why does sociology have such a bad reputation?
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:
- Politics: As a group, we simply are too far from the average person in political outlook. People write us off as kooks.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?