why does sociology have such a bad reputation?


A few days ago in my post about public sociology, socio-blogger Rachel S. wrote the following comment in the context of a discussion about the paucity of prominent socio-bloggers:

And as far as the last point, I really agree with you. There is no way around it, sociology has done a really **** job at promoting itself to the public.

I could not agree more. I am always shocked at our profession’s poor public image. Basically, the educated public barely knows that sociology is actually a real social science, and among those that do, sociology has a fluffy image. [Don’t believe me? Just watch the reaction when a kid tells mom and dad he’s switching from pre-med to sociology. It’s priceless.]

This is frustrating because we study important questions and we actually come up with some good answers. So here are some hypotheses about why we have such poor PR:

  1. Politics: As a group, we simply are too far from the average person in political outlook. People write us off as kooks.
  2. Great Books: At the undergraduate level, we teach too much from old, musty texts. It gives the impression that sociology is like English lit class – a tedious exercise in decoding the writings of dead guys. Not real science.
  3. No science: Although sociology is taught as an empirical social science at the graduate level, many undergraduates don’t get this at all. We should turn intro soc into a version of intro econ (core theories + exercises in analytical reasoning).
  4. We hate math: I’m not talking about statistics, I’m talking about the near absence of formal theory building in sociology. It’s relegated to various small pockets like formal soc psych, math soc, networks, rational choice, etc. The average sociologist doesn’t acquire formal theory as a tool. At a deep level, most insight in social science is not mathematical, but by completely tossing math, we throw out something that is quite useful and brings credibility.
  5. No Levitts: For some reason, we fail to produce people who act as the spokesperson of sociology. We have no Levitts, Krugmans, Friedmans, etc. Why are economists so friggin’ good at producing prominent public intellectuals, while sociology goes for *years* between NY Times op-eds? What do we do to suprress the production of PR savvy sociologists? Of course, we occasionally make the news with a clever article or book, but we fail to gain a permanent slot in public discussion. Why?
  6. The problem is social problems (not the journal!): By emphasizing social dysfunction, we become associated with dysfunction. A basic finding in the study of the professions is that the prestige of your clients is a big predictor of your prestige. Also, if that’s what the average college student takes away from sociology – that it’s the field of social problems – then that’s the image they’ll have about us for the rest of our lives.
  7. Post-modernism: This one isn’t our fault, but a lot of people make the link “hard French guys= sociology.” And yes, we all owe much to Bourdieu, but the overwhelming bulk of modern sociology is regular scientific hypothesis testing and thick description. The public thinks that we just sit around and play word games.
  8. Bad recruits: Let’s admit it – the kids who scores a perfect SAT score doesn’t immediately rush to sociology. We just don’t get the best recruits. This point was made in Halliday and Janowitz’ Sociology and Its Publics in the chapter on recruitment into sociology. We spend too much time trying to fill large lecture halls of intro soc and not enough time going for totally high caliber students. The result – the field suffers as a whole.

So, orgheads, which of these has any empirical validity? And the harder question, what do we have the power to change?


Written by fabiorojas

July 19, 2007 at 4:52 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

28 Responses

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  1. I think that all eight have some validity, but I’ve long believed that sociology’s primary obstacle to greater acceptance is Americans’ belief in the power of the individual. Any explanation involving social structure inevitably loses out to the cult of individualism.

    Explain how social forces created racial segregation and wealth inequality and you’ll get a response along the lines of, “Well, look at that fella Will Smith played in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.'” Before you know it, you’ve been branded some kind of crazy socialist…

    Within the discipline, #3 is a major problem in my experience. I’m shocked at the number of new graduate students who think we’re going to sit around and discuss social issues…and then fix them! As evidence, consider how many grad students despise methods and stats classes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Dave P.

    July 19, 2007 at 11:35 am

  2. This I believe is exactly the position that sociology should question, particularly when it rubs against empirical reality and yet people still mobilize the rhetoric of individual agency to transcend structural constraints, and where clearly, collective action problems withstanding, transformation will be very unlikely. So in providing a more accurate picture of ‘reality’ [contra economics], I couldn’t think of a way that sociology is not relevant, rigorous and communicative.

    Second, I would agree that the undergraduates who come to sociology because they have certain political and ethical dispositions buy into a basic misrecognition about the discipline. Too often it seems that the pre-med student who takes a sociology minor sees the field as simply a proxy for political engagement, a signal of their liberalism on med school apps. Not sure what to do about this dynamic.



    July 19, 2007 at 1:18 pm

  3. I was referring to the this paragraph in the first comment:

    “I’ve long believed that sociology’s primary obstacle to greater acceptance is Americans’ belief in the power of the individual. Any explanation involving social structure inevitably loses out to the cult of individualism.”



    July 19, 2007 at 1:22 pm

  4. […] why does sociology have such a bad reputation? […]


  5. […] Fabio saysBy emphasizing social dysfunction, we become associated with dysfunction. A basic finding in the study of the professions is that the prestige of your clients is a big predictor of your prestige. Also, if that’s what the average college student takes away from sociology – that it’s the field of social problems – then that’s the image they’ll have about us for the rest of our lives. […]


  6. Although sociology is taught as an empirical social science at the graduate level, many undergraduates don’t get this at all. We should turn intro soc into a version of intro econ (core theories + exercises in analytical reasoning).

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My colleague, John Hoffmann and I are designing and coteaching a class in fall semester that teaches students the basics of data management and analysis. This class is in addition to the standard core of methods, statistics, theory, etc. What we’re trying to do is give them the more basic skills (e.g. design a spreadsheet, input data into a spreadsheet, make figures and tables that communicate a clear story). My hope is that as our undergrads take this class they’ll be better prepared to do their senior theses and/or upper division case studies.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 19, 2007 at 2:43 pm

  7. <>

    Ha! When i told my parents i was switching to sociology from english lit they freaked out. That was eight years ago. Luckily when i was accepted into a doctoral program they were completely supportive.

    This issues leads me to point 8: Unlike other social sciences, we do not have a widely offered AP course (do we even have an AP course?) so students can gain exposure to sociology in high school. Which means that students first exposure to sociology is in college, later than in other disciplines.

    Thus Intro to Soc has become a primary recruitment tool, where intro classes in other disciplines are taken by students with limited exposure before entering the undergraduate level. No matter how well intro is done, immersing students in basic level classes on inequality, criminology, family and life course and other “hot” topics may do a better job drawing in students than a survey course which does not expose the depth of sociology in the areas we study.

    As a sociologist of education i find the status of sociology frustrating, as i see excellent sociological research in that area getting less press then other education research which may have not been as rigorous. Is part of our issue that we do not attend enough interdisciplinary conferences so other scholars can see our work?



    July 19, 2007 at 3:35 pm

  8. In regards to “No Levitts” – it seems to me that people didn’t like all the publicity that surrounded Dalton Conley. I am not that familiar with his work (I read Honky, however), but from what I picked up on the net, there was no support within sociological circles for his public engagement, although his media appearances in popular press such as NY and LA Times can be a venue for promoting sociology. He could be the Levitt. The reason he lacked support might be that some sociologists thought he was selling out by making some of its insights simple and available to general public. That’s just a hypothesis…

    Liked by 1 person


    July 19, 2007 at 4:31 pm

  9. […] Rojas at has a stimulating post decrying sociology’s poor standing and reputation within the social sciences. It’s a […]


  10. […] rapidly changing and culturally diverse social realities we find ourselves in this discussion on why sociology has such a bad reputation (echoed […]


  11. Fabio – have you considered one of the main changes in Sociology (lets say since the mid-1970s, with its decline in enrollments, importance, etc) has to do with the fact that much of American sociology was associated with managing the welfare state? I looked a bit, and through the 1980s, about 50% or so of sociology undergrads were going into social service post-graduation. With the contraction of the welfare state, increased influence of business sphere, and professionalization of both social work and public administration, sociology gets left as an exclusively academic enterprise. And, w/lack of central science-like attributes, it atrophies. So now we have socially-conscious students and public-minded students, and no training for how to succeed in business and make bank. And no jazz for those who want to go into gov’t.

    Incidentally, I also ran across an article from the 1930s which suggested among other things, that Albion Small effectively cut the legs out from other potential public giants of American Sociology – that up to then, Sociology was considered important – so that all the public heard was negative criticism…meanwhile economics and political science were bounding along, addressing key issues of the day.

    Valerio – I think it was the content rather than the thought behind Conley’s public sociology that was/is the problem (see, for example, Carole Joffe’s response to his op-ed arguing for men’s rights in abortion decisions).



    July 20, 2007 at 3:40 am

  12. Peter, your historical retrospective seems very interesting, and I think a significant part of the answer to the question why sociology has a bad reputation (if it really does) lies in the early days.

    Thanks for pointing out the Carole Joffe’s response to Conley. However, I’m familiar with it, and I agree that the content can be something that reduces his popularity, particularly among sociologists. But there is good stuff in his columns as well, and I’m not sure that he should be dismissed because of a few awkward (and probably wrong), arguments.



    July 20, 2007 at 11:44 am

  13. Ok Fabio, you are deliciously ambiguous on the question of whether the “reputation problem” of sociology is due to “objectivist” causes or purely “constructivist” causes. In other words, there are two ways of conceive of the situation: (1) the quality of knowledge production in sociology really is crummy, irrelevant, low quality, etc. in comparison to other social science disciplines, and therefore the reputation deficit is a good reflection of inherent objective difficulties in the discipline. (2) Sociology as good as producing high-quality knowledge as political science, economics, etc., but yet suffers from a reputation problem that is not connected to the realities of knowledge production but which is connected to (cultural, perception, etc.) issues partially orthogonal to these factors. That is, the reputation problem of sociology is “socially constructed.”

    Of the eight of Rojas’ “Theses on Sociology”, Theses, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 I am classifying as constructivist. Theses 4, 7 and 8 I am classifying as objectivist (Thesis 4 is mixed but I think the thrust of it is that mathematization really is a good idea in addition to it being good “window dressing”).

    I don’t buy any of the objectivist theses (SAT scores, post-modernism, etc.). I would put the highest level sociological stuff against anything from any of the other high prestige social science disciplines and I would find nothing to complain about. The best in sociology is certainly comparable (if not superior) to anything that economists, political scientists, etc. can come up with (or let’s put it this way: I have yet to read anything from anybody in these disciplines that makes me wish that I had gotten an PhD in that stuff instead). So sociology is not of low repute because the top sociologists have somehow less brainpower than the top people from the other social sciences (unless “brainpower” is interpreted in a narrow sense to imply “facility with mathematical formalisms” which I think would just be plain dumb; considering that F. A. Hayek was probably the smartest economist of the 20th century).

    So obviously I find the constructivist thesis the most persuasive. I think that sociology would have the same reputation problem even is all of the smart wiz kids were becoming sociologists. “Wizziness”, brains and mathematization are not sufficient to make a high quality social science (I think the cognitive poverty of economics is a good example here). I find thesis 6 the most convincing: the other disciplines have coherent and “high prestige” realms of society as their subject matter: the polity (the embodiment of collective purposes) and the economy. These are closer to the “center” in Shils’ (1965) sense. Sociologists, on the other hand, in studying anything that is “informal” and in “civil society” have inherited a realm that is closer to the “periphery.” An ill defined and amorphous region, home to the residual categories of culture, primary groups, embedded social relationships, etc. (and yes, “social problems”). Consider for instance anthropology: once a high status discipline, because it monopolized a highly coherent realm (non-Western aboriginal “cultures” in the periphery) as the realm disintegrated throughout the twentieth century, so did anthropology’s prestige (notice that the same did not occur to archeology, which is able–for obvious reasons–to keep its cognitive realm intact, because it resides in the unchanging past). So, let’s face it, the biggest problem in sociology is precisely a strict definition of what we study. If we could tell our parents what is it that we study in a single sentence (without mentioning the contrast to psychology), I’m sure they would feel much better.

    Yet, I don’t think this (lack of definition of the object of study) has any bearing on the quality of the cognitive content of the discipline (although of course it has a great bearing on how the discipline is perceived, since legitimacy is connected to sharpness of definition as noted by Zuckerman [1999]). We like what we do. We only begin to feel bad about “reputation” when comparison processes are activated, in which case what Kahneman et al call the “focus effect” takes over and we begin to feel like we are not good enough, not smart enough and gosh darn it, people don’t like us. But in reality, the situation is that most of us will shoot ourselves if we had to study the dreadfully boring stuff that economists and political scientists have to study. I would gladly trade a little reputation for that.



    July 20, 2007 at 3:16 pm

  14. I love it that most of our stories about facing the low reputation of sociology involve telling our parents about our choice of major. It’s funny how that one event sticks out in our minds, perhaps because it was then that we had to decide if we really wanted to take this path or if we would opt for a more socially-acceptable major/career.

    I think there’s a mix of objectivist and social constructionist explanations for why sociology has a bad reputation. Among the general public, I think the reason is fairly objective. As Peter noted, there just aren’t that many jobs out there associated with a sociology degree anymore and so sociology, even though it is a real social science, has been relegated to the dust bin of wasteful liberal arts degrees. That is after all why our parents’ jaws dropped when we told them about our choice of major. It’s not like our parents know much about the inter-disciplinary status of sociology. They just wanted to make sure we could actually get a good job after school and not end up selling shoes for a living (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    The other reputation – the one that is more socially constructed – is sociology’s status in the social sciences and, more generally, among all social sciences. Although Omar makes a good case that objectively sociology is as rigorous, predictive, and intriguing as any of our neighboring sciences, the perception is that sociology is soft and has very little to offer. Perhaps because of our internally fragmented state or because of the wider variance in quality within sociological research, we have had a tough time combatting this perception.

    Of course, I think there is feedback between the two arenas. The objective realm of sociology’s inability to secure an occupational foothold outside academia is amplified by the fact that economics has more prestige and is better able to secure ties to business, government, etc. But their higher prestige in academia also, I think, allows them to capture more of the best students at the undergrad level than sociology can. I haven’t seen any stats on this, and so this is mostly conjecture. While the best sociology students may be as good as the best econ students, I think we have a lot more variance in student quality. Many of our students drift to sociology because they can’t find anything else and they want out of school quickly. Sociology, which does not require training in calculus at the undergrad level, is a much easier major than economics after all. This is a huge problem for sociology, I think. We have great stuff to offer serious students, but many of our students are not very serious.



    July 20, 2007 at 3:35 pm

  15. I’m not so sure, Fabio. Methinks there is a good bit of ye olde argumentum ad populum to your hypotheses: the fact that most sociologists are plagued by feelings of inferiority, don’t make it so. Given the talent pool, I think sociologists get quite a bit of play. Could they have more? Sure, but I think the answer lies quite a bit more in having a good rap and a good PR machine in place than it does in items #1-8.

    On DT, I think Valerio is right…not so much his being out there than the less-than-entirely-awe-inspiring nature of the product. I don’t think the NYC “aca-lebrity” crowd has yet to find the right media handlers. (Exactly what does NYU and Columbia do with the loads of filthy lucre flowing into their coffers? Surely there are more than a few budding Steven Dubener’s floating around the island of Manhattan.) Regardless, you gotta tip your hat to his ilk for sticking their necks out.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 20, 2007 at 5:04 pm

  16. […] why does sociology have such a bad reputation? « (tags: sociology) […]


  17. Now this is a good one! Here are my two cents…

    As Omar makes clear, modern sociology came late to the academic table. It was left with the crumbs of the life-world. Historians studied the past, anthropologists had a monopoly on the exotic, psychology looked at the mind, economics dealt with the economy, and political science studied the state. And unfortunately, sociology was left with the family, crime, race, gender, and you guessed it—Social Problems.

    Fabio, actually, wrote an excellent paper regarding one of my three remedies for sociology getting a better reputation:

    #1. INTELLECTUAL TRESPASSING. (Can anyone question the insights of economic sociology (other than Fabio here, btw); economic anthropology; and political economy?; I continue to aver that one should be able to obtain a Ph.D. in social science in order to fill the interstices that one invariably will run into from an imperfect education in any singular social science; Also, the works of Heilbroner, Parsons, Weber, Hayek, Mises, Schumpeter, Veblen and many others make clear that tresspassing is the way!)

    #2. THEORETICAL COHERENCE. (More Methodological Individualism/Subjectivism…This is not in lieu of structure. Rather, this is a plug for someone promulgating, e.g., not simply embeddedness, but the origin of embeddedness…this calls for more of a subjectivist/interpretative turn in sociology…We cannot be taken seriously if we simply assume group membership; More focus on the emergence of institutions: e.g., economically relevant and economically conditioned phenomena in Weberian terms; More Simmelian and Weberian questions)

    #3. REEVALUATING OUR PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS. (Comptian/Durkheimian objectivism has not been successful; More Kant, Less Comte; More Mises/Schutz/Simmel, Less Habermas/Parsons/(Karl) Polanyi; And a history of sociological thought may shed some light on the reasons for reevaluating our philosophical underpinnings.

    Liked by 1 person

    Brian Pitt

    July 22, 2007 at 1:49 am

  18. my impression is that US sociology had a firm status when it served the government and powerful forces outside government, in the area studies period and with the Coleman Report. academic sociology decided via its professional associations, as a professsion, to break those relationships and become oppositional.

    inmates and warders co-ran the asylum from then on. so their clients cut them off, and they spun off into more isolation and poverty.

    we’ve had a multi-decades-long lack of development and nurturing of relationships between US sociology as a whole and government and major economic groups. so sociology in academe is a righteous welfare case.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 23, 2007 at 2:39 am

  19. I had some–but little–exposure to sociology, I admit, but as far as I can tell…

    * Sociology = Socialism. Enough said. This goes beyond disagreement of value.

    * Economics envy. Why do you guys hate us? It’s because we’re beautiful? :-) What is it with this constant need to compare?

    * Quantitative work without explicit, formal theory (by which I mean models) is limiting. For instance, you can’t account for the Lucas critique aspect of things.

    And, if I’m allowed to be polemical, no discipline is worthy unless it can secure at least some form of permanent employment in the private sector. Anyone can leech of the State, but to claim to create value is credible only when you can get smart entrepreneurs to pay you. — By that standard, some social sciences do much better than others.



    July 24, 2007 at 8:12 am

  20. Huh… to think of it, that previous comment came out far too provocative and polemic than I intended. Sorry about that.

    I guess I’ve met too many people for which sociology is the leftist anti-economics… But I’m sure that’s not the whole story.



    July 24, 2007 at 3:48 pm

  21. Gabriel,

    You make an excellent point about the dearth of formal theoretical cohesion in sociology; sans (Misean/Weberian) purposive action and rational choice, however. (…and we know that the overwhelming majority of human institutions outside the market cannot be analogized to markets successfully…Just think about the errors of public choice…As you suggest, it is beautiful, formal, quantitative, yet empirically useless as an explanation of voter behavior). I am certainly no votary of the need for theoretical heterogeneity and formal model building. In fact, the entire idea seems a little counterintuitive.

    Second, I do not believe that truly curious sociologists hate – or are not interested – the work of economists. In fact, a huge segment of Org. Theory deals with explicitly “economic phenomena,” and I may be incorrect about this, but Org Theorists are overwhelmingly “classically liberal,” and are not prepossesssed with socialism.

    However, and more directed to your first comment, if you take a look at the advent of the discipline; i.e., take a look at the works of Comte, Hegel, Marx, Durkheim, Toennies (the men who have had a huge influence on empirical sociology), you notice men who have taken issue with those who practice economics. With the exception of Marx and Hegel, the aforementioned are avowedly Methodological Holists (and other than those GDP awestruck macroeconomists, economists are overwhelmingly methodological individualists…Perhaps a cause for intellectual tension?), and glory in “social facts.”(I believe that things would have been different if Weber did not pass at age 56; Schumpeter did not declare himself an economist; Parsons would have called more attention to meaning, instead of function; Sociologists would have drawn more on the work of Simmel; And if symbolic interactionists (like Mead and Bourdieu) would have dealt more with “economically relevant” and “economically conditioned” phenomena.

    What is more, if economics is concerned about the choices and thus the effects of human behavior, sociology deals with questions as to why human beings come to behave and choose as they do. There is no need for these two disciplines to be at loggerheads. If my definitions are in any way informative, economics and sociology need each other. And their need for each other is evident in expansive definitions of human behavior that do not simply comprise actions, effects, and motivations, but the institutions that allow or forbid certain actions.

    Finally, Gabriel please do not forget about the number of businesses (e.g., GAP, Banana Republic, Auto Dealers, and numerous restraunts, and other clothing outfits) that use the informative methods of survey research in order to appraise and improve their stores and employees. Have you ever been asked or phoned about assisting a business with its customer service survey? O.K., economists are not interested in what people say; only in what people do…But if a customer is inveighing against an employee who serviced her, you had better believe that the business surveyors will not be the only ones to hear about it! Sounds like bad news for the business!

    By the way, multiple regression, was founded by sociologist/anthropologist F. Galton! Sounds like a very worthy discipline to me.


    Brian Pitt

    July 24, 2007 at 7:53 pm

  22. Why does sociology have such a poor reputation? Simple.

    (1) The field has precisely two books of interest to the lay public, namely Malcolm Gladwell’s two. Every other book on the sociology shelves at a popular book store sucks. Until you guys start writing books that convey some of the big ideas in the field to people outside the field, the sort of interested laypeople who read pop physics books, or pop biology books, or pop astronomy books, of course these laypeople won’t have any interest in what you do.

    (2) (Which ties in to 1). Laypeople are not excited by ephemera, and aren’t interested in politics outside narrowly confined bounds. While a book on how people stereotype each other, as a general principle, across all of space and time, might be very interesting, one more rant about how racist/sexist/agist Americans are is of zero interest to anyone. There do appear to be some fairly universal statements in sociology (for example Gellmann has very interesting claims about the order in which the trappings of civilization are acquired), but one does not see popular books on these issues.

    (3) What do you want a sociology course to do? Give people a broad outline of what is known of how societies function, or train future sociologists? Because what I hear is people claiming they want to do the first, while then putting vast amounts of energy into the second. People who just want to understand the core corpus of knowledge of sociology don’t have the time or the interest in how that information was acquired, and forcing them to learn it just turns them away from the field. This does not make them bad people, it just means that, like everyone else, they are forced to ration their curiosity and time. We don’t expect that people be forced to understand X-ray crystallography before we explain the structure of DNA to them. We don’t expect that they know how to use a telescope before we explain to them about galaxies and the different types of stars.

    (4) I obviously cannot speak for all sociology courses, but I recently in the car listened to one such first year survey course available on the internet. (To protect the guilty, I’ll not give the name of the university which, good guys that they are, made the lectures available for download.) The material was intrinsically very interesting and the examples presented were, IMHO, very good. But, oh my god, the pacing was awful. It was so freaking slow. Everything was discussed, then discussed again, then discussed a third time, just to make sure you got the point.
    Certainly when I was a (physics/math) student, and actually after some intellectual meat rather than just easy A’s, I think I would have dropped such a course after two weeks rather than cope with the boredom of such repetition. Yeah yeah yeah, we get the point already. It was bad enough that I just couldn’t take going on to the second semester course (taught by the same lecturer) after its first course revealed the same sloooooow pace.
    I’ve listened to quite a few first year courses provided by various great US institutions, and none of the others, whether history, philosophy, political science or geography, were anything like this slow.

    (5) What the hell is with the hero worship of people from 1900 or earlier? Sure, it’s nice that some guys back then founded the field and gave it some initial ideas, but, IMHO, it is a sign that something is deeply wrong with a field when there is constant reference to Durkheim said… and Marx said… A vibrant field should be aquiring and modifying ideas rapidly enough that no-one much cares what Weber said about something because ten people since then have revisited the issue. Physics does not attempt to settle arguments by telling us what Newton said. Even the biologists, who go on, IMHO, far too much about what Darwin said, treat him more as a totem than as an actual source of facts.


    Maynard Handley

    July 24, 2007 at 8:44 pm

  23. Brian,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, especially given the lack of quality in my comments. (Crappy week, I suppose.)

    I would disagree somewhat with your views on Economics. Contemporary macro is, to a certain degree, based on methodological individualism (right now usually via one/several representative agent(s) with rational expectations) but not always. Introducing true heterogeneity of agents in macro is where the action might be over the next few years (decades?). The weakness of straightforward aggregation results is disappointing but not fatal, IMHO.

    Re: rational choice, data and testing…

    Well, it would be nice if life would be easy. The lesson I learned from Economics and quantitative methods is that taking a nontrivial view of human behavior and regression analysis don’t mix well. Parameter drift, “structural” parameters and so on.

    It means that you can’t really expect to be able to take hypotheses to the data, in a straightforward manner, when decision-making is based on expectation or preference orderings and so on. — Of course, you then need to look for natural experiments and clever testable implications. Which is clearly doable.

    This brings me to my next and last point… During my limited exposure to sociology (one introductory class), reading the classics and reading about the classics, it seemed like a interesting bunch of ideas with some recurring concepts, but it didn’t feel like a unified body of knowledge.

    Some of those ideas I use even today, years later, but I don’t feel like I’ve mastered a type of analysis, like I mastered economic analysis or Wittgensteinian language analysis, let’s say. I haven’t become a practitioner, I’ve not been introduced to a way to see the world. I was told about many such ways, by different authors.

    Some of the crack addition-like fascination economists get for their work is that in the mainstream, what we might call neo-Walrasian, everything from the household’s labor-leisure decision to international trade is based on the same notion of rationality (ends-means, preferences-constraints, etc.) and the same standard for what it means to have proved something.

    In other words, it’s a feature, not a bug. :-)

    This extends to policy work. While economists operate with a rather impoverished understanding of moral-political philosophy, the profession (and society at large, I would suggest) has benefited greatly from the focus, via explicit models, on a) Pareto efficiency; b) social welfare functions; c) efficiency-equity trade-offs.

    Also, I would not take the (probably) unsuccessful transplant of rational choice in pol sci as an indictment against rational choice as such. (Then there’s the issue of game theory investing a lot in lesser and lesser conditions, which hit severe diminishing returns, IMHO, but that’s off topic here.)



    July 24, 2007 at 11:56 pm

  24. Thanks for the insightful comments Gabriel and Maynard. Unfortunately, I will have to agree with the both of you. The major problem with sociology is its theoretical heterogeneity. (One cannot formally model what is not explicit!) And btw Gabriel, I do not believe that rational choice is THE answer for sociology, however it does ask that sociologists tuck in their theoretical shirt tails prior to expounding about what they discovered in their data set.


    Brian Pitt

    July 25, 2007 at 1:33 am

  25. […] 3-4 a week. I wondered which of these posts has been the most popular. You might think it was my recent tirade against sociology’s bad public image (about 300 hits), or my reservations about freakonomics (over 500 hits), or maybe one of my grad […]


  26. Very good points.
    RE #5: Econ majors can aspire to work at the Fed or some department for statistics. Therefore, econ majors look up to people like the Chairman of the Fed, etc who can “speak for econ” as a whole. Also, the diversity of sociologists’ interests prevent a unified group for an individual to speak for. It’s not exactly a problem to me…
    Also, claveles is very right about recruiting to soc. My college career was interupted with Hurricane Katrina, and during my semester away I took into soc at Vandy. I loved it, and added it as a major at Tulane. At Tulane, soc is much more popular (and respected, I think) because they offer criminology, deviant behavior, soc in film, etc classes as an “intro level” to peak interests. We few soc majors are a bit more excited about soc than those at other schools that begin with the more dry intro classes.



    July 27, 2007 at 3:56 pm

  27. Very simply–Sociology is very 1960’s. Its relationship to government inteventionism was its source of growth and of disrepute. Notice now the efforts of socioligists–tend toward criminal justice, drug adicction and programns, mirgran issues. Basically, looking for an aggrieved social group and a program to help. I notice folks in Social Work are on the bandwagon and Sociologys spin off–Criminal Justice. As for what Brian Pitt was babbling about–surveys and retail work are done by folks in Marketing. Incidentally, the best “Sociology” is being done by scholars in Business Schools in Management and Org Theory. They also get the brighter students, soc gets those w strong ideological leanings who can;t do math or program computers–newflash you guys are hosed in the 21st century–going the way of phrenology. Oh and why are Krugman and Levitt popular–They have something to say!


    Robert C

    July 30, 2007 at 4:07 am

  28. Hey Robert,

    What is, contemporarily, defined as “marketing” and “entreprenuership” were sociologically defined in the latter part of the 19th century by Max Weber. Moreover, and irrespective of terminology, those who work in “marketing” have imported the methods of survey research (methods developed and promulgated by SOCIOLOGISTS).

    However, Robert, I will concede that sociology, a generation ago, was overwhelmingly 1960s. But with the emergence of cross disciplinary fields such as Political Sociology, Law and Society, and Economic Sociology (i.e., Org. Theory, Network Analysis, and Formal Rational Modelling), and a number of scholars who are not afraid of (and are conversant with), as you state, Post-Secondary School Mathematics and Computer Programming this is changing.

    By the way, Robert, have you ever read any of the works of the bloggers of this website? Start reading the work of Brayden, Omar, and Fab Rojas (These guys can do math past Alg. II). Then decide. Believe me, they have a bunch of interesting things to say!

    Finally, do not forget who does the lion share of the “leg work” for Levitt: Sudhir Vinkatesh (Sociologist!!)


    Brian Pitt

    July 30, 2007 at 10:01 pm

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