Monday, 28 December 2009

Sociology - a small complaint

Surely, it is one of sociology’s basic duties never to make us more stupid than common sense has already made us. Yet this is what sociology constantly seems to be doing through its crude and insensitive language.

Take a sentence I just came across which summarized a certain theory as claiming that “socially backward areas evince a higher frequency of values that may be in conflict with conventional values”. The source is hardly important, since I think everyone will agree that formulations of this type are very common in sociological texts. Now compare it to the confidential little whisper that we’d better keep away from a certain neighborhood because it’s “dangerous”. Is it more nuanced or more sophisticated than the latter? Nope. Is it better since it is firmly grounded or more generally valid? Hardly, since anything “may” of course be anything anywhere.

Is there, then, any difference between the two statements? There is. The former discourages thinking. The dignity of science invites us to accept it unquestioningly, while the confidential whisper at least makes us react and perhaps even protest since we see it as what it is: a prejudice with no special dignity at all.

This is just one example, but it’s easy to find more. If you’re a sociology student, just look in your textbook.

I’m not asking how we (yes, I am a sociologist) can go about to make sociology intellectually stimulating. But we should at least avoid putting a lid on people’s intellectual creativity, preventing them from exercising their intelligence in trying to come to grips with their social world.

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