curing the ills of sociology

I was reading some background bits on Erving Goffman when I came across this passage, commenting on the state of sociology. Having sat through painful discussions of “what is an information school?” and been grilled about my own disciplinary affiliations, I read this and burst out laughing. I always love reading scholars’ takes on disciplinary squabbles, especially when they can step back and see the absurdity in it all. I figured the academics who read my blog might get a kick out of this too.

“I have no universal cure for the ills of sociology. A multitude of myopias limit the glimpse we get of our subject matter. To define one source of blindness and bias as central is engagingly optimistic. Whatever our substantive focus and whatever our methodological persuasion, all we can do I believe is to keep faith with the spirit of natural science, and lurch along, seriously kidding ourselves that our rut has a forward direction. We have not been given the credence and weight that economists lately have acquired, but we can almost match them when it comes to the failure of rigorously calculated predictions. Certainly our systematic theories are every bit as vacuous as theirs: we manage to ignore almost as many critical variables as they do. We do not have the esprit that anthropologists have, but our subject matter at least has not been obliterated by the spread of the world economy. So we have an undiminished opportunity to overlook the relevant facts with our very own eyes. We can’t get graduate students who score as high as those who go into Psychology, and at its best the training the latter get seems more professional and more thorough than what we provide. So we haven’t managed to produce in our students the high level of trained incompetence that psychologists have achieved in theirs, although, God knows, we’re working on it.”

— Erving Goffman in “The Interaction Order” (1983) reproduced in The Goffman Reader (p. xvii)

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8 thoughts on “curing the ills of sociology

  1. Liz

    The 80s were good for slipping in those pissed-off parenthetical comments. Everyone did it! But not everyone could build up such a head of steam before popping at the end of the paragraph. Ha!!

  2. Neil H

    I just started studying a course in comparative sociology at university. Thanks for letting me know what I’m in for. 🙂

  3. leafar

    It’s fantastic. LOL

    Since i am coming from economics this is my best part :
    “We have not been given the credence and weight that economists lately have acquired, but we can almost match them when it comes to the failure of rigorously calculated predictions.”

    It will make it to the pediment of something in my coming production for sure.

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