the sociologist in despair: a guest post by john c. holley

John C. Holley is an associate professor of sociology at Suffolk University. This guest post is a reflection on overlooked theories in sociology.

At university as an undergraduate, I thought that since the founding fathers Marx, Durkheim and Weber said nothing about sociologically important topics like marriage (the family), society being sociological (as distinct from just political-economic), and because it didn’t yet exist, the popular-culture-using generation … because of these absences, I entered this profession believing that it was my job to provide sociological bases for all these things.

I set to work. I studied the economic and social history that created modern society. I theorized and conceptualized, fitting pieces to together and throwing out ideas that didn’t fit. And finally, I had what I considered a worthwhile contribution to the sociology of society – I wanted to talk about all the stuff that was previously missing from our explanations.

But when I lifted my head up from my work and looked around I found that none of my topics appeared in sociology at all. The American Sociological Association* has no sections on society or on generations. Introductory textbooks have nothing constructive to say about wedding and marriage, generations as popular culture are absent, and nothing can be found suggesting that society as a whole is sociologically constructed.

From the absence of these topics in the profession, am I right to conclude that sociologists really aren’t interested in these questions? Do academics not want to listen to something new or to consider what has been left out of the profession? If so, it rather looks as though I have wasted my time. Today, the profession sends the message that my work is irrelevant and useless. Intellectually speaking, this means logically that my work deserves to go unpublished and unnoticed and I should despair. The current anti-Trump and anti-Brexit concerns do not explain sociology’s professional avoidance of love, generations and big sociology. These weren’t discussed under previous presidents or in earlier decades either.

It seems one must despair of sociology. I should add that my personal life and career are going fine; I’m a grandfather and employed at a university. My despair is logical and confined to intellectual endeavors to change social science. Apparently, I was wrong to think that sociology knew it needed improvement. On the contrary, the profession evidently doesn’t want to discuss its own deficits; it certainly presents no forums for doing so.

I’d like to be proven wrong. I hope we soon see throngs discussing new areas of sociological understanding. But at this moment the evidence of our profession makes for despair and, if enthusiasm for new learning ever arises, this seems a long time off in the future.

*The British Sociological Association has no streams on these topics either

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Written by fabiorojas

February 2, 2018 at 5:37 am

7 Responses

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  1. I don’t know why you couldn’t find interesting work on marriage and the family. ASA has a vibrant section on the family, the Journal of Marriage & the Family while not published by the ASA has a sociologist Kristi Williams as an editor. And there are many fine text books on the topic by important sociologists, including Andrew Cherlin, Philip Cohen, and an edited textbook by myself and Virginia Rutter.



    February 2, 2018 at 9:58 am

  2. Wat


    Thaddeus Q. Wallabypuncher

    February 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm

  3. I agree completly with all three comments



    February 2, 2018 at 6:08 pm

  4. I am well aware that there is lots of current sociology on families. My point is a different one; no sociologist is currently arguing that marriage and family are crucial to the functioning of society as a whole – the way that politics and the economy have been taken to be since the founding fathers. There is a case to be made, through generations such as Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, that personal relationships are now crucial to steering society. If anyone can point to a literature on that topic I would love the hear about it!


    John C. Holley

    February 3, 2018 at 1:51 am

  5. … well, karl mannheim wrote on the topic of generation.



    February 3, 2018 at 5:31 pm

  6. Claiming that marriage is crucial for the functioning of society as a whole is, for better or worse, a very charged political statement in the United States. And sociologists who are not very senior won’t touch topics like that. Mark Regnerus has a new book on this topic, if that puts things in proportion for you.

    Liked by 1 person


    February 4, 2018 at 1:18 pm

  7. Guys you don’t understand. No contemporary sociologist is arguing that marriage and the family are important–in the particular way that the author defines “important”–to society as a whole–in the particular way that the author defines “society” and “as a whole.” Worse still, people expect the author to actually explain what he means rather than intuiting it. Truly, a season for sackcloth and ashes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Thaddeus Q. Wallabypuncher

    February 4, 2018 at 7:17 pm

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