators.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases data regularly, including employment statistics, information on the consumer price index, data relating to payroll, and so on.  These numbers, by the way, have recovered tremendously since the Great Recession began in 2008, but they lead me to question the way in which statistics influence behaviors.  Do we stop purchasing because we feel that we should, or do economic indicators imply that we should?  The mortgage industry collapse was severe, but was its severity compounded by the panic that followed?  And would the panic have followed if the panic wasn't instigated by statistics?  It's a convoluted way of thinking, sure, but it boils down to this: our environment caused us to behave in a certain way, which then affected our environment, which affected us, snowballing into the Great Recession.

Sociology acknowledges this.  It doesn't provide definitive answers - first A, then B - but uses general rules to explain behaviors: if A, then B, if C is in place.  Again, it is the study of interconnectedness: of people, of cultures, of disciplines.

Caravello, (2007) point this out in their piece Information Literacy: The Partnership of Sociology Faculty and Social Science Librarians, saying that information literacy recognizes “the relationship of sociological topics to other fields and how this affects information seeking and evaluation.” Students of sociology must be open to other disciplines in ways many other students need not be.  Access to a broad variety of sources is crucial for the study of sociology.

To aid librarians in this endeavor, the Anthropology and Sociology Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has created the Assessment Tool for Sociology Collections and Services in Academic Libraries (2010).  It recommends that librarians in charge of collection development for sociology departments "review the journals and monographs held on-site or licensed" and also recommends that they "determin[e] the research, instruction and curricular needs of the sociology program" (p. 2).  It then divides institutions into levels based upon the structure of their sociology programs and then asks questions based on those levels.  Answering the questions guides each institution to develop the best possibly collection to suit their needs and available resources.  It does not make recommendations, but instead leaves the librarian to decide for him/herself exactly what fits the given needs.

An excellent sociology librarian, then, is one that recognizes the field's interdisciplinary nature.  He or she knows that relevant data can be found in a variety of sources.  And he or she recognizes that, for every source, for every idea, there is an additional question to be answered, an additional source to be found...and that sometimes, the answers can be found while walking on the sidewalk.

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