When I was studying ‘A’ level sociology, back in the 1980s, my wonderful teacher emphasised to us the importance of regularly reading a quality newspaper. Sociology students, she said, need to be especially well informed about what is happening now in the society around them. This is a message I give out to my own undergraduate students too, stressing that sociology is a subject that should have its finger on the pulse of contemporary social life, and that a well informed and up-to-date interest in current social and cultural happenings is a necessary characteristic of a good sociologist.
Reading a quality newspaper regularly is a great way to get the sociological antenna twitching and beeping. For me, in the UK at least, there is none better than The Guardian. Yes, it fits with my own personal left of centre politics – The Guardian has long been both praised and criticised as a beacon of liberal democratic politics. More importantly, in both print form and on-line, The Guardian has a dedicated ‘Society’ section, giving prominence to a range of social and cultural news items and features. It also has a ‘Datastore/Datablog’ feature, presenting wonderful data on sociological topics, such as divorce rates, child poverty, health, the economy, unemployment and so on. I continuously use links to news reports and features from The Guardian in my teaching (I do sometimes use other newspapers too……..).
It’s not just these special sections in The Guardian on topics of sociological importance that I find so useful. It’s also the attention it pays to important social and cultural happenings and trends and the evidence based social scientific research it reports on throughout its pages. The journalist Polly Toynbee mentioned The Guardian in her speech at the launch of the Campaign for Social Science held at the House of Lords in February 2011. She said, in a semi-serious humorous exaggeration, “I think The Guardian pages, about 90% of its pages, are filled with the valuable work that [social scientists] do that tells us so much about the life we live”.
So, for me, The Guardian is THE sociologist’s newspaper – and, for the time-being at least, you can access it on-line for free!.
For a history of The Guardian newspaper, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/gnm-archive/2002/jun/06/1
For more on Datastore/Datablog, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/mar/10/blogpost1
To listen to Polly Toynbee’s speech praising social science, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gMjD6e5hiyg