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Choosing One Field Over Another


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Hello all,

I am posting to get a bit of clarity regarding exactly what sort of program I should end up applying to...

I have an MS in Urban Affairs. During my time in the program, I focused on community development in urban ethnic enclaves, researching the varying ways in which different ethnic communities conceptualize/approach community development, and how the city government engages with each ethnic community differently. In much of my research, I drew upon existing work in both sociology and political science.

For my capstone thesis, I studied one specific New York City ethnic enclave in depth, looking at the historical development of community infrastructure/institutional development pre-arrival, and how that infrastructure was reinterpreted to achieve success for the community in its interactions with the city government in the battle over resources, political favors, etc. The thesis also looked at how the city government itself used the existing infrastructure/power structure of the community to achieve its own goals within the community, outlining the reciprocal relationship between the enclave community and the government. In my thesis, I primarily used the work of Althusser (as well as other related theorists) to understand the local power structure and the interaction with the city government within the context of his ISA, as well as the work of Jonathan S. Davies which draws on Gramsci.

In my professional life, I have worked primarily in the community development field. My work has focused on the impact of social and economic policy on ethnic communities, and the impact that those policies have on the development of adolescents and adults living in those communities. I am currently working on a project to engage people with developmental disabilities in community development work in their neighborhoods. This project is being done to achieve therapeutic goals connected to the personal development found in social connectivity/community building.

Because my interests and past work involves both political science and sociology, I was wondering if there might be a good way to determine which program might be right. When I look at the current research work that interests me and is relevant to what I've done, I find a great deal on multiculturalism/ethnicity and unique urban issues in sociology. However, I also find a good amount of relevant work on urban governance, social identity, and immigrant/ethnic incorporation in political science.

As an aside, are interdisciplinary programs (such as Comparative Human Development at University of Chicago) worthwhile (relevant for future employment, focused enough to be meaningful, etc.)?

*I will be posting this in the sociology forum as well.

Edited by bzevik
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I think the lack of responses on this and the other thread probably indicate that this is probably a question best addressed to your advisors and letter writers, or more specifically to people who know your field well. I don't feel qualified to give you an answer, though I feel bad that you've been left hanging. I don't know your field very well, personally, though from what you've said, your approach seems to be a lot more in line with sociology than political science, particularly the heavy reliance on theory - most fields in political science are moving in a much more empirical (and quantitative) direction. 

What I can give you is some generic advice, which I've been previously given about my interdisciplinary interests: think about where you want to end up. Do you have a strong preference for ending up in a sociology department, or a political science department? Is there one type of department where you think your research needs would be supported more? Then perhaps choose that type of department for your graduate work. If you don't have a strong preference, then think about your options for field-switching: is it the case that sociology departments hire political scientists, but not the opposite? Or vice versa? You'll want to go to the school/department that will make you most competitive on the job market in 5 years, so think about what type of program will give you the most options/make you the most competitive for the specific types of opportunities you're interested in. With the interdisciplinary programs, look into their placements and see if they mesh with your goals.

In the end, you might want to apply to both sociology and political science programs, and there's no harm in that!

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