In screenplays and novels, the character arc is the protagonist’s journey. Customarily, via a
fantastical trajectory of transformation and self-discovery, the main character is driven by their
inner desires and often triumphs over self-imposed limitations and external circumstances.
Although there are four types of character arcs, positive arc, negative arc, flat positive arc, and
anti-arc, I have adopted the positive character arc as the model for one’s self-discovery to
becoming a sociologist, especially a public sociologist with creative leanings.
For the willing, fate guides; for the unwilling, destiny drags.
My conceptualization of the sociological character arc is informed by my childhood dream to
become a novelist and my reflexivity surrounding my sociological fate. As an undergraduate, I
majored in business, and eventually launched my hair salon. In graduate school, I started in the
subfield of the sociology of education and then landed in a liminal space of family and
motherhood…then beauty, embodiment, and social movements. Currently, it seems that I am
circling back to my undergraduate roots and researching the sociology of entrepreneurship and
cooperative enterprise. Though I now accept the pluralism of my interests, initially, I struggled
against my sociological destiny… but don’t you do it Miss Celie, don’t trade places with what
I’ve been through. Do not resist, instead, let the adventure find you.
Every sociologist has an origin story…but most importantly, they have a background, a
biography that precedes their formal introduction to sociology. Reflect on your life prior to
discovering sociology as a discipline. What were your hobbies, inhibitions, passions, and fears?
Were you a bookworm, germaphobe, or nature lover dreaming of maintaining a bee farm or
cultivating a bat garden? Were you inspired by griots, knitters, architects, or perhaps a beloved
television food critic? Do you remember who you were before flipping a coin between grounded
theory methods or regression analysis? That version of you is not only the starting point of your
arc but also your unique contribution to sociological knowledge and the broadening of social
reality. Thus, our sociological character development begins with a status quo, a foundational
normal that is disrupted by an inciting incident (the impetus of our origin story).
In my model, the inciting incident propels us to our formal embrace of all things sociology. As a
professor, sometimes I am privy to the moment, like when Berger and Luckman’s theory on the
social construction of reality resonated resoundingly with students after viewing Defiant Lives:
The Rise of the Disability Rights Movement. I witnessed several students in my Social Change
and Modernization course struggle with conceptualizing immutable characteristics such as race,
and gender as social products. Yet, upon grasping the difference between the social model and
the medical model of disability, a frenzy of questions, critical analysis, and synthesis with
feminist and structural racism theories unfolded. Students embarked on a journey of
deconstructing previously reified worldviews and beliefs about ability and accessibility and were
suddenly interested in the sociology of disability at the intersection of race, gender, and class!
For myself, my sociological character arc was catalyzed by my desire to emerge from my
graduate program as a sanctioned and “legitimate” sociologist. Although I entered my MA
program dedicated to studying the Black-White achievement gap and racial disparities in public
education, I was informed by one of my graduate school professors that my racial membership in
the community I desired to research would compromise my objectivity. Several colleagues and I
were discouraged from doing what the professor stigmatized as “Me-search.” Thus, my journey
was incited. I faced several obstacles related to my growing fears of being non-canonical and
pigeonholed by a hegemonic misrepresentation of “identity politics.” Ultimately, I realized that academia was not exempt from being a site of oppression and that my research was a “we-
search” and an act of resistance. Thus, my new status quo was adopted, I normalized taking imaginative liberties as a scholar and emerged from graduate school focused on public sociology.
So now I ask you, when you happened upon sociology did you feel empowered to synthesize
your earlier interests and quirks within your sociological imagination? Or were you persuaded to
compartmentalize your creativity and tuck away your outsider within status in an effort to hone
objectivity and analytical acumen? Are you currently shrinking in the face of perceived obstacles
or are you deconstructing, pivoting, and engaging your intellectual imaginativeness? There is no
way to avoid the obstacles if you want to grow. Remarkable how the positive character arc bears
a resemblance to a contemporary diagram of Marx’s dialectical historical materialism. Like
Marx’s understanding that social change and (economic) growth are outcomes of struggle against
the status quo, so too is the growth and trajectory of a budding sociologist. In the words of
Octavia Butler, “The only lasting truth is change.”
As a nascent sociologist, how does one find their area of expertise? Is it necessary to narrow
one’s interests or forsake creative preoccupations to be a credible sociologist? Being a discipline
that centers on culture, human social interactions, and various aspects of everyday life, sociology
offers a broad bandwidth of topics for scientific inquiry and instruction. All one must do is
follow their “sociological” character arc.
There is a symbiotic relationship between theory and praxis, and I encourage you to realize the
serviceable relationship between the desires of your heart and the opportunities to transform
conventions, knowledge, and social realities. Via your sociological character arc, you can tap
into your wholeness and emerge as an agent of social change within your local and global
pluralistic communities. As you adjust to your new status quo I hope you engage in scholarship
that allows you to emerge as an agent of liberation and preserver of humanity. There is no way to guarantee that you will become an expert in your every personal interest, nonetheless, as the
main character in your matriculation as a public sociologist, you are most effective when you
embrace your sociological fate, yield to transformation, and share your intellectual imagination.