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Fostering integration of basic and applied sociological research

Rural vitalization is promoted in Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province, May 31. Photo: CFP


Basic theoretical research is based on social practices and explores the laws of social operation and development through empirical scientific methods, forming a grand system of basic social sciences theories. Applied research extends its reach to all aspects of social lives and plays a vital role in studying specific social practice issues, guiding practical behaviors, proposing guidelines and specific plans for improving and optimizing human actions, and promoting socioeconomic development.

 
First, the integration and development of these two types of research should be observed from the perspective of sociological history. The development of contemporary sociological disciplines is carried out via the interactions of basic and applied research. Western sociology stems from modern empirical sciences. The rise of empirical rationality and logical methods in modern natural sciences inspired sociological researchers to explore and establish a modern sociological theoretical system and methodology based on empirical evidence. The resultant development process gradually formed a new system for sociological theory and applied research.
 
In terms of sociological theoretical research, theoretical analysis, regulated by value understandings, theoretical logic, and empirical scientific methods, based on positivism and humanism, have jointly promoted the formation and improvement of sociological theoretical systems and built an academic system for contemporary theoretical sociology. As for applied sociological research, the development of applied sociological research has been driven by various practical problems in social operation, social change, and modern development. 
 
Theoretical sociology and applied sociology also develop through interaction. Theoretical sociology constantly explores the laws of social relationships, social structures, social operations and development, and constantly provides theoretical guidance and methodological tools for applied sociology, so that the development of applied sociology is based on clear value guidance, rich theoretical input and scientific research methods. The theoretical and practical problems, as well as related knowledge requirements constantly raised by applied sociology have greatly promoted the development of theoretical sociology, especially driving the development of sociological theories of the middle range in the fields of social stratification, organization, community, family, and networks, and the development of micro-theories in the fields of social psychology and social behaviors. 
 
Second, the integration and development of these two types of research occurred after the restoration and reconstruction of sociology in China. In the 40-odd years since the restoration and reconstruction of the discipline of sociology in China, China has been committed to developing sociological theories and methods that are in line with Chinese conditions and that display Chinese characteristics. At the macro-level, fruitful results have been produced from initial research on Chinese society’s modernization theory to later theoretical research on social operations and Chinese society’s transformation. In terms of theories of the middle range, China’s sociological community produced prolific research results in important aspects such as family, community, organization, social stratification, social networks, and social relations, and in the subfields of rural and urban sociology. These basic sociological studies have played a vital role in promoting the construction of the disciplinary system, academic system, and discourse system of sociology with Chinese characteristics.
 
In the past 40 years, sociology in China has made important contributions to the nation’s reform, opening up, and socialist modernization by applying sociology to social practice. Applied research has been carried out in coordinated socioeconomic development, addressing the “three rural problems” [issues relating to agriculture, rural areas, and rural people], and reforming state-owned enterprises. It has also provided applied research results for the government and society to solve social issues such as population aging. In this process, China has obtained development in applied disciplinary fields such as social work and social policy, laying a solid foundation for the long-term development of applied sociological research. In summary, it is clear that basic theoretical research and applied countermeasure research in sociology have developed through interaction and integration.
 
Third, there is the prospect of further integration and development of these two types of research in Chinese sociology. Initially, Chinese sociology should further strengthen basic theoretical research. It is crucial to closely combine the macro directions and focal issues of China’s social development in the new era, to theoretically explore and summarize new features and laws of social operation in the context of the nation’s new technological revolution and social transformation with the goals of high-quality development and common prosperity, and theoretically respond to various sociological issues raised in the practice of building socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
 
In addition, in the future, Chinese sociology should further strengthen applied countermeasure research and actively engage in active practices in fields of social construction. Applied countermeasure research in sociology should strengthen research in fields such as social work, social policy, and social governance, play an important role in major practical issues such as urbanization, rural vitalization, risk governance, and population aging, and actively participate in the study of social factors in all fields related to the construction of  economic, political, cultural, and ecological civilization. Finally, in the future, Chinese sociology should further promote the integration and development of basic theoretical research and applied countermeasure research. These two types of research should focus on the construction of socialism with Chinese characteristics, social development, and social harmony, and carry out research on critical real-life problems, promoting one another and developing together. 
 
Guan Xinping is a professor from the Zhou Enlai School of Government at Nankai University.
 
 
 
 
 
Edited by ZHAO YUAN

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