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What were your thoughts about Lise’s descriptions of Policy Sociology? How do you think Lise’s arguments provide additio

What were your thoughts about Lise’s descriptions of Policy Sociology? How do you think Lise’s arguments provide additio

Using the article attached answer each question separately.

1. What were your thoughts about Lise's descriptions of Policy Sociology? How do you think Lise's arguments provide additional information to the Banton (2016) and Shahidullah (1998) articles?

2.Neither of the recommendations Lize made while working for OPPAGA were accepted by the legislatures and acted upon. However, he does believe his work at Free the Slaves had a positive effect. To what degree do you think Policy Sociologists are truly affecting change and informing policy decisions? Are there factors which could make them more effective?

3. Lise characterized his work with the government agency as quantitative and that done for the NGO as qualitative? Why do you think that was? Is the self-defined purpose of the agency tied to the type of research methods the agency may prefer?

4. Do you feel that Lise adequately explores the way client-driven sociology can interfere with the research process and add bias to the results?

5.Lise states that policy sociologists need interpersonal and communication skills that are not specifically taught in sociology programs? Do you think they should be? Should more emphasis be placed on insuring that students recognize the benefits of internships or volunteer work? Are their other skills you think Policy Sociologists need?

6.  In conclusion, what struck you as must important in Lise's discussion? What takeaway point were you left with?

Mobilizing Evidence: Reflections on Policy Sociology

Mobilizing Evidence: Reflections on Policy Sociology

Steven E. Lize1

Published online: 6 June 2015 # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Abstract This reflection offers considerations of a career in policy sociology. The author reflects on the role of the policy sociologist and the research produced for policy. Three examples of sociological practice focus on the sociologist as offering actionable evidence for nongovernmental organizations, as evaluator of prison and substance abuse treatment programs, and as watchdog for government accountability. Thoughts are offered on training for a career in policy sociology, as well as caution to remain reflexive and critically aware of bias sources.

Keywords Applied sociology . Evaluation research . Public sociology . Social policy

As president of the American Sociological Association in 2004, Michael Burawoy argued for public sociology (Burawoy 2005). In doing so, Burawoy described Bpolicy sociology^ as a client-led applied sociology. It is professional sociology applied to problems or policy issues raised by organizations, agencies, or corporations. Burawoy declared policy sociology distinct from pure professional sociology, which is funda- mentally academic sociology (Burawoy 2005). Working with Burawoy’s typology, I use the term policy sociology to communicate a form of applied sociology that is the scientific study of social life with the aim of informing policy decisions and improving practices directed at social change. It is a career option for persons like me who are committed to social change efforts, perhaps more so than to the discipline.

Debating the merits of public sociology, Mathieu Deflem (2013) described the cotemporary social organization of social research and sociology as Bmarketized.^ Deflem means that the shape of the discipline and its course of research priorities follows increasingly the logic of the market. The field of sociology and the career opportunities for sociologists are developing through the logic of contemporary capi- talism. This capitalist rationality drives the production of knowledge and its application toward marketable applications for utilitarian aims. Sociologists seek funding according

Am Soc (2015) 46:511–517 DOI 10.1007/s12108-015-9274-9

* Steven E. Lize [email protected]

1 College of Social Work, University of South Carolina, 902 Sumter St, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

to stricter competition, largely from federal sources and their requirements, and less from open-ended public and philanthropic contributions. Deflem (2013) also raises alarm about the shift he perceives in sociology departments producing sociologists with a diminished capacity to produce scholarship. Add to that the gap between available academic posts and the numbers of professional sociologists (Spalter-Roth and Kisielewski 2013) and graduates from sociology programs face a difficult employment field. Non-academic positions may increasingly become attractive career options.

In this article I will not argue with Burawoy or Deflem for I believe both make worthy points. I believe there is a place for both kinds of sociology—the academic and the public. This journal issue explores the experiences and contributions of applied sociologists. Here I reflect on my own experience of what I consider to be policy sociology. As I mentioned, Burawoy (2005) discussed the historical place of sociolo- gists applying their profession to social change movements and policy reform efforts. My professional experience has been in the latter, though at the personal level I have also been involved in the former.

In the following sections I reflect on three ways through which I have worked as a sociologist in policy settings. The first was as a researcher with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with a mission to end modern forms of slavery by policy change and grassroots development. The second and third were in government as an analyst with a non-partisan evaluation office of a state legislature. In each example I describe my role and research, then consider the ways in which I applied sociology to policy issues. Following these examples I conclude with cautions for policy sociologists.

Actionable Evidence

The sociologist in a policy setting produces Bactionable evidence.^ This is evidence for informing policy and program decisions that is Bdeemed both adequate and appropriate for guiding actions in targeted real-world contexts^ (Julnes and Rog 2007 in Julnes and Rog 2009: 96). It is research that promotes the better of alternative arguments by advancing facts and findings from scientifically-based research.

My first position out of graduate school was as a research associate with the NGO Free the Slaves based in Washington, DC. Free the Slaves is among the international development NGOs that studies the socio-economic problems that it seeks to eradicate. Accordingly, Free the Slaves produces knowledge based in social science research methods as a part of its work. In this way, Free the Slaves seeks to build a reputation as a credible contributor to the expanding body of knowledge on human trafficking.

Free the Slaves was just a couple years old when I came on to work with the co- founder Kevin Bales to study patterns of human trafficking in the U.S. and the responses to it by law enforcement agencies and social service agencies (Bales and Lize 2005). We used a multiple case study method (Yin 1994) involving in-depth, semi- structured interviews, content analysis of court records and media reports, and even participant observation at one site through collaboration with a community-based organization of migrant agricultural laborers. We gathered data on location in Chicago; Immokalee, Florida; Las Cruces, New Mexico; New York City; and Washington, DC. The goals were to expand knowledge and understanding of contemporary slavery in the U.S. as a social problem for the purpose of proposing policy change and programmatic

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actions directed at intervention. Near the end of our study of human trafficking in the U.S., Free the Slaves earned funding from the U.S. Department of State to study child trafficking in Northern India. The study was to be applied to generating recommenda- tions for supporting community-based organizations located in India that assisted trafficking victims or engaged in developing community capacities to reduce child trafficking (Free the Slaves 2005). Free the Slaves published its reports to effect a timely impact on policy proposals that were then active in Congress, state legislatures, and federal agencies. Our manuscripts and published reports with Free the Slaves included recommendations for policies and practices aimed at altering the social structures that engender modern forms of slavery as well as the organizational actions taken by law enforcement agencies and community responders to victims (see Free the Slaves and Human Rights Center 2004; and Free the Slaves 2005).

My example with Free the Slaves shows that a policy sociologist shares the role of advocate using her research to influence change in the social phenomena studied. My next two examples are from my work within government. In that context, the advocacy role may shift to one of advising. Promoting the application of research, however, remains a mutual goal.


The policy sociologist may work in government, where she can influence policy from inside the system. The influence is likely to be indirect as the sociologist serves as the messenger of credible information that can be used to support or critique policy decisions. Perhaps rarer, the government policy sociologist may be actively involved with advocacy using the knowledge from her own research or that of others.

I had the experience of being a sociologist working for a government agency conducting evaluation studies. I worked in the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA). This legislative office is the state-level parallel to the Congressional Government Accountability Office. Its mission is to provide data, evaluative research, and objective analyses to assist legis- lative budget and policy deliberations (OPPAGA 2015).

I was not the lone sociologist, either. At the time, two other colleagues held doctorates in sociology. The office sought sociologists for methodological training as well as expertise in public policy issues such as childhood socialization, crime, delinquency, families, health, labor, organizations, and political process. 1 I and my sociologist colleagues conducted evaluations of state laws, rules, programs, and systems largely related to education, social services, public safety, and government operations.

To illustrate, I reflect on an impact evaluation of prison education and substance abuse treatment programs I conducted while with OPPAGA. The effectiveness of prison education and substance abuse treatment programs has been established (MacKenzie 2006). Yet, a program’s actual impact depends on implementation, which

1 It is perhaps a rare instance where the law specified the hiring of professionals with a degree in sociology. Until 2012, Section 11.511 (3) (a) of Florida Statutes charged the OPPAGA director with employing staff Bfrom a range of disciplines that includes law, engineering, public administration, environmental science, policy analysis, economics, sociology, and philosophy^ (emphasis added).

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is influenced by context and the characteristics of program participants (Gendreau, Goggin, and Smith 1999). Within the specific context of Florida’s prison system, implementation had been problematic due to very low completion rates of participants. It was not that participants were failing; they frequently left the class early (OPPAGA 2007). I looked at inmate classification systems and program completion rates as an underlying generative mechanism related to the success of these programs in keeping inmates from returning to crime after their release from prison (OPPAGA 2007). I found that recidivism rates differed by program completion; the participants who completed had a significantly lower recidivism rate, when controlling for individual differences among the participants (OPPAGA 2007). Exploring further, I found that the majority of participants who did not complete education programs were removed from programs due to administrative decisions, thereby preventing them from completing. Further, the majority of inmates had less than ninth grade education, but there were not enough program slots in basic and general education general equivalency degree (GED) to accommodate all those in need of advancing their education (OPPAGA 2007). Given the findings, I recommended to the Florida Legislature that the Depart- ment of Corrections provide the legislature options for increasing levels of participation in educational and substance abuse treatment programs and to monitor interruption of program participation to inform administrative decisions and increase program completion.

The research methods used in evaluation studies are not unique to sociology. Most methods are standard among other related disciplines, such as psychology, education, social work, and political science. However, the perspective brought by sociology brings scrutiny to context, structures and systems in which processes and outcomes are embedded or enmeshed. The analytical lens can focus on power relations through, for example, official administrative systems and consequences of political decisions.


Within or outside of governments or corporations, a policy sociologist may also act to expose injustices, contradictions, and abuses that may lead to policy change. While public interest groups and journalists often engage in watchdog actions, sociologists’ training involves critical thinking and questioning along with theoretical insights that enable scrutiny and detection of corruption, malfeasance, and serious misconduct. Even after authorities mete out consequences (or none) sociologists also can continue to monitor and investigate to hold organizations or individuals accountable. Reporting case studies might promote understanding of why and how such problems occur.

The final example from my own experience is also from my employment with OPPAGA. My assignment was to review Bperformance^ by the agency that administers the prison industry program which provides vocational and life skills training to state prison inmates through on-the-job training. I applied my sociological tools to critically explore and interrogate contradictions and inconsistencies in the discourses presented from the data and Bfacts^ presented by official reports and other accounts.

Most states authorize prison-based manufacturing using inmate labor. These gov- ernment enterprises have specific legal mandates to manufacture goods for sale to state and local government agencies while providing on-the-job training and life skills

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education. In Florida, the agency is called Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diver- sified Enterprises (PRIDE). In 2002 the agency’s board of directors created subsidiary for-profit corporations, on whose boards the PRIDE board members also sat (OPPAGA 2006). The PRIDE board members had made over $10 million in loans to these subsidiary corporations without requiring terms of repayment. The agency ignored state inspectors’ recommendations to formalize these loans and, subsequently, the PRIDE board had agreed to invest an additional $9 million in their subsidiaries. By 2005, most of the subsidiary ventures failed and transferred ownership directly to PRID E, resulting in PRIDE losing over $19.2 million (OPPAGA 2006). The relationships between the subsidiaries and the nature of financial loss paralleled those of Enron and World-Com. This loss severely reduced the agency’s capacity to provide vocational training and pre-release services designed to assist inmates to transition back to their communities and get jobs, thereby improving chances of avoiding criminal recidivism.

In 2006 I investigated the aftermath to determine if further loss would occur or could be avoided. My evaluation involved analysis of mixed data sources, including official documents, court records, interviews of management and law enforcement officials, and legal resources. I found that PRIDE had eliminated the subsidiaries, written procedures for new business expansions of $100,000 or more, set up a banking covenant to preclude PRIDE from investing in external businesses, removed the CEO from the board, and hired an internal auditor to report directly to the board (OPPAGA 2006). These were all positive steps toward transparency. Yet, after studying the context and content of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission corporate financial reporting rules and standards resulting from the Enron and World-Com scandals, I concluded that government needs to turn voluntary standards into manda- tory law, which must, in turn, be monitored independently and/or by the state, if governments want to keep corporations from ripping off the public. Consequently, my report to the Florida Legislature recommended statutory revision to require PRIDE to report annually on internal controls and undergo annual financial audit by the Auditor General (OPPAGA 2006). In addition to submitting a formal report, I gave testimony to legislative committees and wrote bill language for legislators who wanted to sponsor legislation. Despite these efforts, the legislation did not pass—an outcome that may be familiar to many social change advocates.

Reflection and Caution

I hope my personal reflection shows that a fulfilling career in sociology outside of academia is possible. Through my career I have found ways to be a sociologist and apply sociology to affecting policy. My graduate training in research methods seems to be the strongest asset. Aiming for work on international development issues, I chose to concentrate on qualitative methods that required me to conduct interviews and partic- ipatory observation in developing countries. This proved to be a primary asset in working with an internationally-focused NGO. Also, advanced training in quantitative methods seems to have expanded my opportunities to work for government policy in the U.S. Yet, having the intellectual tools of sociological theory and concepts helps me to probe critically and present perspectives that can challenge conventional thinking. I doubt that training in social science research methods alone would have allowed me to

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advance my career as I have done. The sociological perspective illuminates dynamics of power, culture, symbolic meaning, gender, race, class, sexuality, dis/ability, and the influence of durable and systematic relations between individuals and groups of persons. We might lose sight of these dynamics when sociologists are not in applied social research.

Practicing policy sociology demands professional skills beyond those obtained from graduate training in sociology. Advocacy skills are beneficial: communication (reporting of findings for instrumental purposes and for lay audiences), building relationships with policy leaders (in government and corporations) and nongovernmen- tal organizations, and strategic planning for thinking through how to apply the knowl- edge generated from sociological study. These are often not skills taught in sociology graduate programs and students may need to find opportunities to learn from intern- ships and volunteer service.

I have had a fulfilling career in policy sociology as I am committed to working in organizations with a mission to inform or influence policy through social science research. Reflecting critically on my experience as policy sociologist, I recognize that some independence may be lost by serving Bclients,^ especially government officials. The client-service relationship imposes pressure to communicate discoveries and recommendations useful to the specific patrons. Further, working for an advocacy group, NGO, or government agency may require subordinating personal authorship to that of the organization. A policy sociologist needs to be aware of organizational motives that might bias the scientific work just as she would do for personal motives. One must maintain reflexivity and press supervisors and even negotiate with clients to present a story of the Btruth^ that minimizes distortion. Slanted or poorly conducted research dilutes the quality of information for making policy. It further weakens the credibility of sociology as a scientific discipline.


Bales, K. & Lize, S. E. (2005). Trafficking in persons in the United States. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from:

Burawoy, M. (2005). For public sociology: 2004 American Sociological Association presidential address. American Sociological Review, 70, 4–28.

Deflem, M. (2013). The structural transformation of sociology. Sociology, 50, 156–166. doi:10.1007/s12115- 013-9634-4.

Free the Slaves. (2005). Recovering childhoods: Combating child trafficking in Northern India. Washington, DC: Free the Slaves. Retrieved from:

Free the Slaves and Human Rights Center. (2004). Hidden slaves: forced labor in the United States. Washington, DC: Free the Slaves. Retrieved from:

Gendreau, P., Goggin, C., & Smith, P. (1999). The forgotten issue in effective correctional treatment: program implementation. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 43(2), 180– 187. doi:10.1177/0306624X99432005.

Julnes, G., & Rog, D. J. (2007). Pragmatic support for policies on methodology. In G. Julnes & D. J. Rog (Eds.), Informing federal policies on evaluation methodology: Building the evidence base for method choice in government sponsored evaluation (pp. 129–147). (Vol. 112 of New Directions for Evaluation series). San Francisco: Josey Bass.

Julnes, G., & Rog, D. (2009). Evaluation methods for producing actionable evidence: Contextual influences on adequacy and appropriateness of method choice. In S. I. Donaldson, C. A. Christie, & M. M. Mark (Eds.), What counts as credible evidence in applied research and evaluation practice? (pp. 96–131). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

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MacKenzie, D. L. (2006). What works in corrections. New York: Cambridge University Press. OPPAGA. (2006). PRIDE is tightening its business practices but needs greater transparency. Report No. 06–

67. Tallahassee, FL: The Florida Legislature. Retrieved from: aspx?reportnum=06-67

OPPAGA. (2007). Corrections rehabilitative programs effective, but serve only a portion of the eligible population. Report No. 07–14. Tallahassee, FL: The Florida Legislature. Retrieved from: http://www.

OPPAGA. (2015). About OPPAGA. Retrieved from: about/about.htm

Spalter-Roth, R. & Kisielewski, M. (2013). On the road to recovery: findings from the ASA 2012–2013 job bank survey, research brief. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. Retrieved from: http://

Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

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  • Mobilizing Evidence: Reflections on Policy Sociology
    • Abstract
    • Actionable Evidence
    • Evaluator
    • Watchdog
    • Reflection and Caution
    • References