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Sociologists in Society

Contemporary sociologists are continuing the early sociologists’ tradition of using sociology to make differences in diverse areas of society. Many sociologists are, of course, teachers and researchers. However, sociologists are actively using their skills throughout society in ways that extend well beyond academics and the classroom. Some sociologists, called applied or clinical sociologists, use their skills to find answers to practical problems. For example, they apply their unique perspectives on conflict and social life to finding new ways to assist in mediation and dispute resolution (Diaz 2001; Rebach 2001), improving community services (e.g., finding ways to extend phone service to the speechdisabled [Segalman 1998]), improving help for victims of violence (Kilpatrick, Resick, and Williams 2001), or even in designing more effective social settings for human interactions from child-care centers to offices to night clubs (DuBois 2001). Some sociologists are also starting to work in high-tech fields (Guice 1999). Sociologists are even working with scholars in a variety of disciplines on future studies (Bell 1997; Masini 2000; Shostak 2003).

People trained in sociology are found across society, even though they are not always famous for being sociologists. Peter Dreier (2001) has put together a “Sociology All-Star Team” to demonstrate the widely varied activities of a number of well-known people who majored in sociology. His list includes entertainment personalities Regis Philbin, Robin Williams, Dan Aykroyd, and Debra Winger, and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Well-known sociology majors in the world of sports include NBA all-star Alonzo Mourning, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Theismann, and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad. Olympic track and field gold medalist Gail Devers also holds a sociology degree (Gail Devers).

Beyond their accomplishments in the entertainment and sports arenas, sociologists have made many world-changing contributions to society. Saul Bellow won the 1976 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Jane Addams and Emily Balch both won the Nobel Peace Prize. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend Jesse Jackson studied sociology. So did Frances Perkins, an industrial sociologist who fought to improve conditions in early-twentieth-century textile mills. Perkins became the first female member of a presidential cabinet, serving as secretary of labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States, also had a sociology degree (Dreier 2001). A number of other notable politicians, including Shirley Chisolm and Maxine Waters, studied sociology. The range of careers for sociologists, the job skills sociologists have, and the training they receive are discussed below.

Academic Training for Sociologist

sociology is an excellent field for people who are interested in other people and a wide range of topics within and across cultures and societies. Sociologists use their training in theory and research, and their unique perspectives, in a variety of occupations. They also have a number of educational options that allow them to study sociology and specific topics within the discipline in as much depth as they desire.

Sociology is taught in some high schools. These classes provide an important opportunity to share a sociological perspective, because they may be the only sociology training that many students receive. However, sociology courses at this level do not receive a great deal of attention from the discipline and have been cited for problems including inadequate training of teachers and in-course objectives, content, and materials (DeCesare 2002; Lashbrook 2001). Quality high-school programs could help produce better college sociology majors as well as a better public image for the discipline as a whole (Seperson 1994). An advanced-placement (AP) test in sociology that would provide college credit in sociology is currently being developed and may be available by the time you read this book (Persell 2001).

People interested in studying sociology in college have several options. They can earn a degree at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Additionally, Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, offers a “Letter of Recognition” in sociology. That is believed to be the only such program at the community college level at this writing. Students take courses including an introductory course, a course on social and behavioral research tools and methods, and an elective covering a target area of interest (gerontology, religion, etc.).

The baccalaureate degree in sociology can be either a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) degree. These courses of study provide training in the core areas of the discipline. Students take courses covering the sociological imagination, research, and theory. They also typically study several interest areas such as the family, health and illness, or religion to which these core concepts are applied.

At the graduate level, students can earn a master’s degree (a master of arts [MA] or master of sciences [MS]) or doctorate (doctor of philosophy [Ph.D.]). Courses in these advanced degrees are generally taught as seminars that involve much classroom discussion between students and their professors. Assignments are often papers that require students to apply theoretical perspectives and to design or conduct research on some topic of interest.

At the doctoral level, students will choose a specific area of specialization. In addition to required courses in theory and research, students will take a number of courses concentrating on that selected area (health and illness, the family, race/ethnicity, collective behavior, etc.). After graduation, they will be considered an expert and a specialist in that aspect of sociology. Some schools require that the student also specialize in theory, research, or both.

In addition to completing their course work, students obtaining advanced degrees in sociology also often have to take comprehensive examinations. These examinations require students to demonstrate their knowledge in specific areas such as theory, research, and their special interest area. Depending on university requirements, these examinations may be written, oral, or require both written and oral parts. They may take several hours to complete or several days depending on the program requirements.

Graduate students also typically have to demonstrate their abilities by producing a thesis or dissertation. These are lengthy manuscripts (often book length) that report the details of original research the students conduct under the supervision of their professors. The thesis or dissertation then must be presented to a committee of professors and “defended” to their satisfaction. This process usually involves a number of rewrites of the document that polish it to get ready for the committee members to read. The students then generally meet with the committee and describe key points about why the research was conducted, how it was conducted, and what it contributes to our sociological knowledge. The committee members then have an opportunity to ask questions about the research and findings. Writing a thesis or dissertation is a huge project and may take anywhere from several months to several years.

The Popularity of Studying Sociology

Just as for other academic subjects, the popularity of studying sociology varies over time. A look back over the past three decades shows that sociology as an academic major increased in the United States in popularity during the early 1970s. However, that popularity waned during the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. During the late 1980s, the number of sociology degrees awarded began to increase, indicating a renewed growth in the discipline that continued through 2000. Over the 1990s, the number of people receiving bachelor degrees in sociology increased by 60 percent. At the graduate level, the number of master’s degrees increased by 67 percent, and the number of doctorates awarded increased by almost 42 percent. In 2000, 25,598 bachelor’s degrees, 1,996 master’s, and 634 doctorates in sociology were conferred by American universities (see table 1).

Year
Bachelor's
Master's
Doctorate
1970
30,848
1,816
505
1975
31,858
2,135
680
1980
19,181
1,372
600
1985
12,165
1,045
486
1990
15,993
1,213
448
1995
22,974
1,790
555
2000
25,598
1,996
634

Table 1: Number of Sociology Degrees Awarded by Degree Level, Selected Years 1970–2000
Source: American Sociological Association (2002b).

Enrollments in graduate sociology programs also grew during the early 1990s. However, the late 1990s saw a decline in the number of students enrolled in graduate programs. This is typical of graduate-school enrollments overall when the economy is strong. Enrollments decline as people choose to enter the workforce and have an easier time findings jobs than they do in harder economic times. Enrollments in undergraduate sociology programs also declined during that same period (Merola 2002).

Characteristics of Sociology Students

Many of the recognized founders of sociology and acknowledged theorists in the discipline were men. With the influences of feminist perspectives and the increasing attention to the contributions of women throughout the history of the discipline, women have now outpaced men in receiving sociology degrees at every level. Women have long received the majority of undergraduate degrees awarded in sociology, while the majority of graduate degrees were awarded to men. However, during the mid-1980s, women in graduate programs made great gains on their male counterparts. By 2000, at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels, more women than men received degrees in sociology (see table 2).

Bachelor's
Master's
Doctorate
Year
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
1920
40.3%
59.7%
62.7%
37.3%
81.6%
18.4%
1975
41.9%
58.1%
61.8%
38.2%
69.1%
30.9%
1980
33.3%
66.7%
49.8%
50.2%
61.5%
38.5%
1985
31.0%
69.0%
45.0%
55.5%
50.0%
50.0%
1990
31.6%
68.4%
41.3%
58.7%
51.3%
48.7%
1995
32.4%
67.6%
37.9%
61.2%
47.0%
53.0%
2000
29.8%
70.2%
31.9%
68.9%
41.2%
58.8%

Table 2: Percentage of Sociology Degrees Awarded at Each Degree Level by Gender, Selected Years 1970–2000
Source: American Sociological Association (2002c).

Over the last four decades, women have increased the share of doctoral degrees earned in the sciences. In 2001, over half of all Ph.D.s in psychology and sociology were earned by women. The average percentage of doctorate degrees earned by women studying sociology was greater than that earned by women in economics, political science, and the physical or biological sciences (see table 3).

Discipline
Percentage
Psychology
66.9%
Sociology
58.4%
Biological Sciences
44.9%
Political Sciences
33.5%
Economics
28.3%
Physical Sciences
24.6%

Table 3: Average Percentage of Doctorate Degrees Earned by Women in Selected Disciplines, 2001
Source: American Sociological Association (2004b).

Many great contributions to the discipline have been made by sociologists of color. However, just as for women, the contributions of many of these sociologists were discounted or not recognized until recent years. The percentage of doctorates in sociology awarded to persons of color has increased over the past quarter century. In 2000, just over 25 percent of new Ph.D. recipients were members of a racial/ethnic minority group (see table 4). Over one-third of all recipients of master’s and bachelor’s degrees in sociology were also persons of color.

Year
White
Black
Asian or Pacific Islander
Hispanic
Native American or Alaskan Native
Other or Unknown Races and Ethnicity
1980 85.0%
(452)
4.4%
(23)
2.7%
(14)
3.0%
(16)
0.4%
(2)
4.0%
(21)
1990
78.4%
(258)
7.0%
(23)
4.6%
(15)
8.2%
(27)
03%
(1)
1.5%
(5)
2000
74.3%
(382)
11.1%
(57)
6.2%
(32)
5.1%
(26)
1.2%
(6)
2.1%
(11)

Table 4: Racial/Ethnic Identity of Sociology Ph.D. Recipients, 1980, 1990, 2000*
Source: American Sociological Association (2004a). *Numbers in parentheses show numbers of PhDs earned in each category.

Persons of color are also increasingly holding full-time faculty positions. However, whites still hold disproportionately more of the highest-ranking positions in graduate sociology departments (ASA 2002a). Data tabulated by the ASA suggest some increases in the numbers and promotion of persons of color in faculty positions in the coming decade (ASA 2002a). Larger numbers of minority students and faculty help to prevent the isolation or “token” status that can occur when there are very limited numbers of a group and provide larger and more diverse scholar networks (American Sociological Association 2002a; Levine 1993). They also provide a more diverse perspective and voice to the discipline.

Sociologists in the Workplace (Academic and Beond)

Sociological training provides a broad range of job skills sought by employers. Armed with this training, their sociological perspectives, and diverse interests, sociologists are employed throughout society.

Job Skills

Sociology graduates have special skills that interest a range of employers. The Society for Applied Sociology (“Hiring a Person”) identifies three skill areas in particular that are of great interest to employers. First, since the sociological perspective focuses on social systems and situations, sociology students have been trained to look at the “big picture.” Rather than focusing on an issue as an isolated problem or condition, sociologists put issues in social context. They look for how issues are interrelated to other parts of society, what factors are influencing the situation, and what factors are influenced by various issues. This is a skill that interests, among other employers, those who need strategic and policy planners, organizational development, and project management expertise.

Second, sociology graduates have also been trained in problem identification and problem solving. They have been taught to apply research skills and strategies, focus their questions, support their arguments with data, and critically evaluate published analyses. These types of critical-thinking skills are particularly valuable in market research and data collection and analyses.

Third, sociology graduates also have valuable training to better understand and interact in our multicultural world. Sociology courses focus on understanding the importance of history and culture in our lives, the interrelationships of different aspects of the social world, and respecting the range and form those cultures, values, and belief systems take. By studying both cross-cultural similarities and differences, sociology students are exposed to the depth and complexity of human relationships. They build skills employers are interested in for human relations, criminal justice, and positions requiring multicultural interaction among others.

Sociology students interested in academic positions will need to focus on developing skills in reviewing research literature, conducting statistical analyses, grant writing, and understanding and applying theoretical perspectives. The most important skills for those who want to work outside of academics are report writing, basic statistical analysis and research design, and oral presentation. Sociologists should also develop good data-presentation skills and computer skills (Hawdon and Mobley 2001).

Career Preparation

Most jobs for which the bachelor’s degree prepares students will not have the title of “sociologist.” However, a bachelor’s in sociology provides an excellent background for a variety of career choices. Sociology students gain a strong liberal-arts education that touches on a range of areas from the arts and sciences to skills in writing and research.

Career preparation for undergraduate sociology students can be even further enhanced by adding another major or minor. The American Sociological Association (ASA) recommends that undergraduate sociology majors take a multidisciplinary approach to their degree by planning double majors in criminal justice, economics, English, anthropology, a second language, political science, or education. Recommended minors or concentration areas include computer science, business management, marketing, human services, law and society, or pre-law (American Sociological Association 1999a, 7).

Another ASA recommendation is that students take advantage of the internship opportunities provided by many colleges. Whether the position is paid or unpaid, internships provide a number of advantages to undergraduate sociology students. They allow students to try out various careers, provide experience that can be used on a résumé, help students acquire new skills, and provide a means to apply skills learned in the classroom. They also provide networking opportunities and may give participants an edge in the job market (American Sociological Association 1999a, 7–8).

Sociologists at Work

When sociologists go to work, they could be going almost anywhere! They are in the classroom and throughout the community, nation, and world using their skills.

Sociological Practice→ Most sociologists with bachelor’s degrees and most with master’s degrees hold positions in applied or clinical sociology. Applied and clinical sociology are considered sociological practice, a sociological focus in which sociological theory, methods, and findings are utilized to bring about positive social changes. Although these positions may involve teaching and research, the emphasis in sociological practice is not on teaching or conducting research for the sake of knowledge. Rather, it is the practical application of sociological skills to make a difference in the world (e.g., Rebach and Bruhn 2001). Over a quarter of all American sociology departments have applied specialties that emphasize ways to put sociological knowledge and skills to work to improve society (American Sociological Association 1999b).

Overall, 27 percent of sociologists work in applied settings (Billson 1996, 54). Many of those working in sociological practice hold more than one position. For example, they might hold an academic position teaching sociology and also work as a consultant (Bruhn 2001).

Sociologists who hold master’s and doctorate degrees can apply for certification in the area of clinical sociology. This means that their knowledge and skills are evaluated by other sociologists and meet certain professional standards. Becoming certified means that a sociologist has demonstrated that they know how to use sociology satisfactorily to their professional colleagues. A certification is not a license to practice sociology. Because no such license exists and anyone can claim to practice sociology, certification is a way to demonstrate to employers, colleagues, and others that the sociologist’s abilities meet the standards deemed critical to the field (Kallen 2001).

The Sociological Practice Association (SPA) offers a certified-clinicalsociologist program for practicing sociologists. Started in 1984, this certification program requires a graduate degree in sociology and 1,500 hours of supervised experience in sociological practice or one year of full-time practice work. Applicants must present a portfolio that further documents their training, experience, skills, references, and adherence to professional ethics. The applicant must also demonstrate their abilities in a workshop or conference.

Sociologists with undergraduate degrees are not eligible for certification. However, undergraduate programs that emphasize sociological practice can be accredited by the Commission on Applied and Clinical Sociology. Graduates of these programs can note this accreditation as evidence that their course of study met with rigorous standards.

Where Sociologists Work→ Sociology provides a solid background for people interested in pursuing further education in any number of fields. Sociology is a good undergraduate degree for anyone interested in continuing their studies at the graduate level in social work, law, or policy. Obtaining an undergraduate degree in sociology can also be a good basis for those interested in teaching. Those with more advanced training in sociology at the master’s or doctorate level may pursue careers in research organizations, urban planning, program management, theology, or policymaking.

Social advocacy is an area that appeals to many sociologists. Sociologists apply their training and understanding of social institutions in advocacy positions throughout the community. This might take the form of work in nonprofit organizations or various social causes (e.g., domestic-violence shelters, environmental groups). They might work with children, the elderly, or the disabled, and community-development, housing, or foster-care agencies. Sociologists participate in school boards, advocate for students with special needs, and apply their expertise in administrative positions (Strand 2002).

Sociologists also contribute to public policy. They participate in panels that brief members of Congress on research on social issues. By briefing Congress, sociologists have the opportunity to “bring findings from research studies to the attention of the policy community in ways that both promote knowledge and make it accessible to relevant publics” (Herring 2002). The legislative topics that these panels have addressed include terrorism, responses to disasters, welfare reform, marriage incentives, and health insurance for children. Sociologists have even developed a scale of risk for drivers, addressing the public-safety questions of when high-risk drivers should be allowed back on the road (Weinrath 1997).

In the corporate world, sociology students may find positions in humanresource management and industrial relations. Some pursue positions that involve health services or counseling, such as family planning or rehabilitation counseling. Sociology students may apply their training to advertising, sales, or public relations. Their training may also be used in the area of journalism. Those interested in the areas of conformity and deviance may choose to enter the criminal-justice field as police officers, probation officers, correctional officers, and so on, or they might even use their skills as jury consultants (Lindner 1997) or as mediators in dispute resolution (Diaz 2001). Those primarily interested in demography may find employment in marketing, planning, or consulting.

Sociologists are also working in technology industries. For example, the author of this book works in the information-technology sector of a major corporation applying sociological tools in the growing field of collaborative technologies. These technologies focus on looking for new ways that people can better communicate and share information and ideas. This work involves applying what sociologists know about group dynamics and organizations to help high-level decision makers focus and achieve their organizational strategies more effectively and efficiently. Many sociologists in high-tech fields conduct research and make technology recommendations (Guice 1999). Salaries for sociologists working in high-tech industries tend to be higher than salaries in many other areas, including academics. However, the career ladder may be limited, in that sociologists are often passed over for promotions to generalist management positions in these industries (Guice 1999).

Of course, sociologists also teach sociology. The majority of sociologists with doctorate degrees work in academics. They hold positions that emphasize teaching and/or research at colleges or universities. According to the ASA, sociology is taught in over 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone. Teaching at the high-school level typically requires a graduate degree or a certain number of graduate-level course credits in sociology. Schools may also require that the person teach other courses in addition to sociology.

Some sociologists teach in adjunct positions. That means they do not hold full-time faculty positions at the college or university for which they teach. Rather, they are paid to teach one or more courses on an as-needed basis. The majority of sociology departments that grant graduate degrees (8 out of 10) employ adjunct faculty. Approximately one-quarter of the faculty employed in these departments are adjuncts. Some adjuncts are seeking full-time teaching positions. Other adjuncts are employed elsewhere and teach to supplement their income and because they enjoy teaching and interacting with students (American Sociological Association 2002d).

Salaries for Sociologists→ In 2002, the median annual earnings for sociologists was $53,160 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004b). The median means that income distribution is divided into two equal groups. One half the group has incomes above the median. The other half has incomes below the median. Compared with other social scientists, the median income for sociologists is lower than the median annual earnings political scientists. However, it is higher than the median annual earnings for anthropologists and archaeologists, and historians, and is very close to that of geographers (see table 5).

Field
Median Annual Earnings, 2002
Anthropologists and Archaeologists
$38,620
Geographers
$53,420
Historians
$42,030
Political Scientists
$80,560
Sociologists
$53,160

Median all

(Does not include economists, market and survey researchers, and psychologists)

$52,280

Table 5: Median Annual Earnings for Selected Social-Science Fields, 2002
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2004b).

The average salary for sociology faculty in 2003/04 was $59,686. On the low end of the salary scale, sociology instructors who generally do not have a doctorate earned an average of $36,855. Full professors earned an average of $76,200. Overall, for all faculty ranks, salaries increased by 21.4 percent during the past two decades (in constant 2003 dollars). Full professors saw the greatest salary increases (20.5 percent) (see table 6).

Rank
2003/04 Average Salary
1982/83-2003/04 (% change)
Full Professor
$76,200
+20.5%
Associate Professor
$56,212
+15.1%
Assistant Professor
$46,409
+18.8%
New Assistant Professor
$45,722
+26.7%
Instruction Lecturer
$36,855
+15,0%
All Faculty Ranks
$59,686
+21.4%

Table 6: Average Sociology Faculty Salaries in 2003/04 and Percentage of Salary Change, 1982/83–2003/04
Source: American Sociological Association (2004d).

Overall employment for sociologists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2010. That means employment is projected to increase 10 to 20 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rates prospects best for those with advanced degrees and who desire work outside of academic settings. The BLS also rates job prospects as good in areas outside traditional social science that require research, communication, and quantitative skills.

Professional Organizations

Sociology students, as well as longtime professionals, can benefit from networking within the discipline. Sociologists can join international organizations, such as the International Sociological Association (ISA), or national organizations, such as the American Sociological Association (ASA). Many of these organizations are large. At this writing, the ISA claims over 3,300 members from 91 countries. The ASA has almost 14,000 members. Members of these professional organizations often include nonsociologists who are interested in social issues as well as people employed in government, business, or nonprofit organizations outside of academics. Most sociology organizations welcome students as members, and many provide special activities such as newsletters or mentoring programs especially for student members. Student discounts are also common.

Some sociological associations or organizations take a regional focus drawing members from specific geographic areas of the United States. Other types of groups that students may benefit from joining are organized around a specific area of interest. The Association of Black Sociologists (ABS) and Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) are two such organizations, focusing on issues that will serve African American people and issues of gender, respectively. The Sociological Practice Association (SPA) and Society for Applied Sociology (SAS) focus on applications of sociological expertise outside of the academic setting. (As of this writing, these two organizations are considering merging together.)

The larger sociology organizations, such as ISA and ASA, also have subsections that focus on areas of interest. Joining one of these subsections provides members (including students) an opportunity to network with sociologists sharing interests in the same aspects of society. Often, these sections provide newsletters, announcements, and other information specific to the topic area. As of 2004, the ASA had over 40 of these special-interest sections. Some of the largest sections are those focusing on sex and gender, medical sociology, culture, and organizations, occupations, and work (see table 7).

Sociologists can also increase their knowledge, networking, and professional reputations by joining associations or organizations associated with other disciplines that share areas of interest. For example, some sociologists interested in family issues are members of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). Sociologists with interests in health and illness might consider organizations such as the American Public Health Association (APHA). Those interested in political sociology might also join an organization such as the American Political Science Association (APSA).

Aging and the Life Course
Marxist sociology
Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco
Mathematical Sociology
Animals and Society
Medical Sociology
Asia and Asian Americans
Mental Health
Children and Youth
Methodology
Collective Behavior and Social Movements
Organizations, Occupations and Work
Communication and Information Technologies
Peace, War, and Social Conflict
Community and Urban Sociology
Political Sociology
Comparative and Historical Sociology
Pollitical Economy of the World Systems
Crime, Law and, Deviance
Population
Culture
Race, Gender, and Class
Economic Sociology
Racist and Ethnic Minorities
Education
Rationality and Society
Emotions
Religions
Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis
Science, Knowledge, and Technology
Evolution and Sociology
Sex and Gender
Family
Sexualities
History of Sociology
Social Psychology
International Migration
Sociological Practice
Labor and Labor Movements
Teaching and Learning
Law
Theory

Table 7: Sections of the American Sociological Association
Source: American Sociological Association (2004c).

Sociology organizations hold meetings and other professional activities in which members gather to share their research, teaching, and professional expertise; network; and further enhance their professional skills. Conference agendas and formats vary as widely as interest areas. Many conferences focus on presentations of new research and include seminars focused on developing skills such as teaching and research.

Presentations at professional meetings are made in several different formats and range in the formality of the presentation. These may be formal lecturetype presentations, often followed by a question-and-answer period, or they may be discussions between interested colleagues seated around a table or conference room. Informal poster sessions are often included as well. In this format, researchers set up static displays of their research findings on a wall or table.Meeting attendees can browse the displays and ask further questions of the authors informally as it suits their interest. Many people are familiar with this type of format from other events such as school science fairs or trade shows.

Other conference activities often include workshops on teaching, research methods, techniques for statistical analysis or other skill development led by recognized experts in the area, information on available research funding opportunities or grant-writing workshops, book and software exhibits, awards ceremonies, employment services, events specially organized for student attendees, and various business meetings to address organizational governance. Social events such as alumni events, receptions, or welcome seminars for new members and students are also often on the agenda.

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KATHY S. STOLLEY 
(The Basics of Sociology) - ISBN 0-313-32387-9

 

 
 
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