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The Heart of Sociology James Moody The Ohio State University Department Brown Bag, 4/29/05






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The Heart of Sociology James Moody The Ohio State University Department Brown Bag, 4/29/05. Introduction. Points of Departure A battle for symbolic power Is anybody listening? What Knowledge? Where does sociology fit? Sociologically unique theory Making Sociology Relevant
The Heart of Sociology James Moody The Ohio State University Department Brown Bag, 4/29/05

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Slide 1

The Heart of Sociology

James Moody

The Ohio State University

Department Brown Bag, 4/29/05

Slide 2

Introduction

  • Points of Departure

    • A battle for symbolic power

    • Is anybody listening?

  • What Knowledge?

    • Where does sociology fit?

    • Sociologically unique theory

  • Making Sociology Relevant

    • What do we want to say?

    • How do we get the message out?

  • Conclusions

Slide 3

Points of Departure: A battle over symbolic power

Why name it “Public sociology”?

“Knowledge of the social world and, more precisely, the categories which make it possible, are the stakes par excellence of political struggle, a struggle which is inseparably theoretical and practical, over the power of preserving or transforming the social world by preserving or transforming the categories of perception of that world.” (p.236)

“Every field is the site of a more or less openly declared struggle for the definition of the legitimate principles of division of the field.” (p.242)

Pierre Bourdieu Language and Symbolic Power

Slide 4

Points of Departure: A battle over symbolic power

Why name it “Public sociology”?

  • The power to name is the essential step in any battle over the “legitimate principles of division” in a social field, such as the discipline of sociology.

    • Appropriating “sociology” is an attempt to legitimate a political project

      • Reifies the practice of appending non-scientific adjectives to “sociology” (“Critical sociology”, “Policy Sociology”, “Professional Sociology”)

    • This is a brilliant tactical move,

      • Uses our general practice of defining sub-fields (“Organizational Sociology”), but slyly changes the meaning of “sociology” in the process. Compare:

        • Political Sociology  Sociology of politics

        • Public Sociology  /  Sociology of Public(s)

      • Once the term is in circulation, the defining details are largely irrelevant. Power comes in establishing the term, not by filling in the particulars.

Slide 5

Points of Departure: A battle over symbolic power

Why name it “Public sociology”?

  • How has this symbolic move been so easily perpetrated?

    • Linguistic familiarity

      • We are so used to the “<modifier> sociology” construction in our scientific practice, that we easily misread the significance of the new appropriation.

    • Repetition & (mis)recognition

      • Simple repetition in “debates,” talks, and plenary sessions reifies the concept by selectively (mis)recognizing the meaning & content of these events as support for the project.

        • This would be like counting the number of people at a rally without accounting for which candidate they supported.

      • Plays on a social activist bias in the discipline

Slide 6

Points of Departure: A battle over symbolic power

Why name it “Public sociology”?

  • Why do it?

    • Internal:

      • The appropriation of power through naming is a covert way to change the direction and values of a field. Since this particular project plays well into the generally progressive politics of most sociologists, it’s often well-received.

      • This move has a well-repeated history in sociology (see Abbott’s Chaos of Disciplines).

    • External:

      • By casting the project as sociology the legitimacy of a scientific field is appropriated for political projects.

Slide 7

Points of Departure: A battle over symbolic power

Why name it “Public sociology”?

  • What should we do about it?

    • Nothing

      • The best response to this project would have been to simply ignore it. You kill a bad book by not reviewing it, not by giving it a bad review. The best counter-move in a symbolic battle is to not acknowledge the move in the first place.

    • Turn the debate

      • It’s too late to do nothing, so let’s change the focus of the question. We should use this as an opportunity to ask:

        • What is sociology and where does it fit in the social sciences?

        • How can we make our scientific work relevant to wider audiences?

Slide 8

Points of Departure: Is anybody listening?

  • What would effective “public sociology” look like?

  • Burawoy says “public sociology” is :

    • A dialog between sociology and its publics

      • Sociologists as sociologists engage in direct political discourse & action.

      • This should rest on moral questions “regenerating sociology’s moral fiber”

    • Effectiveness would thus imply getting noticed, failure is equal to public indifference.

Slide 9

0

4

1

0

1

Nobody is paying attention to these political statements.

The media does, however, report our substantive findings

Points of Departure: is anybody listening?

  • Burawoy lists 5 recent exemplars of public sociology, all taken by the ASA, how many of them appeared in the press?:

    • Brief to supreme court on the Michigan decision:

    • Statements on Race (proposition 54, 2003 “importance”):

    • Resolution against the war in Iraq:

    • Resolution against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage:

    • Protesting the imprisonment of Saad Ibrahim:

Slide 10

Points of Departure: is anybody listening?

  • What effect would effectiveness have?

  • This is probably good news.

    • Coupling sociology for politics is more likely to delegitimate sociology than legitimate our political programs.

    • Consider Nadar’s involvement in the 2000 ASA meeting.

      • The only coverage the N.Y. Times gave to that meeting was an editorial titled “Sociologists to the Barricades”1 that ridiculed the overly political, simplistic, and clearly ideologically motivated presentations, mocking any scientific activity.

      • Richard Tommasson, summarized this by saying “Three and four decades ago people confused sociology with social work, now they may confuse it with a revolutionary party.”2

    • If sociology is equated with liberal politics our scientific workwill be similarly read. Our ability to remain above the fray is crucial to being heard at all.

1 http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/asameetings.htm

2 http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/septoct00/publicforum.html#Sociologists

Slide 11

Points of Departure: is anybody listening?

  • What effect would effectiveness have?

    • A counter argument is that sociology need not take a particular political stance.

      • “Public sociology has no intrinsic valence – it can as well support Christian Fundamentalism as it can Liberation Sociology or Communitarianism” -- Burawoy , p.11

        • But every example we’ve seen so far has been for left and far-left causes and positions.

        • It doesn’t matter that this might well follow from good social science. It will be interpreted as “just” political.

    • Ultimately, the goal of using sociology to legitimate politics is self-defeating. The same “power of naming” that allows claiming a space for “public sociology” will let those best skilled at using symbolic power simply equate “sociology” with “politics.”

Slide 12

Points of Departure: is anybody listening?

  • This does not mean we should do nothing.

    • The lack of direct political action can be politically relevant.

      • Tendencies to stay out of politics can be seen as extremely conservative: it favors what is currently in place.

  • Fixing the points of debate

    • The role of sociology (I think) should be to identify the social facts that political actors will have difficulty denying. We should provide the “is” to politicians “ought”.

    • Which implies

      • (1) We need to have something useful to say

      • (2) What we say needs to be seen as legitimate descriptions of the world people are interested in.

    • follows from sociology’s unique empirical and theoretical position.

    • Combines our claim to objective, scientifically grounded knowledge with disseminating that knowledge more widely.

Slide 13

What Knowledge?: where does sociology fit?

  • Can sociology lay any legitimate claim to unique knowledge?

    • Perennial debates over the existence of a theoretical core to the discipline

    • Rapid growth in the internal diversity of topics sociologist study:

50

Number of ASA Sections

45

40

35

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

Slide 14

What Knowledge?: where does sociology fit?

  • Can sociology lay any legitimate claim to unique knowledge?

    • Rapid growth in the number of social science journals:

Slide 15

What Knowledge?: where does sociology fit?

  • Can sociology lay any legitimate claim to unique knowledge?

    • This growth & diversity has been seen as evidence for the ultimate emptiness of sociology as a scientific discipline.

    • But disciplines are created dynamically by the exchange of ideas, not the number of ideas. That is, we recognize work as much by who they speak to as by what they speak about.

      • The clearest empirical trace of this communication is citation.

      • Disciplines can then be defined as clusters of work that speaks more to each other than to anyone else.

Slide 18

What Knowledge?: where does sociology fit?

  • Can sociology lay any legitimate claim to unique knowledge?

    • Sociology “fits” at the center of the social sciences. We are not as internally cohesive as Economics or Law, but more so than many (anthropology, allied health fields).

    • This represents a tradeoff. We have traded unique dominance of a topic (markets, politics, mind, space, history) for diversity & thus centrality.

    • Sociology is interstitial discipline (Abbott, 2004) in at least two-senses:

      • There is no content topic we can reasonably exclude

      • We pull together, and generate, the ideas and topics covered by specialty disciplines.

  • This makes us uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive insights on particular empirical questions.

Slide 19

What Knowledge?: Sociologically Unique Theory

  • Is there a set of unique theoretical tools & concepts that sociology uses to understand substantive topics?

  • These are the core elements that form our scientific “collective conscious” making possible the wider “organic solidarity” that comprises the empirical scientific work of the discipline.

  • My strategy is to ground the abstract ideas of structure and agency embedded in Sewell, Giddens or Bourdieu by embedding them in key action arenas (Networks, Organizations, & Markets ) which are intimately linked to questions of meaning (culture) and regular, repeated rules for social action (institutions), all of which rest ultimately on the distribution of people in places (population & ecology).

Slide 20

Organizations

What Knowledge?: Sociologically Unique Theory

A proposed schema for primary sociological elements

Networks

Scope of

individual

agency

Markets

Institutions

Culture

Determinacy

of social

structure

Population / Ecology

Slide 21

What Knowledge?: Sociologically Unique Theory

A proposed schema for primary sociological elements

  • The Action arenas (Networks, Markets, and Organizations) are were actors do things.

    • We have currently given much of this domain to other disciplines, but there’s no reason we can’t re-appropriate it.

  • The meaning regions (Culture & Institutions) rest squarely on Sewell’s treatment of “schemas” (rules that guide social action but that are simultaneously re-created in their use), differing only in their regulatory power and resilience.

  • Population & ecological distributions result from the combined behaviors of actors’ use and reaction to the meaning and regulatory dimensions, but in turn shape the possible actions actors can take. (This is nearly Durkheim wholesale).

Slide 22

What Knowledge?: Sociologically Unique Theory

A proposed schema for primary sociological elements

  • The typical substantive topics that sociologists deal with on a day-to-day basis then emerge from the intersection of these sets.

  • For example:

    • Power or exploitation result from access to resources embedded in the action arenas and shaped by the meanings dimensions

    • Categories like class, race or gender become a pattern of relations instead of essential social or biological elements.

  • Any substantive domain can be treated in this way and, I think, typically is treated this way even if not put in this particular language.

Slide 23

What Knowledge?: Sociologically Unique Theory

A proposed schema for primary sociological elements

  • The point, of course, is not the correctness of this particular proposal.

  • It’s that our interstitial position in the field of social science allows us to take a wider view of the social world than any other discipline.

    • If, as Arendt claims, science rests on the ability to “take a view from nowhere,” then sociologists have a distinct advantage, because we don’t carry with us the kinds of disciplinary blinders needed to maintain strong boundaries.

  • This should allow us to more effectively communicate to the wider public.

  • But what do we want to say?

Slide 24

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

A few empirical facts: World HIV Prevalence: 38M in 2003

Source: World Health Organization

Slide 25

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

A few empirical facts: Social isolation affects suicide more for females than for males …

Slide 26

Males

Females

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

A few empirical facts: … but isolated males are more likely to carry weapons than isolated females.

25

20

15

Percent Carrying Weapons

10

5

0

Outsiders

(8%)

Bridges

(25%)

Members

(67%)

Slide 27

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

A few empirical facts: Some racially heterogeneous schools are socially segregated …

Slide 28

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

A few empirical facts: … while other heterogeneous schools are socially integrated.Why?

Slide 29

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

…and of course we could go on like this for many more.

  • Each of these empirical points are politically relevant:

    • HIV / AIDS  questions about world position & sexual behavior

    • Social Isolation in Youth  Role of schools, meaning of gender

    • Racial Integration  Meaning of race, Assimilation

Slide 30

Making Sociology Relevant: What do we want to say?

  • We need to ensure that those with political agendas are getting the facts right.

    • Our training is in understanding & explaining the world, not in political action. We can win debates and arguments about data, method and findings. We cannot compete in the political spin cycle.

    • Often, however, the answer will be “We don’t know.” Hence the strong need for basic social science research, research that is not tied directly to a policy outcome, but instead focuses on fundamental properties of social interaction.

Slide 31

Making Sociology Relevant: How do we get the message out?

Teaching

  • Burawoy points out that one of our best arenas for “political sociology” is the classroom, since we graduate ~25,000 majors a year.

    • Note that this plays directly into the hands of those charging the academy with political bias.

  • I agree that we should use our classes, but not to preach a specific political message.

    • Instead, we need to generate a population of social science research literate graduates, who can be honestly critical of the kinds of data and claims they hear in the political realm.

Slide 32

Making Sociology Relevant: How do we get the message out?

Research

Our best bet for being relevant will be to advertise our findings.

Most of our work is funded by the public, either directly through grants or indirectly through our university salaries. We should be accountable for that funding and do our best to expose them to our research.

This means using the media.

Slide 33

Making Sociology Relevant: How do we get the message out?

Media Coverage

  • The public finds (quality) research on social life as interesting as we do, and the science press is very eager to publish solid scientific findings.

    • I’ve had 3 pieces get significant media coverage. This work has appeared in:

      • Talk of the Nation (NPR): 3 Million Listeners2

      • Time Magazine: 4.1 Million (Circulation1)

      • NY Times: 1.1 Million (Circulation)

      • Washington Post: 746,000 (Circulation)

      • Glamour: 2.2 Million

      • Men’s Health: 1.7 Million

      • The Economist: 800,000

      • Harpers: 800,0000

      • Playboy: 3.1 Million

    • Total: 16.75 Million readers, plus 2nd tier newspapers, wire & web.

  • http://www.magazine.org/Circulation/circulation_trends_and_magazine_handbook/11186.cfm

  • http://www.npr.org/about/press/020319.recordbreak.html

Slide 34

Making Sociology Relevant: How do we get the message out?

Media Coverage

  • Working with the media comes with certain costs:

    • We have to make it accessible.

    • They will get it wrong. But that’s probably OK.

    • The interest of the science press is inversely proportional to the prominence of political motives in the work.

Slide 35

Conclusions

  • The current push for “public sociology” is a classic exercise in symbolic power.

    • The attempt to place “public sociology” as “just” another type of sociology is a ploy designed to borrow scientific legitimacy for a political project.

    • The move risks a two-fold backfire:

      • Scientific sociology will be delegitimized by politics

      • Illegitimate science will have no positive policy effect.

  • As a discipline, sociology is uniquely situated (a) to bridge other social science disciplines, (b) bringing to bear unique theoretical insights (c) about empirical puzzles that are of genuine interest to the public.

Slide 36

Conclusions

  • Marx famously said:

    • “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

    • Theses on Feuerbach, XI

    • Before we can change the world, we need to understand it. As it turns out, the world is much more difficult to understand that Marx and his optimistic 19th century companions ever imagined.

    • The sociologist’s primary purpose is to contribute this understanding. It is possible to change the world without understanding, but you will rarely be happy with the result.


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