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Enthusiasm for sociology picks up

education Updated: Apr 14, 2010 10:22 IST
Rahat Bano
Rahat Bano
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

I do not think I would have been happy in any other profession,” Dipankar Gupta, one of India’ well-known sociologists, once said. At the Delhi School of Economics, he ‘discovered a certain enthusiasm for sociology’.

And so can you if you are fascinated by the workings of the different societies of the world and want to know more about what binds and cleaves communities and races, their beliefs, customs... Sociology is a broad social science that can open many fulfilling avenues. It can launch you into an international career as well. Various social, economic and political changes in the country are expanding the realm for sociologists.

Says Surinder S Jodhka, professor of sociology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), “(In academics) sociology has been growing in India for the past 30-40 years. New universities are coming up. The voluntary sector (non-government organisations) is expanding.”

Adds Tulsi Patel, professor of sociology, University of Delhi and secretary, Indian Sociological Society, Delhi, “A very large number of our students — five to 15 per cent — go to non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, UN bodies and World Wide Fund for Nature.”

Students also get work with the UN bodies, the Civil Services, the publishing industry (as copy editors and commissioning editors), and media and market research agencies. There are also certain research firms which carry out surveys for international funding organisations, to give an example. “There are 30-40 such professional organisations here. This area is expanding,” says Jodhka.

According to him, the government and industry can also use sociologists in new ways. “There’s pressure on governments in the West (and in India), too, to formulate effective policies which are evidence-based.” As for the business world, “The corporate sector is under pressure to take up development programmes, take affirmative action.” Corporations need to involve people in the development process to ensure inclusive growth, he says. “The mess in Nandigram and Singur could have been easily avoided. You have to evolve programmes where you involve the people in the process.”

Some corporate houses do pick up sociology students from JNU and Delhi School of Economics but for the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Jodhka says that businesses will face greater push to move from mere CSR to inclusive development. That’s where good students of sociologist can fit in.

Rie Debabrata Tamas, donor relations adviser, Division of Resources Mobilization / Partnerships Bureau, UNDP, New York, explains how a sociology background is a base for an international career. “My academic training in sociology has provided me analytic frameworks that are essential to my current position in social development at the UN Development Programme.” However, students also need to couple their theoretical knowledge with managerial skills. Debabrata

Tamas acquired this by working for government agencies and civil society organisations. “A large percentage of positions at the UN in the field of social and economic development require that the candidate possess an advanced degree (at least a Master’s) in development related areas, such as the social sciences, economics, law or similar fields. Sociology, along with several of the other social sciences, such as political science, in my opinion, provides a good background for such positions, but it is important that the candidate also have adequate experience of working within team settings, preferably possess some managerial experience (organising task teams etc), and have the ability and inclination to conduct independent research — all of which are skills that can be partly gained through academic training, and partly from relevant work experience,” says Tamas.

What's it about?
A broad discipline, sociology is the study of all kinds of societies. In the days of yore in the Western world, sociology referred to Westerners’ study of their own society. Those who set sail to foreign lands to study ‘other’ people (the natives) were anthropologists.

Sociologists focus on social stratification, religion, culture, politics, economy, etc. They use both qualitative and qualitative techniques in their study. In India, the emphasis has been on quantitative work but the scenario is changing

Clock Work
The average day of a sociologist in a university:
9 am: Reach office in the department and prepare for the day’s lecture
10-11 am: Lecture to MA students
11 am: Coffee break. Check/reply to e-mails from publishers/ collaborators for a joint project in a foreign university etc
12 Noon: Attend seminar in the department
1-2 pm: Lunch at home
3 pm: Go to a field in a nearby village for research work on a World Bank project
5 pm: Write report/ referee a book
7 pm: Go to a TV new channel studio for a panel discussion

The Payoff
Monthly pay packages in the academia (government sector)
Assistant professor: About Rs 40,000 a month
Associate professor: About Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 a month
Professor: Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000 a month

A professor working on an assignment from an international funding/development body can make about Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a day (the project might take 40 days to complete)

A person with a doctorate joining the corporate sector can earn about Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000 a month

Skills
.
Able to empathise with and understand various societies/ cultures
. Strong analytical skills
. Reasonable quantitative aptitude
. Great communication skills
. Capacity for hard work

How do i get there?
You can take any subject combination at the plus-two level. The CBSE offers sociology at the plus-two level. After that, pursue a Bachelor’s and Master’s in sociology. An MPhil/PhD degree is required for a career in academics and research

Institutes & urls
. University of Delhi
www.du.ac.in
. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
www.jnu.ac.in
. University of Hyderabad
www.uohyd.ernet.in
. Jadavpur University, Kolkata
www.jadavpur.edu
. Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
www.jmi.ac.in

Pros & cons
.

The study programme equips students to work in different areas


.

You can make an international career


.

Learn about other cultures


.

It’s not professional programme. Relevant career avenues are relatively limited in number

Opportunities with corporates

These days, business houses recruit sociology students for CSR initiatives and marketing divisions

What does the study of sociology encompass today?
In India, it includes the study of one’s own society as well as other societies – tribal, castes, religion and industrial society. You start with beliefs, customs, practices in religion, in areas of social structures, economy and politics. You study how people live as members of a society and how these people think they live as members of their society. Sociologists try to understand what these people say and what compels them to say what they’re saying.

What kinds of job avenues are open to students of sociology?
There are a range of options today. To get into academics and research, they go for higher studies (MPhil, PhD). All social sciences and arts fields are open to them, and so is the MBA track. After graduation in sociology, they can also go for professional programmes such as social work and become medical or industrial social workers. For those completing MA, the industrial and corporate world these days offers opportunities in CSR (corporate social responsibility) and marketing divisions.

A very large number of our students — five to 15 per cent — go to non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, UN bodies and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Our students also get into publishing as copy editors and commissioning editors, as also journalists, for both print and audio-visual.

How many of your students on an average join corporate houses every year?
One or two are picked up every year by companies such as Wipro, Procter & Gamble and ICICI (CSR division).

What skills and traits are pre-requisites for one wishing to study sociology?
A sensitivity towards observing social life. You should should have a habit doing some general and wide-ranging reading on the functioning of societies. You should also have a flair for writing.

Tell us something about the development studies portion in your MA curriculum?
We have one course (i.e. one paper) on development studies. We cover economic society, gender and society, environment, and development, which open many possibilities for students.

Tulsi Patel, professor of sociology interviewed by Rahat Bano

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