Using insights from landscape architecture on how pedestrian-driven “desire paths” inform the design of public landscapes, I offer a new concept for sociologists to consider—social desire paths. The social desire path metaphor puts attention on instances when there are disconnects between formal structures and what individuals actually do in the course of action. Conscious or not, such paths, which commence at the individual level, often become collective and leave an imprint on social structures. When identified, the paths then become informative as applied social science. Recognizing social desire paths in concrete behaviors provides an orienting frame for sociological research to shape policy as well as program creation and improvement at the organizational level. Social desire path analysis also offers a distinct sociological approach to capturing interests. To illustrate the benefits of reorienting sociological research in this way, I offer two examples and conclude by discussing how a focus on social desire paths provides a means for academic and applied social science to illuminate viable alternatives to existing social structures.
Nichols, L. (2014). Social Desire Paths: An Applied Sociology of Interests. Social Currents, 1(2), 166–172.