Associate Professor Fran Collyer has been awarded $601,647 from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to examine the history of Australian sociology and its impact on public discourse, policy and legislation.
University of Sydney sociologist Associate Professor Fran Collyer’s research project, Knowledge-making in Australian society: Sociology and its social impact, aims to reveal how Australians, over several generations, have sought to make sense of society in an organised way.
Drawing from interviews with key scholars, and archival/citation data, the study will determine how sociological knowledge has been shaped by a context of post-colonialism, multiculturalism and global capitalism as well as the extent to which these ideas have contributed to, and been influenced by, policy, legislation and public debate.
A study of the history of sociology and its on-going social influence is relevant to all Australians. Since the earliest of times, humans have sought to make sense of their societies, comprehend the astounding variation in social relations and practices, and either defend or remove entrenched inequalities and injustices.
While there have been many papers and books devoted to the progress of sociology over the past two centuries in Britain and the USA, there have been few accounts of Australian sociology, which is what makes this research focus significant.
Over the generations, sociologists have been central players in producing and disseminating knowledge about Australian society, engaging in policy debates and shaping public opinion. We need to know how their understandings were developed, and to do this we must examine the institutional and social context in which they were placed.
“As academics and 'knowledge workers', we are all finding it increasingly important to be able to demonstrate the value and impact of our work. This project has an importance beyond the compilation of a history of one discipline because it demonstrates the real social impact of sociology on our lives, in areas like media, policy development and public discussions about the type of society we want to live in.”
Asked about the benefit of being awarded funding for the project Associate Professor Collyer said: "It is always exciting to be awarded an ARC Discovery grant. For a social scientist like myself, who works empirically - gathering data in the field - such funding is critical”.
To date, the project team, which includes postdoctoral fellows Drs. Ben Manning, Natalie Maystorovich, Georgia Van Toorn and Sky Hugman, has conducted 80 interviews with sociologists to collect their career biographies and understand their experiences of the 'sociological journey'; mapped the contemporary sociological field to identify the hundreds of sociologists working in universities across Australia; and is in the process of building case studies of the early establishment of departments of sociology at four of the major public universities.
“It is still too early to show any findings from the study, but the stories from individuals about their professional lives and their journeys into, and through sociology, make it very clear that there are many ways of 'being a sociologist' and 'doing sociology”, said Associate Professor Collyer.
To gain broader insight the team will also survey early career sociologists, such as PhDs and tutors, and sociologists who work outside universities in the private sector, in policymaking bodies and NGOs.
“Interviewing practitioners in corporations and the public sector is vital for gaining evidence about the impact of sociology beyond the academy over the past 50 years, and revealing the extent to which sociological methods, ideas and practices have contributed to building the society we live in today.”
The three-year project is due to conclude in 2021 and the team will publish their findings in a monograph, on Wikipedia and public forums.