Abdulkarim Umar, MSc: Using Sociology to Address Environmental Hazards in the Community

Abdulkarim Umar, MSc: Using Sociology to Address Environmental Hazards in the Community


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Abdulkarim Umar earned a Master's degree in Sociology and is now a faculty member in the Department of General Studies at The Federal Polytechnic Damaturu in Yobe State, Nigeria. His applied work focuses on "clearing refuse from improper locations to ensure good public environment and prevent hazards." He was able to "organize and lead a group of people who are willing to take part in creating a serene and healthy environment, protecting the people from contracting environment-related problems resulting from environmental hazards."


When we asked Umar how he how himself doing environmental work in the name of sociology, he told us:


The motive for the environmental work emanated from the simple social interaction with members of the community and the subsequent construction of social reality with the growing concern over the issue of environmental hazards generated by refuse dumping at non designated areas. [There was also] fear for the implications to individuals, community and even the government in relation to containing the aftermath of any negative outburst leading to serious outbreak of health problems. Having studied rural sociology at the level of my Masters Degree, environment is also an aspect I developed interest in...thus seeing what has been happening and having observed the reaction of people, I resolved on finding local solution without necessarily waiting for government to arrest the situation.


I was able to discover the problem via simple interaction with members of the community and by observation of the reaction being depicted. This is more particularly because the area where the refuse is being dumped is at a junction and thus affected the roads leading to four directions and the surrounding houses. There have been complaints from people but no action or effort at solving the problem. Realizing that people were not happy with the development, gave me an opportunity to meet with people at an individual level which helped me to identify the like minded persons that agreed to volunteer in the work. It was after creating a cycle of like minded persons, which I called for the meeting where we unanimously agreed on a plan of action. The plan was successfully executed as planned and people of the area are happy with what has been done as they can now enjoy serene air.


Read the full interview with Abdulkarim Umar below for more insight on his applied environmental sociological work!


Abdulkarim Umar, MSc


Using Sociology in Practice


In general, how do you use sociology in practice?


Using the sociological skills of understanding group interaction and solving societal problems affecting human beings.


The sociological skills used in understanding human interaction in order to solve problems affecting human society are anchored on the principle that social reality is to a large extent socially constructed. As people interact they eventually construct the reality of the situation in which they interact. In relation to the situation of our group, through interaction of people in the community and particularly regarding the refuse being dumped at non designated areas, reactions were generated with regard to inappropriateness of the act. This prompted me to bring together some like-minded people to form the group for the task of clearing such refuse to improve the environment. Sociologists refer to this process as the social construction of reality.


How do you use sociological research methods in practice?


Involvement approach to solving problems.


The involvement approach refers to the approach whereby every member in the group partakes in decision making. This simply means that the decision taken at any time in carrying out a task is not in the hand of a single individual but rather a collective decision. Equally by using this approach every member of the group is also directly involved in the work as involved in the decision making process. This approach is generally good and provides a strong and reliable foundation for nongovernmental group work.


How do you use sociological theory in practice?


To provide guidance.


The sociological theory provides steering principles on which our group work was successfully achieved. The adoption of the system theory which was developed by the outstanding American Sociologist Talcott Parsons is relevant in explaining group formation and functioning. Such a group like ours was formed on the principles of this theory. Talcott Parsons defined a social system as a set of interdependent elements trying to function as a unified whole to maintain order and stable equilibrium. The theory in this regard provides a guide on which the idea of the group was developed, the group emerged to work together for the attainment of the individual as well as the collective goals of the society. The environment is constantly facing challenges which are a result of the human activities, in this case by dumping refuse at places that have not been designated for such purpose thereby constituting environmental and, subsequently, health hazards. This has caused dissatisfaction which eventually led to disequilibrium which through the collective efforts of members of the group, it was fixed and thereby returning to equilibrium which is required for healthy survival of the society.


The act of achieving this goal is predicated on successfully ensuring that the four basic functions of (a) Integration (b) Adaptation; (c) Pattern maintenance; and (d) Goal attainment, were well articulated. The group viewed as a system was able to achieve its objectives. It was able to carry out these four functions effectively, it was able to bring together and integrate members by achieving individual and group goals. It also has the capacity to make changes to adapt itself to outside demands like that of the community by sanitizing the environment and with the internal dynamics as it changes with time.


Lessons for Future Practitioners


What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?


Take sociological courses!


I will indeed recommend that students of sociology take courses such as research, which will enable them to understand problems that need attention and indeed know the appropriate methods of pursuing the problems. It is also necessary for sociology students to take sociological theories which will always serve as guiding principles that will give them direction on what they intend to do. In addition considering the current trend of things globally particularly as it relates to violence and crime, students of sociology should also take courses in relation to deviance, crime and social change.


What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career similar to yours?


Environmental sociology, Sociology of Organization and other fields of Sociology.


What types of experiences should undergraduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?


Gain the experience of selfless service and environmental concerns.


Sociology students need to acquire the value of selfless service because sociology deals with social problems which are problems that affect human beings in the society. As one resolves to study social problems, he/she should be willing to find solutions to the problems where possible, be able to fix it as an individual, and mobilize for collection of suggestions to the government.


What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career similar to yours?


Gain knowledge of selfless service.


Sociology students need to acquire the value of selfless service because sociology deals with social problems which are problems that affect human beings in the society. As one resolves to study social problems, he/she should be willing to find solutions to the problems where possible, be able to fix it as an individual, and mobilize for collection of suggestions to the government.


What texts or authors can people reference to learn more about the work you do as an applied or clinical sociologist?


There are many sociological works such as the works of Talcott Parson and [Ulrich] Beck.


How would you describe the daily life of an applied or clinical sociologist?


Helping the society through selfless service.


What advice do you have for aspiring applied and clinical sociologists?


To [be] committed and selfless.

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