LSE’s motto is Rerum cognoscere causes which means ‘to know the causes of things’. You should not be content with simplistic explanations – you should always look beneath the explanations for a deeper understanding of the social world- that’s what the motto connotes. Sociology is one discipline that holds this motto rather close to its heart. This brief note will try to tell you how.
Many are familiar with the popular health warning for students studying Sociology – if you take this subject you will never see things in the same light again! This course module has been and continues to be one of the most popular options in the BSc Business & Management Degrees offered at ISBF from the University of London with academic direction from the London School of Economics (LSE), precisely because it challenges students and lecturers alike to think, analyse, criticise and argue.
The course, with a strong grounding in the most influential sociological theories and methods of social research, equips students with knowledge of the social world, and the key ways it can be researched. One of the most important things to remember is that sociology is more than common sense! You will be introduced to the subject of sociology and will be encouraged to think how different it is from other social sciences that you may have studied.
However, it does not stop there. If you have been wondering how any of this is relevant to a career in Economics, Finance, Management, Business Studies and the like, allow me to allay your frayed nerves.
When I first joined the Indian School of Business and Finance a couple of years back, a colleague asked: ‘What on earth is a sociologist doing in a school of business and finance?’ For the first few weeks of employment, I was not sure myself. Having been trained in the sociological tradition of challenging established values and dominant ideologies of modern society, I could not help but feel a bit like ‘the other’.
However, I soon began to realise the extent to which Sociology lies at the very core of the trio of business, finance and management, reinforcing my faith in my vocation. I started to see how knowledge of Weber’s formulations on bureaucracy was invaluable to understand how organisations operate; my familiarity with gender theory helped me make sense of the persistence of the glass-ceiling syndrome in organisations; my knowledge of globalisation theory proved extremely useful to grasp the organisational changes arising from increased integration of the global economy.
In a nutshell, sociological knowledge has been and will continue to be an ideal complement to management studies, as it highlights the complexities, ambiguities and paradoxes of management, and invites students to go beyond conventional prescriptive approaches that over-simplify the managerial experience. Sociological knowledge encourages openness to alternative perspectives constitutive of the totality of human experience inside work organisations – perspectives that take into account both the managerial and the employees’ perspectives- the dominant and the subaltern. This is one discipline that encourages, even forces students to appreciate that work organisations do not exist in a socio-historical vacuum, but are products of specific historical conditions; that work organisations are not static but are constantly (and actively) transformed by human beings, and that human behaviour in organisational settings is fluid, complex, and often contradictory.
With my background in academic Sociology, I once held a rather stereotyped view that critical thinking was incompatible with management studies. From my erstwhile academic perspective, management studies reinforced conventional, apolitical views of managers as ‘rational’ decision-makers, and of management as a purely technical activity. That has changed for the better as I now acknowledge that through critical thinking students gain a greater understanding of how business analysts and managers alike exercise power in organisations and also how they relate to their peers and subalterns. This comes about through an excellent blend of theory and practical applications that the Sociology course offers. It also prompts the discovery of alternative discourses in business and management – for example, ‘green capitalism’, ‘industrial ecology’ and the ‘cradle to cradle’ concept. All of this stems from the primaeval urge that Sociologists seem to possess- they pride themselves on asking “unasked questions”.
Why are so few women in senior management positions? Why is sexual harassment in the workplace often ignored or covered up? How is a language used in management as a political weapon? Why is it that there is so much resistance in businesses circles to the notion of environmental sustainability? Why has globalisation not benefited all nations in the world? Why is it so hard to have real democracy in capitalist societies? I have found that questions posed from a critical perspective push students out of their comfort zones, encouraging them to become more inquisitive and sophisticated in their analyses of organisational/financial/management phenomena.
Borrowing from Berger (1971), it can be said that sociology exists in management schools as a ‘form of consciousness’ that ‘looks for levels of reality other than those given in the official interpretations of society’. This manifests itself in lectures that try to go off the beaten track, as students realise that the production of knowledge is not flowing from the teacher to the student, but rather, from the student to the teacher, and from student to student. It is this dynamicity of the subject that equips students studying Sociology in a Business, Management, and Economics Degree with an alternative, yet often ignored, perspective and an insightful understanding of human behaviour, which would lay a strong foundation for their further study in subjects as diverse as Marketing, Human Resource Management, Organisation Behaviour.
by Aryapriya Ganguly (Assistant Professor of Sociology, Indian School of Business and Finance)
- Location: India
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