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Chapter 2: Research Process and Research Methods

2.5 Research and Public Sociology

Should the primary aim of sociological research be to help improve society, or should its primary aim be to discover social knowledge for its own sake? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. However, following in the spirit of the early American sociologists, this book hopes to show the relevance of sociological knowledge and insights, as derived from sound, objective research, for addressing many of the social issues facing American society and various nations around the world.

Although sociological research findings may be relevant for many social issues, this certainly does not guarantee that these findings will actually be marshaled to address these issues. For this to happen, elected officials and other policymakers must be open to the implications of research findings, and an informed public must make its desire for addressing these issues known. For many readers, the introduction to sociology course they are now taking might be the only sociology course they ever take; other readers will take more sociology courses and may even become a sociology major. Regardless of how many sociology courses you do take, and regardless of whether you become an elected official or policymaker or you remain a member of the informed public, this book hopes to help you think like a sociologist as social issues continue and emerge in the many years ahead.

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Think Like a Sociologist

Public Sociology & Minimum Wage

Photo of restaurant worker packaging take out food.

Essential workers, many of whom earn low or minimum wages, continued to report to work during the pandemic lockdowns and consequently were much more exposed to COVID19-related illnesses and death. Norma Mortenson – Pixels

In the 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage, and he signed an executive order raising it to $10.95/hour for individuals working on new federal service contracts. Congress did not pass legislation to change the national minimum wage more broadly. The result has become a national controversy, with various economists taking different sides on the issue, and public protests being staged by several groups of minimum-wage workers.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that some workers would get larger paychecks while others would lose their jobs, and companies would be less likely to hire new workers because of the increased cost of paying them (Bernstein 2014; cited in CNN). Proponents of raising the minimum wage contend that some job loss would be greatly offset by the positive effects on the economy of low-wage workers having more income (Hassett 2014; cited in CNN).

The issue continues to be argued as President Biden, like his predecessor, further raised the federal minimum wage through an executive order, in 2021. The order will take effect in 2022, raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour (and requiring that it rise in accordance with inflation) (Scheiber 2021).

Sociologists may consider the minimum wage issue from differing perspectives as well. How much of an impact would a minimum wage raise have for a single mother? Some might study the economic effects, such as her ability to pay bills and keep food on the table. Others might look at how reduced economic stress could improve family relationships. Some sociologists might research the impact on the status of small business owners. These could all be examples of , a branch of sociology that strives to bring sociological dialogue to public forums. The goals of public sociology are to increase understanding of the social factors that underlie social problems and assist in finding solutions. According to Michael Burawoy (2005), the challenge of public sociology is to engage multiple publics in multiple ways (Griffiths, et. al., 2015).

What should be the role of sociologists and sociological research in the creation of public policy?

How could this type of research help or hurt society?

 



Section 2.5 References

Cable Network News (CNN). (2014). Should the minimum wage be raised? CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/infographic/pf/low-wage-worker/.

Buroway, M. (2005). “2004 Presidential Address: For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70 (February): 4–28. Retrieved from http://burawoy.berkeley.edu/Public%20Sociology,%20Live/Burawoy.pdf.

Scheiber, N. (2021, April 27). Biden orders $15 minimum wage for federal contractors. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/business/economy/biden-minimum-wage-federal-contractors.html.

CC licensed content, Shared previously and Adapted:

Barr, Scott, Sarah Hoiland, Shailaja Menon, Cathay Matresse, Florencia Silverira and Rebecca Vonderhaar.  (n.d.) Introduction to sociology. Introduction to Sociology | Simple Book Production. Lumen Learning.  License: CC BY 4.0. License Terms:  Access for free at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/.

Conerly, Tonja, Kathleen Holmes, Asha Lal Tamang, Jennifer Hensley, Jennifer L. Trost, Pamela Alcasey, Kate McGonigal, Heather Griffiths, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Tommy Sadler, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones. (2021).  Introduction to Sociology 3E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-3e/pages/1-introduction.

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Stayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones.  (2015).  Introduction to Sociology 2E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-2e/pages/1-introduction-to-sociology.

Saylor Foundation.  (2015). Social Problems: Continuity and Change. License:  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_social-problems-continuity-and-change/.

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Exploring Our Social World: The Story of Us by Jean M. Ramirez, Suzanne Latham, Rudy G. Hernandez, and Alicia E. Juskewycz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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