This comes down to several convincing points. First, sociology is a scientific discipline. It teaches students to use empirical data to understand current social realities. And sociologists use a variety of empirical research methods, from quantitative research to qualitative methods, to comparative and historical studies. Students who study sociology as undergraduates will certainly be exposed to the use of statistics as a method for representing and analyzing complex social phenomena; they will also be exposed to qualitative tools like interviews, focus groups, and participant-observer data. So a sociology education helps the student to think like a social scientist — attentive to facts, probing with hypotheses, offering explanations, critical in offering and assessing arguments for conclusions.
Second, the content of sociology is particularly important in our rapidly changing social world. Sociology promises to provide data and theory that help to better understand the human and social realities we confront. Moreover, the discipline is defined around the key social issues we all need to understand better than we currently do, and our policy makers need to understand if they are to design policies that allow for social progress: for example, race, poverty, urbanization, inequalities, globalization, immigration, environmental change, gender, power, and class. We might say that an important part of the value of a sociology education is that it gives the student a better grasp of the dynamics of these key social processes.
So sociology is indeed a valuable part of a university education. It provides a foundation for better understanding and engaging with the globalizing world our young people will need to navigate and lead. It provides students with the intellectual tools needed to make sense of the shifting and conflictual social world we live in, and this in turn permits them to contribute to solutions for the most difficult social problems that we face.
This sounds like the pitch many a sociology professor makes in an Introduction to Sociology course.
This also got me thinking about how many academics outside of sociology would defend sociology and suggest students should pursue it. Perhaps this is an issue for many disciplines but at the moment I can’t remember seeing too many public defenses of sociology from people of other disciplines.