Why Academic Sociology Does Not Deserve The Hatchet

Note:  This list was written as a quick response to this post on Freakonomics, “Sociology and Political Science Deserve The Hatchet.” The photograph above is of one of the very first American sociologists, Anna Julia Cooper, who received her doctorate from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1924.

1.  Sociology has a remarkable canon of classic writings, which, when dug out of the library as archeological artifacts, assembled in chronological order and read in snippets, (i.e., read the opening, closing and some random pages in the middle), are not only an interesting product of modernity (i.e., academic social science), but, also, a story about modernity — see, quite simply, Durkheim’s Suicide (1897)W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro (1899), W.I. Thomas & Florian Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant (1920); Anything from the 1920s Chicago School; William Foote Whyte’s Street Corner Society (1948); The Kinsey Report (1961); The Stanford Prison Studies (1972); Harold Garfinkel’s Studies In Ethnomethodology (1991); Dorothy Smith’s The Everyday World as Problematic (1987); Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Standpoint Theory (2008); Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters (2008); and Charles Lemert’s Dark Thoughts (2002); 2.  American academic sociology was founded by an African American (again, see W.E.B. Du Bois) and rooted in Critical Black Theories and Methods, however, at the same time, has also documented and represented the lives of African Americans in highly distorted ways [i.e., see The Moynihan Report or even better This American Life, Episode 142, Barbara (1999)], creating the paper trail and space to truly confront and study the sometimes hard to pin down elitism of higher education and the social sciences in general — see also the life and work of one of the first American sociologists and, also, one of the first female and African-American Ph.Ds, sociologist and social worker Anna Julia Cooper, pictured above; 3. Sociology, historically, has been the only discipline in the academy to seriously and actively consider and employ the methods and theories of thinkers engaged in more practical kinds of social writing and social work, (i.e., like social workers and nurses, investigative reporters and tabloid journalists, natural scientists, school teachers, lawyers, judges, police officers and reality TV producers); 4.  The back stories of a few prominent and popular sociologists are rife with interesting and/or sexy gossip, which blatantly contradict their theories and analyses — find out, for example, about Talcott Parson’s relationship with his brilliant anthropologist daughter Anne or the romantic life of W. I. Thomas; 5. Harold Garfinkel and his theory, ethnomethodology, is far more engaging and fun that reading translations of Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida or Kristeva; 6.  Good sociologists truly understand the narrative boundaries of the fictive and the real (i.e., sociological analyses, by definition, must be locatable in the world, but also allow for expansive story-telling and setting and character development); 7. Sociology is the only academic discipline to require its students already at the undergraduate level to throughly learn the language and stylings of research methods, making it not just a discipline people learn and master, but practice and do (i.e., good sociologists don’t just analyze stuff, they make stuff, i.e., like … knowledge or, even better yet, stories); 8. Noone, (especially no working sociologist), would ever dream of suggesting taking a hatchet to sociology if C. Wright Mills were still alive

Note 2: More lists by Audrey Sprenger about sociology and other things are right here.

Categories: Higher Education, Rethinking The World

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