No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Sociologists as Consultants


Many sociologists work as consultants as organizational advisors, political advisors and in healthcare, education and technology. Some also hold positions at universities. This dual role enables an exchange of knowledge between the academic world and practice. Sociologists also often collaborate with professionals from other disciplines. Consultants who are part of a network of sociologists are more likely to share and update sociological knowledge through interaction with colleagues. Sociological knowledge is used and accepted in various sectors, although this is limited in the business world.


Translation of social scientific knowledge into consultancy practice

Consultants translate scientific knowledge into practical advice for clients, often integrating insights from different disciplines. They adapt their language and recommendations to the customer's understanding and needs. Challenges include balancing scientific rigor with practical applicability and maintaining openness to customer perspectives.

Sociological knowledge is used directly or in a downplayed form, the latter being more common. Trivialization involves simplifying sociological concepts so that the client can understand them. Consultants usually consciously integrate sociological knowledge into their practice, often in combination with insights from other disciplines. The extent to which customers are aware of this practice varies. Sociological perspectives are often used to contextualize problems within broader social frameworks, providing a deeper understanding of clients' problems. The direct application of sociological methods varies depending on the consultant's expertise and the client's needs.


Acceptance and use of sociological knowledge by clients

Scientists' interpretations are more likely to be accepted if practitioners' everyday knowledge has not proven useful. Clients seek advice when their own knowledge is insufficient. Problematic everyday knowledge includes life skills and vocational knowledge. Practitioners are more open to sociological knowledge if they have some prior sociological knowledge. The economic sector still resists due to ignorance and prejudice against sociologists. The more established the demand for social scientific knowledge is in a consultancy sector, the more it is used. Depending on the requirements for consultancy, more or less social scientific knowledge can be applied. Consider, for example, consultancy aimed at defining situations.


Communication and interaction between consultant and client

Using everyday language and understanding each other's context improves communication between consultant and client, although some areas may require specialized jargon. Consultants are brought in to solve the client's problem while trying to preserve their livelihood and reputation. The interests between advisors and clients often differ; While clients seek solutions, consultants strive for support, recognition and follow-up business.

In organizational advice, consultants can integrate into the client's organization for a comprehensive problem analysis, while in client-oriented advice the emphasis is on enabling clients to solve problems themselves. Interpretive conflicts arise when clients delegate responsibility, have unrealistic expectations, or resist change because of past failures. Consultants must navigate these conflicts to ensure a successful interaction. Aligning interpretation patterns is critical because consultants often need to understand the client's true needs and adapt accordingly. Please note: Sometimes alibi consultancy takes place, where companies seek advice without intending real change.


Conflicts of interest and expectations

Conflicts can arise in consultancy as a result of differing expectations and problem views. Consultants strive to balance their involvement, ensuring effective communication, understanding problems and proposing appropriate solutions, while maintaining distance to avoid being overwhelmed. Consultants can integrate their own problems into consulting interactions. They require a certain degree of detachment to fulfill their roles effectively.

In client-centered counseling, interpretation patterns are similar when clients try to solve a problem with the counselor's help and are open to solutions, even if they do not match their expectations. Conflict arises when clients want immediate solutions or do not want to take responsibility for solving their problems.

Conflicts in institutional consulting arise in organizational settings due to differing expectations or conflicting agendas between consultants and organizations. Conflicts can also arise in methodological advice as a result of differing data and problem views, or when clients delegate responsibility for research to the consultant. Although matching interpretation patterns enable positive interactions, conflicts can still arise due to differing expectations, responsibilities, or agendas. Conflicts do not always lead to termination of the contract if they are effectively addressed and resolved during the process.


Consultancy models

The consultancy process typically includes phases such as problem exploration, data collection, interpretation, action planning and decision making. Autonomy is necessary for both the consultant and the client throughout the process.

Four ideal-typical guidance models are:

  1. Consultation for specialized knowledge: In this model, the consultant provides specialized knowledge to address the client's specific problem. The client trusts the consultant's expertise and the focus is on solving the problem efficiently.
  2. Problem diagnosis and solution: Here the consultant takes responsibility for diagnosing the client's problem and proposing solutions. The client's role is to follow the consultant's instructions, and the guidance ends when the proposed solutions address the problem satisfactorily.
  3. Consultancy as social learning: In this model, the consultant facilitates the client's learning process by helping him reorganize his existing knowledge and experiences. The client retains full responsibility for decision-making and action, with the consultant acting as a facilitator.
  4. Problem exploration and interpretation: In this model, the consultant assists the client in exploring his problems and interpreting them. The client's problem may be vague at first, and the counselor's role is to help clarify and understand the problem. The emphasis is on the client's involvement in defining the problem and seeking improvement.

Each model reflects different expectations regarding the consultant's role, the nature of the client's problem, and the client's level of involvement in decision-making. Trust, autonomy and effective communication are important throughout the guidance process, regardless of the model chosen. Joint problem solving, intervention, meaning-making and change management are important in consultancy. Consulting is about meaning, generating meaning and change management, especially in organizational contexts. The qualifications a consultant needs include domain-specific knowledge as well as consultancy skills such as empathy, perception and communication.



Sociology uses experiments, interviews, archival/statistical analysis, observation/ethnography and comparative studies, and focuses on understanding the relationship between society, culture and individuals. Sociological knowledge includes all views about material and social relations, including assumptions about humanity in general, and not just confirmed insights. It is about norms, values, perspectives and their interaction with reality. Similar to Plato's distinction between knowledge and belief, sociological knowledge is defined as beliefs about reality that have been empirically tested and correspond to reality, and that constitute established scientific knowledge. It requires research and can only be achieved through science, characterized by universalistic claims, emotional neutrality, discipline and specialization.


Application of sociological theories and methods

Sociological advice is based on sociological knowledge and is interdisciplinary. Sociological consultancy aims to analyze and change social structures and processes, often focusing on social change scenarios such as organizational restructuring. Sociologists provide insight into social phenomena and help clients understand and navigate complex social contexts.

The sociological perspective in consultancy is to understand social structures, cultural aspects and socio-political dynamics. Sociologists are crucial in offering alternative interpretations, highlighting ambiguities and providing insight into social norms and conventions.

Sociology analyzes and critically questions social constructions. Sociologists challenge societal norms and the understanding of human behavior within different contexts. Sociologists are trained to question the validity and application of norms, distinguish between norms and their application, and analyze social dynamics and interconnectedness.


Ethical responsibilities and professionalism

Sociologists have ethical responsibilities, including impartiality and adhering to ethical standards in advisory roles. Sociologists critically analyze social constructions and behaviors, question norms, and understand human behavior within social, organizational, and cultural contexts. Sociologists must approach their work impartially and consider all individuals without bias. They adhere to ethical standards, especially in consulting roles, where there is a risk of manipulation or conflict of interest.


Impact and challenges of sociological advice

Sociologists have a strong understanding of sociological theories and concepts, which allows them to analyze and synthesize social phenomena and present findings effectively.

Sociologists play various roles in counseling, including informant, analyst, critic, moderator, and mediator. They bring sociological knowledge to organizations, analyze problems, facilitate discussions and ensure fair negotiations. Sociologists have skills in empirical social research, data analysis and evaluation. They can design and implement complex research designs, analyze situations and relationships, and propose solutions based on empirical evidence.

Sociologists distinguish between factual and symbolic levels and are concerned with metacommunication. They bring theoretical approaches from sociology to investigate social phenomena and institutions such as politics and business. They have knowledge of decision-making processes, theoretical models and empirical findings. Sociologists also analyze organizations using theoretical and institutional approaches, understanding them as social systems. Empathy is considered essential for consultants. Skills in group work, including presentation, moderation and conflict resolution techniques, are necessary, along with psychological knowledge for counseling families and individuals.

Consultants must acquire specific knowledge depending on the consulting field, such as psychology, law or economics. Market awareness and effective communication about services are crucial for success. Challenges in consultancy include aligning with client objectives, maintaining independence and converting sociological research into practical advice. Consultants must navigate organizational dynamics, negotiate interests, and ensure implementation of recommendations.



Alemann, A. von (2002), Soziologen als Berater – Eine empirische Untersuchung zur Professionalisierung der Soziologie, Opladen: Leske + Budrich