AACS Certification Designation – What best fits my practice experience?
As part of the certification application process, applicants will identify the designation they seek – Certified Applied Sociologist (C.A.S.) or Certified Clinical Sociologist (C.C.S.) – in their application/portfolio materials. To help the applicant make this decision the following discussion covers working definitions of applied sociology, clinical sociology, engaged public sociology, and sociological practice.
According to the Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology Standards (CAPACS 2015), applied sociology is the utilization of sociological theory, methods, and skills to collect and analyze data and to communicate the findings to understand and resolve pragmatic problems of clients. In contrast, clinical sociology is the application of a sociological perspective to the analysis and design of intervention for positive social change at any level of social organization. The CAPACS standards define sociological practice as an umbrella term that encompasses applied, clinical, and engaged public sociology.
The definition of applied sociology above is a refined version of the more detailed definition proposed by former American Sociological Association (ASA) presidents Peter H. Rossi and William Foote Whyte. Rossi and Whyte state that “applied sociology uses sociological knowledge and research skills to gain empirically based knowledge to inform decision makers, clients, and the general public about social problems, issues, processes, and conditions so that they might make informed choices and improve the quality of life” (1983). Applied sociologists engage in evaluation research, needs assessment, market research, demographic analysis, and social life indicators. In short, “the heart of applied sociology is social research” (Perlstadt 2006).
A more in-depth definition of clinical sociology comes from the work of Jan Fritz. According to Fritz, clinical sociology is a creative, rights based and interdisciplinary specialization that seeks to improve life situations for individuals and collectivities (2008). Clinical sociologists work with systems to assess situations and avoid, reduce or eliminate problems through a combination of analysis and intervention (Fritz 2008). Clinical sociologists may be a sociotherapist, group facilitator, teacher/trainer, organizational consultant, community consultant, or mediator. The key to clinical sociology is the concept of intervention, that is, the act of facilitating social change (Lehnerer 2003).
Public sociology, as introduced by Michael Burawoy, is a “repackaging” of applied and clinical sociology (Lehnerer 2008). Burawoy, in his role as ASA president, intended to bring sociology back to its practice oriented roots in two ways. One, he wanted to make “professional sociologists” aware of the importance of moving beyond an academic audience to a non-academic audience (2004). And, two, he wanted to emphasize the importance of using sociology to promote dialogue with these non-academic publics about issues that affect the fate of society (2004:104). Engaged public sociology, as it applies to
certification, means that the applicant moves beyond a dialogue with a non-academic public and is engaged in sociological practice. Engaged public sociologists may work with “a labor movement, neighborhood associations, communities of faith, immigrant rights groups, or human rights organizations” (Burawoy 2004). Their work will be oriented towards an applied or clinical model of sociological practice.
Burawoy, Michael et al. 2004. “Public Sociologies: A Symposium from Boston College.” Social Problems 51.1:103-30.
Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology. 2015. Standards for Doctoral Programs in Sociology. Retrieved from
Fritz, Jan Marie. 2008. International Clinical Sociology. New York: Springer.
Fritz, Jan Marie. 2012. “Including Sociological Practice: A Global Perspective and the U.S. Case.” In The Shape of Sociology for the Twenty-First Century: Tradition and Renewal, edited by Devorah Kalekin-Fishman and Ann Denis. London: Sage.
Fritz, Jan Marie and Jacques Rheaume. 2014. Community Intervention: Clinical Sociology Perspectives. New York: Springer.
Lehnerer, Melodye. 2003. Careers in Clinical Sociology. American Sociological Association, Washington D. C.
Lehnerer, Melodye. 2008. “Accredited Programs: Models for Training the Next Generation of Social Change Agents.” Journal of Applied Social Science 2.2:85-94.
Perlstadt, Harry. 2006. “History of Applied Sociology.” In 21st Century Sociology: A Reference Handbook, Volume 2, edited by Clifton D. Bryant and Dennis L. Peck. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rossi, Peter H. and William Foote Whyte. 1983. “The Applied Side of Sociology.” In Applied Sociology, edited by Howard E. Freeman, Russell R. Dynes, Peter H. Rossi, and William Foote Whyte. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
For Additional Information Contact:
Dr. Melodye Lehnerer, C.C.S.
AACS Certification Chair