Visualizing the Sociological Field

By Sharon Cornelissen and Joel Mittleman

All sociologists amongst us have probably faced this question at some point of their life, whether it is at a holiday dinner amongst family, on a first date with a non-academic (?!) or when striking up a casual conversation with a stranger: “So.. what is Sociology? What do sociologists actually study?” 

While I have occasionally stumbled my way through these questions unprepared, with incomprehensible inventions such as ‘the psychology of society’ or ‘the anthropology of the United States,’ Joel Mittleman, a classmate of mine – anticipating the same question in his SOC101 discussion session – came up with a more creative answer.

He word clouded the entire American Sociological Association 2014 Conference Program.

Joel, ASA word cloud

I think it is quite interesting and informative. For instance, the concepts of gender and race feature more prominently in the program than ‘class’ (if you check out Google NFrequency here you can see the steady decline in the use of ‘class’ since the early 1970s up to 2008 – it remains open whether we would observe a temporary increase again in recent years since 2008 due to the great Recession).  Even more interesting, of course, would be to see the changes over time; What would a word cloud of the ASA program in the 1950s have looked like? Or in the 1970s?