I wrote this blog entry 5 years ago, and then wrote a series the next year called "Top 7 Things Sociology Offers the World."
With the election of Donald Trump and the divisions the society where I live seems to have, I think it is worth a revisit to these ideas. I don't think the articles are too dated, sadly.
At the bottom of the page, I will provide links to the 2013 series.
I write this with a renewed commitment to public sociology. We live in changing times and sociology can be a powerful tool for creating, changing, shaping, and improving our lives together. I still believe this and it is my hope that others will begin to see that the sociological imagination is needed now, more than ever.
The Living Sociology Club has thrived and then waned in the past 5 years. We are working on renewing it this year. It is timely and I hope that by revisiting these questions, my thoughts can be part of that renewal.
==What Does Sociology Have to Offer in the 21st Century?==
(first published January 15, 2012)
This is a big question. A bigger question than most sociologists really want to answer and certainly a bigger question than a small blog could answer. But it is one that I've been asking myself lately.
Divergence and Convergence
I do not mean "good" and "bad." There are times when divergence is needed. Social systems take on a life of their own, growing beyond their members and seeking to survive above all else. This kind of convergence can lead to things like "too-big-to-fail" organizations that wield too much power.
On the other hand, too much divergence can created a chaotic system where little is done because factions are fighting for turf and cannot find common ground. This, I believe is especially true when the camps are divided into two parts -- either/or thinking is perhaps the worst kind of divergence. The media's perception that the United States Congress has "two parties" may be a good example of this because the only thing that gets reported is the fights between "liberals v. conservatives" or "Democrats v. Republicans."
When Auguste Comte pursued a 'social physics" nearly 200 years ago, he perceived that the same tools of observation, hypothesizing, testing and record-keeping that was changing the world's view of nature could be applied to human behavior. While his positivism may have gone too far in the other direction (believing that there were discoverable, natural laws that governed human behavior without regard to human choice), the discipline he initiated is based, in part, on the desire of humans to understand humans. Sociology has made some contributions in this understanding.
But I perceive we are stagnant. So as a sociologist, I am wondering out loud if we can be relevant to this world 200 years later.
I am asking this question for a specific reason. I am thinking that I'd like to advise and help initiate a Sociology Club at CSN. I have met some students who are seeing the potential of the sociological imagination and I want to find a way to encourage them beyond the classroom. I am especially excited about this because some of these students do not want to be sociologists, but they do want to know more so that they can apply what they know to their chosen professions such as nursing, business, social work, counseling, physical therapy, media production and so forth.
So there is more than theoretical purpose to my contemplations.
I have some thoughts about this that I plan to share over the next few months. Here's a start. The first thing that comes to mind is that the world has become socially smaller (ironically while it has grown exceptionally larger). If we are going to survive globalization, we need to know how to communicate across cultures. So understanding how culture works, where norms come from, why power inequalities exist, that humans are socialized into their cultures, are imperative as a foundation for being able to work together in a global village. 200 years of sociological study might have something to contribute to these understandings. I will write more about the "global village" in my next entry.
Look for more here later. I plan to write here as things come to mind and to also report on the progress of creating a group at CSN.
- A Fuller Picture (Monday, March 25, 2013)
- Measuring Success (Tuesday, March 26, 2013)
- Improving Our Personal Lives (Wednesday, March 27, 2013)
- Commonality in Diversity (Thursday, March 28, 2013)
- Knowing Organizations Saves Lives (Friday, March 29, 2013)
- Epigenetics (Saturday, March 30, 2013)
- Everything is Sociological! (Sunday, March 31, 2013)