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Twilight of Sociology
Wall Street Journal ^ | 2 February 2007 | WILFRED M. MCCLAY

Posted on 02/06/2007 2:23:40 PM PST by shrinkermd

This short essay begins with noting the recent death of Seymour Lipset as well as the previous deaths of Phillip Reif and David Reisman. The author then wonders why there are no new leaders.

"...Of course, sociologists are still being trained, books are being published, and university departments of sociology show no sign of going out of business. But the sense of free-wheeling inquiry that drew some of the best minds of the 1950s and 1960s into sociology -- in what appears now to be its golden age -- is no longer in evidence.

Seymour Martin Lipset explored the social forces that limit individual freedom. Is an era of inquiry over? The quick answer would be that there are two equal and opposite culprits. One of them is politics. Sociology fell victim to a dogmatic belief that it was not enough to understand the world; one must also change it. And if, as many sociologists came to believe, all reality was "socially constructed," then nothing was grounded in nature, nothing was justified by tradition or custom, and nothing was to be treated as enduring. All things were provisional, and all could be reshaped, usually along predictable political lines. Thus academic journals and scholarly monographs were given over to supporting the reigning views of race, gender and class -- and fiercely suppressing any inquiry that might challenge these views.

But it is equally the case that many sociologists, while seeking to avoid politicization, fell into the trap of scientism, of thinking that by imitating the methods of the "harder" social sciences, such as economics, they could achieve for sociology the precision, and status, of the natural sciences.

(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: postmodernism; sociology
Perhaps, just perhaps postmodernism, relativism and political correctness are in the process of disintegration.

Perhaps, just perhaps the rule of reason will return to the social sciences. If so much that has bedeviled academia will be alleviated.

1 posted on 02/06/2007 2:23:40 PM PST by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd

I miss the Department of Feminist Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in the 1970s. An entire department of hairy, bad-smelling, snarling man-haters in full fury, insisting that the world was merely an artificial construct of the patriarchal, militaristic, phalocentric, capitalistic evil-dooers. It was to laugh!


2 posted on 02/06/2007 2:32:35 PM PST by pabianice
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To: shrinkermd
I owe sociology a debt of gratitude, because by comparison it boosts the value of my psychology degree from mere scratchy toilet paper to plush two-ply toilet paper.

But seriously, I have never met a sociology professor who was not an angry, man-hating lesbian.

3 posted on 02/06/2007 2:35:39 PM PST by -=SoylentSquirrel=-
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To: shrinkermd

As an Anthropology major/graduate and one-time archaeologist, I always looked down on sociologists as our lesser-educated brothers. They never had the wider view and knowledge about the world and how it works that an Anthropologist needed.

Time has proven me right in that the "PC" sociologists that infest our universities have no idea what the real world constitutes of, nor do they have anything but marxist solutions.

While the older generation of Anthropologists were "socialists" or "marxists' (Boas, Herschovitz, Benedict, Clifford Geertz, etc), today's anthropologists seem to keep more to themselves except those who add marxist interpretation to the profession (and they do constitute a significant portion on some campuses). See www.frontpagemagazine.com for course contents at various universities.

Sometimes being a sociology professor and sociologist is like being a philosopher, not very useful in the working world, but just right for cloning at an university.

Let's put them on the endangered species list, and hope that they go for extinction.


4 posted on 02/06/2007 2:37:13 PM PST by MadMax, the Grinning Reaper (Madmax, the Grinning Reaper)
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To: -=SoylentSquirrel=-
"I have never met a sociology professor who was not an angry, man-hating lesbian."

LOL. Even the "male" sociology professors are actually "angry, man-hating lesbians"........
5 posted on 02/06/2007 2:38:17 PM PST by Enchante (Chamberlain Democrats embraced by terrorists and America-haters worldwide!!)
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To: shrinkermd

Dammit I misread the headline - thought it said "Twilight of Scientology"....we can only hope...


6 posted on 02/06/2007 2:38:23 PM PST by bigbob (2)
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To: -=SoylentSquirrel=-; Max Friedman
Sociology is in decline because at best it was never more than an approach to the study of society: the great sociologists, the founders of the discipline, were all trained in other fields, which the found limiting, and sociology developed as a way those great minds (one thinks of Weber, Durkheim, Veblen, as well as Rieff, Riesman and Lipset, who actually seem more epigoni to me) could develop their ideas about society without being limited by traditional disciplinary boundries -- which were becoming more rigid in the early 20th century as these men wrote.

Academic sociologists, as the article in the WSJ notes, usually fall into one of two equally dangerous camps: the reductionists -- the ones who think they're a real social science and try to come up with models, some mathematics and lots of jargon -- and the radicals, who use sociology as their vehicle for promotion of a radical political agenda. The reductions are useless because the only level at which their models have any power is so general as to be meaningless truism, and the radicals are useless because they're radicals.

I had a good friend who was a professor of sociology. She was something of a soft-core feminist, but not a lesbian man-hater. Of course, the fact that she was stunningly beautiful and spent enough time in the South to know how to deal with men, meant she did not have the problems relating to men that many women who become academics do.

7 posted on 02/06/2007 2:50:52 PM PST by CatoRenasci (Ceterum Censeo Arabiam Esse Delendam -- Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit)
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To: shrinkermd

My heart skipped a beat.

I thought it said the twilight of "Socialism".

[Sigh.]


8 posted on 02/06/2007 2:56:35 PM PST by webstersII
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To: bigbob
Me too. Haha. I thought the same thing initially. By the way I was early on a Soc. major, I was even so rabid I wanted to work with Angela Davis (Black Panthers)!! Can you believe it!?! But oh, did I get smart and wake up.

I really enjoyed in the day reading Bettleheim (spelling?) (before the indoctrination that took me way left for awhile) and the study of sociology as opposed to the activism and political mind stench that happens today. In its raw form Soc. is a fascinating study before the hippy/feminists and black power folks took it over.

9 posted on 02/06/2007 2:59:22 PM PST by GOP Poet
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To: webstersII

I thought it said the twilight of "Scientology." Darn.


10 posted on 02/06/2007 3:08:14 PM PST by megatherium
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To: Max Friedman
Today, there's a big debate in many Anthropology departments, especially between the archaeologists and the cultural anthropologists. The cultural anthropologists are the post-mo people who have more similarity with the literature professors from the English department than to archaeologists.

Meanwhile, sociologists --especially those from the population/demography strands-- are very much into hard sciences, closer to economics. It's just unfair to group them into the same category as those post-mos. In fact, not many post-mo sociologists that I know (except those who work on feminism or popular cultures, but they move to different departments now), although of course they are mostly socialists/ Marxist.

11 posted on 02/06/2007 3:10:32 PM PST by paudio (WoT is more important than War on Gay Marriage!)
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To: shrinkermd
Peter Berger, a very prominent sociologist, has written about the decline of sociology, and blames both politicization and the triumph of the quantifiable.

The bigger problem according to Berger is that the field originated in the need to come to terms with modernity and modernization. That accounts for Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, anomie and alienation, and so many other concepts in sociology.

Now that modernization's happened, sociologists don't have much to talk about. They can compare societies that have and haven't modernized, poaching on the anthropologists' territory perhaps, but the big picture discussions aren't as fruitful, and won't be until the next big shift in society.

The problem of politicization goes far beyond sociology. It looks to me like writing just isn't that good lately, since writers discovered sex and politics. Writers aren't sure about what's what right now, so simplified political fables provide them with something to write about.

Increasingly, though, the very idea of professional writers appropriating people's experiences has been called into question, in part because the writers have become too political, and in part because their public has.

12 posted on 02/06/2007 3:10:47 PM PST by x
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To: pabianice
I miss the Department of Feminist Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in the 1970s. An entire department of hairy, bad-smelling, snarling man-haters in full fury, insisting that the world was merely an artificial construct of the patriarchal, militaristic, phalocentric, capitalistic evil-dooers. It was to laugh!

Laugh if you want; just remember your tax dollars are paying their pensions.

13 posted on 02/06/2007 3:11:48 PM PST by Lonesome in Massachussets (When I search out the massed wheeling circles of the stars, my feet no longer touch the earth)
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To: x
Thanks for sponsoring all those episodes of Sesame Street.
14 posted on 02/06/2007 3:13:51 PM PST by Lonesome in Massachussets (When I search out the massed wheeling circles of the stars, my feet no longer touch the earth)
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To: -=SoylentSquirrel=-
But seriously, I have never met a sociology professor who was not an angry, man-hating lesbian.

My thesis advisor was an older, non-Christian, married male(to a woman) who was nevertheless a promoter of homosexuality. When I suggested that homosexuals would always be in a distinct minority, he was shocked, shocked, I tell you.

15 posted on 02/06/2007 3:17:23 PM PST by Albion Wilde (...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. -2 Cor 3:17)
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To: shrinkermd

I thought thew headline read "Twilight of Scientology". I imagined Tom Cruise crying his eyes out.


16 posted on 02/06/2007 3:26:22 PM PST by steel_resolve (They hate us because they do not rule us)
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To: shrinkermd

i could train a turnip to be a sociology professor


17 posted on 02/06/2007 3:34:53 PM PST by wildcatf4f3 (Find out what brand the Ethiopians are drinking and send a case to all my generals.)
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To: x

that darn quantifable, curses, foiled again by reality (gnash teeth here)mummble,mummble,mummble


18 posted on 02/06/2007 3:41:52 PM PST by wildcatf4f3 (Find out what brand the Ethiopians are drinking and send a case to all my generals.)
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To: -=SoylentSquirrel=-
I owe sociology a debt of gratitude, because by comparison it boosts the value of my psychology degree from mere scratchy toilet paper to plush two-ply toilet paper.

LOL - This morning I was swimming at the YMCA and overheard the lifeguard talking to a swim instructor. She said she was going to be finishing her degree in April. The instructor asked what the degree was in. The lifeguard responded "Sociology". The instructor said, "Well, I guess you can still keep your job here at the 'Y' at least." I had to stop swimming in the middle of a lap to laugh.

19 posted on 02/06/2007 3:42:11 PM PST by JTHomes
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To: shrinkermd

The same is happening in philosophy. The peak of development was apparently in the fifties and now the movement is toward following every line that hasn't been thoroughly explored already with the result that everybody in the field is in his own little sphere and the whole appears to be blurry and highly disorganized. This is probably the pause before a huge new line opens up with a general rush by the entire population into the new field of study.


20 posted on 02/06/2007 3:46:43 PM PST by RightWhale (300 miles north of Big Wild Life)
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To: -=SoylentSquirrel=-
The real flaw of sociology as it was understood in the 50's and 60's, pre-postmodernism and feminism and assorted other perversions of the intellectual process, was that it turned out to be a "discipline" in search of a subject matter. Even Lipset's work, which at least had some intellectual rigor, at best came up with more or less self-evident generalizations. And the statistics were very weak. Correlations in the range of .20-.30 and based on large samples were eminently publishable even though they meant in real terms that the researcher had explained perhaps 15% of the variance.

Because sociology in the end lacked content, its scientific efforts fell prey to the predators of the New Left, who saw a vacant house and moved in en masse. This is why there is no such thing today as "social science"-- only a politicized whore dressed up in tawdry imitation of a respectable lady, but whose trappings fool no one upon any sort of serious scrutiny.

21 posted on 02/06/2007 4:03:49 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: shrinkermd

I know this a really dumb question and I apologize for asking it, but are there any practical uses for the study of sociology at all?


22 posted on 02/06/2007 4:13:55 PM PST by gcruse (http://garycruse.blogspot.com/)
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To: gcruse

but are there any practical uses for the study of sociology at all?

You can use it as a pretense for remaking American society in the leftist image.


23 posted on 02/06/2007 4:31:12 PM PST by popdonnelly (Conservatives must have their own long march through the institutions.)
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To: RightWhale

I sometimes wonder what future generations of scholars will think when they look at the history of late 20th century philosophy and wonder what happened to us - how did this nonsense ever come to be taken seriously by people.


24 posted on 02/06/2007 4:41:00 PM PST by garbanzo (Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.)
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To: CatoRenasci

I think the sociology profession also arose at the same time technology began to allow more accurate quantitive study of large population groups...early Edison tab cards through IBM to computers all became devices that allowed true social scientists more accurate measures...the discipline may have been influenced slightly by Marxists in the early Thirties but it was after Stalin that the left retreated enmass into sociology and other "new studies" as a safe cover for marxism. With the flush of the GI Bill I believe a generation of otherwise under-qualified social scientists completely hijacked the profession and turned it into a credential program for welfare administrators.


25 posted on 02/06/2007 4:53:19 PM PST by Republicus2001
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To: gcruse
Yes there is a very good reason to study sociology. An important subset of social activity is war. And since war is a generally a matter of survival, it is a subject that should be studied to some degree by all gentlemen, military or not.

May I suggest, "The art of war" by Sun Tzu, "The Prince" by Machiavelli, and for modern studies, the work of Colonel Boyd (use Google, or if you are a glutton for punishment, read "Science, Strategy and war" by Frans P.B.Osinga, an exposition of Boyd.)

I suspect the man hating Ladies at Amherst might have a difficulty with this reading list!

C.W.
26 posted on 02/06/2007 4:54:27 PM PST by colderwater
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To: shrinkermd; -=SoylentSquirrel=-

Hmm, not that I disagree with the assessment of the recent and current state of sociology; and nor do I hold much hope for its future.

However, I have a degree in Sociology (way back I should add) and I never lost my core conservative values while in college. I'll admit I was in the minority. /grin

And I never thought Angela Davis had jack to offer society.

And, I'm sorry, but a psychology degree is still mere scratchy toilet paper, sitting right next to mine on the shelf in the grocery store.

My buddy from those days, who has a psych degree is now working for a weapons manufacturer helping supply our troops with the technology to kill terrorists. While I am but a simple self employed capitalist.

Ah WTH, there were some nice chicks in my department. I didn't have to agree with them, after all I wasn't looking for a wife. /singger

Interestingly, one of my favorite and most infuential profs in the dept predicted the whole mess that the Great Society's welfare system was heading for. Punched a lot of holes in the logic behind some of the most revered aspects of welfare. I don't imagine he'd fit in too well now.


27 posted on 02/06/2007 5:17:11 PM PST by ChildOfThe60s (If you can remember the 60s......you weren't really there)
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To: Republicus2001

You are far too kind to sociology, IMHO.


28 posted on 02/06/2007 7:43:04 PM PST by CatoRenasci (Ceterum Censeo Arabiam Esse Delendam -- Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit)
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To: garbanzo

That wonderment can probably be fairly answered by looking at other critical historical periods. This is not the first time we have been between philosophies.


29 posted on 02/07/2007 8:41:43 AM PST by RightWhale (300 miles north of Big Wild Life)
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