Sociology and engineering are, on the surface, two disciplines that are worlds apart. But through a basic understanding of some of sociology's principles, an engineer can super boost their skill set.
Here we explore what sociology is and see how an appreciation for it can help engineers.
Why should engineering students study sociology?
Sociology and engineering are two fields that might, on the surface, appear to be completely incompatible. But, in fact, there are some important reasons why engineers might want to acquire an appreciation for sociology in their profession.
But, understandably (and given its origins) you may also feel that sociology is unscientific and politically motivated at its core.
While there is some truth to this, after all, it is a humanities subject (though some claim it to be a social science), not a true science, and many aspects of it have been hijacked by various political factions, some aspects of the field are of great utility to engineers.
But what is sociology? According to the American Sociological Association, sociology is, at its core: -
The study of society involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies,
The study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes,
The study of social aggregations, the entities through which humans move throughout their lives', and;
An overarching unification of all studies of humankind, including history, psychology, and economics.
By learning about sociology you, as an engineer, will gain an understanding of the social, moral and human values of a society. This will help you better manage and deal with colleagues, clients, and the general public.
It can also be argued, that by gaining an understanding of someone's problems, grievances, welfare, and security it will improve the way engineers create a solution to a problem.
By integrating other points of view, an engineer's labors (the final product - - machines, infrastructure, etc.) will be more utilitarian for the end-user and better for society as a whole.
Is sociology a good degree?
Sociology also has some other interesting benefits for an engineer. Here are a few examples: -
1. You will gain a better understanding of mankind
The main benefit of learning sociology is that you will glean a great understanding of the complex and often confusing nature of man as an individual and as a collective. The results from studies into the societal behavior of people will enable an engineer to better plan and design their work.
It could also make you more employable, due to the fact that in the U.K. for example, the workforce has a broad demographic. A better understanding of other cultures would be beneficial to you as a potential employee or business owner.
It will also help you to foster a positive working atmosphere and gain a greater understanding of potential, or real, frictions between coworkers and the public at large.
2. You might actually enjoy it!
Since engineers are human beings (fact!), you may find that sociology is of interest to you. Many sociology students tend to report that they have a high level of satisfaction with their courses.
"This means that a degree in Sociology is generally seen as rewarding and stimulating by students, very important factors we're sure you'll agree. Sociology is, therefore, a course which requires students to put the effort in, and subsequently get a high return through teaching, assessment, and knowledge." - thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
3. You will add more strings to your bow
Sociology, like many other academic subjects, will help you broaden your skillset. Many of the skills you acquire within it are readily transferable to other areas of your work and life.
You will gain experience in critical thinking that can help you make more rational and measured decisions when it comes to issues of fairness, for example.
4. It will help you better cope with changes in society
Society, by its very nature, is constantly changing. Sociology will help you understand what is going on and assist you to adapt and cope with it.
5. You can combine it with many other subjects
Sociology doesn't need to be taken as a pure degree. It can readily be combined as a joint honor subject in many institutions.
"Another reason to study Sociology is the potential for combining it with another course. For example, you might want to study both Sociology and Mathematics – or, if you have a flair for foreign languages, try Sociology and Spanish, and for those sociologists, with a musical side there is even Sociology with Music. Variety to your degree can help make your university experience that much more vibrant, and Sociology complements this very well" - thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
6. It's good for business!
Sociology, as we have already seen, can prepare a student for a lifetime of change by developing their appreciation of diversity, love of learning, writing and study skills, and knowledge base about human behavior, social organization, culture, and social change.
"A degree in sociology is an excellent springboard for entering the world of business, industry, and organizations. Career opportunities for students completing the Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in sociology include employment in local, state, and federal social and community service agencies, such as housing agencies, juvenile courts and juvenile and adult correctional institutions, urban and community planning agencies, mental health and drug counseling centers, youth guidance agencies, and community organizations.
In short, the career opportunities available to those with a sociology degree are numerous and diverse." - Tennesse State University.
7. It may help you make the world a better place
An appreciation for the forces that affect attitudes, values, and behaviors in society might offer opportunities for innovation.
"While we are all creatures of the various groups, organizations, and governments in our environments, we are also their creators. Sociology provides the tools and skills we need to take a more active role in creating, participating in, managing, and advancing such groups." - Tennesse State University.
By learning and integrating these insights, engineers will be able to create new solutions to help solve many of the problems faced by societies around the world through technology and innovation.
What is social engineering in sociology?
Social engineering is a discipline of "social science" that attempts to understand and, at times, influence social behaviors on a large scale. Whether that be through better governance, through using mass media or through private organizations.
The general idea is to attempt to produce desired characteristics within a target population. Any social engineering strategy relies on a large, and good quality, body of information in order to enable a reliable method of artificially affecting change within a target demographic.
While it can be used for worthwhile causes, human history is littered with examples of social engineering being used for nefarious, and frankly, genocidal outcomes.
Many authoritarian governments in the past, from the National Socialists in Germany to the Soviet Union in Russia, have used social engineering techniques to fundamentally alter the behavior and attitudes of their citizens.
Both these examples used media like newspapers, books, films, the arts, and even architecture to change personal values and private relationships amongst the general public.
In some circumstances, forceful relocation or the upheaval of traditional systems have been employed in countries like China and Cambodia to name but a few. These have, all too often, led to great suffering and tragedy.
But social engineering is regularly used by many other non-authoritarian countries around the world. These strategies tend to be more sustainable, gradual affairs whose outcomes can be as far-reaching as those employed in the past by authoritarian regimes (e.g. "The War on Drugs", anti-smoking campaigns etc).
It is also regularly employed by criminals both offline and online on a regular basis.
What is a societal engineer?
Social engineers are specialists that conduct a range of activities to either persuade or deceive a target person or demographic to make them perform a specific task or action. This could be through disclosing personal, or other sensitive information, or enabling the social engineer to gain unauthorized access to it.
Social engineers can either be criminals, government agents or can work for private organizations. With regard to the latter, social engineers employ a range of activities to attempt to engineer "calls to action" by customers.
This can be either through digital means (like email), marketing campaigns, or physically in the real world.
When referring to criminal activities, social engineers are nothing new. In common parlance, they are more commonly known as "con-men" or "confidence tricksters."