Acceptance speech for TASA Sociology in Action Award

Yoland Wadsworth, Research Sociologist: 

The Award for Sociology in Action was presented by TASA President Katie Hughes at the 2016 TASA conference dinner. As Yoland took the podium and prepared to speak, she said:

‘I don’t want you to think that if you spend a lifetime working outside in applied sociology, you’ll need a little torch and glasses, and you’re going to have to read what you’ve written because the brain cells don’t all join up, and various other bits of the bodily vehicle don’t work so well [laughter]–––but it was a great ride! [cheers, applause]’.

Many thanks for this award – which I’d like to accept not just as an individual sociologist who has been lucky to have had a fantastic 35 years working outside academe since taking that first job in 1972 as a Research Sociologist (that was the title) for the State Health Department – but also as one of a community of sociologists working outside the academy, many of whom have also had long careers as sociologists ‘outside’ (or as we call it ‘inside’).

The award means a lot to me because it confirms one can have a long and continuing career outside academe – still be a sociologist and do sociology – and be recognised by my peers for it. I hope it gives heart to those who make up the vast majority of sociology graduates who don’t remain in universities after our studies are completed, and I hope it also gives heart to those of you who are the teachers and supervisors, watching your students leave the academy, year in year out, wondering whether they will be able to use or retain their sociological perspective, theories and research capabilities ‘outside’.

Well, I for one wrote my occupation as ‘Research Sociologist’ on every Tax Return for at least 30 years, while working, according to my 67-page CV, with more than 3500 practitioners, projects, services, service-users, community groups, local, state and Commonwealth governments, non-government organisations, unions, community health centres, hospitals, welfare and community services, disability and mental health consumer organisations, neighbourhood houses and adult education centres [applause], assisting them with carrying out research, evaluation and co-inquiry projects; and also writing the books mentioned by Katie Hughes that have been Australia’s best-sellers on social research and evaluation to help demystify these and systems thinking and so on, creating a ‘social science for the people’.

Yet retention of a sociological identity ‘outside’ is initially uncertain, and I thank some sociological colleagues who provided our own little ‘sociology department’ in the State Health bureaucracy in those early critical years when I could all too easily have lost a sense of being a sociologist: Patricia M Price who was working in child maltreatment and breaking new ground there, Christina Metz who later worked on environmental issues, and Lucinda Aberdeen who conducted ground-breaking road accident research. I’d also like to thank Raewyn Connell, Helen Marshall and Rosalie Aroni for 40 years of knowing and respecting my work. They have been invaluable bridges for me between the academy and ‘outside’.

I specially thank those who nominated me for this award, who provided the formal reference, and who judged me worthy. Thank you for all that work.

It’s for another time to reflect on the significant differences in epistemological standpoint of sociologists situated materially in academic and non-academic settings – a topic I explored initially in my PhD studies looking at Sociologists in Academic and Social Policy-oriented Work Settings – and also for another time to look at the prospects of the current new hybrid academics-in-non-academic-practice; the prospects of the ‘full cycle science’ meta epistemology I generated from my work ‘outside’; and the prospects of social science per se in a world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and ABC Science Shows, and Chief Scientist appointments, that remain bewilderingly exclusive of social science and sociology.

It would be great to see the documentation of the positive impact and outcomes of sociology outside academe, to contribute to building a sociology that is seen as just as essential as the STEM quadrinity.

Thank you again.

[Editor’s note: Some of Yoland’s best known books are Do it yourself social research; Everyday evaluation on the run; and Building in research and evaluation: Human inquiry for living systems.]

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