Monday, August 20, 2012

Sociology: A Defense and a Call for Reform


I often recommend the OrgTheory blog by Brayden King and Fabio Rojas, sociologists who study firms, groups, and other organizations as apart from and yet of course within the broader, deeper, and longer matrix of global society.   Of late, Prof. Rojas has taken the humanities to task for being unproductive as job placement apprenticeships.  Not only are humanities majors unemployed, they are unemployable because they learn nothing of economic value.  Unlike STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), humanities have no practical purpose.  I disagree and have insisted on the economic value in a liberal education on this blog.  More to the point, though, I also remind the good professors that by their own standards sociology is also useless.

I pointed out before in comments on their blog and on my own that someone who is good with machinery can work as a technician, engineer, or, ultimately, professor of engineering.  Whether you hold a certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate, you can work in HVAC, industrial controls, computer programming, or for tht matter, a wide range of healthcare or business careers.  You can be a phlebotomist, nurse, or doctor; you can be a bookkeeper, accountant, or manager at many levels.  With sociology, those options do not exist.   In sociology, the only degree that counts is a doctorate; and the only use of a Ph.D. is to teach classes in sociology.  – Or so it would seem.  I disagree.
About the Sociology of Music
by Jennifer Lena

I do agree - because it is obvious – that there are no job openings reading  “Sociologist: AA degree minimum BS preferred to liaison with software developers and marketing department of leading social media company.”  The fault lies not with our stars.  Mainstream sociology is anti-market, anti-capitalist, and Marxist.  This is choice, not destiny.

Both McCloskey and Weber
cite Benjamin Franklin as
our capitalist Paradigm
Worldwide the leading English language textbook for this study is Anthony Giddens’s. (Sociology, Cambridge: Polity Press 1989; subsequent editions.)  Giddens of course is the architect of New Labor in the United Kingdom (or as George Orwell called it Ingsoc).  Says Sir Anthony: “Sociology is the study of human social life, groups, and societies. … The scope of sociology is extremely wide, ranging from the analysis of passing encounters between individuals in the street to the investigation of global social processes. … It teaches us that what we regard as natural, inevitable, good or true, may not be such, and that the ‘givens’ of our life are strongly influenced by historical and social influences.  These are in the influences sociologists study.” (3rd ed., pg 2) 

Citing C. Wright Mills, Giddens continues: “The sociological imagination requires us, above all, to ‘think ourselves away’ from the familiar routines of our daily lives in order to look at them anew.”  (page 3)  “It is the business of sociology to investigate the connections between what society makes of us and what we make of ourselves. (Page 6)

First, I point to the semantic distinction that sociology has a "business" rather than a goal, mandate, purpose, calling, mission, imperative or objective.  Moreover, if any segment of civilized society has this "sociological imagination" is merchants, traders, buyers and sellers, shopkeepers, and capitalists.  We know from the historical record that a community of Sumerians lived among the Hittites.  Deeper still, if anything ameliorated contact between bands of hunter-gatherers most likely to come to blows over territory, it was the exchange of gifts.  In Africa, 12,000 years ago, sea shells daubed with red ochre and strung together traveled far.  The "dumb barter" method perhaps invented by Phoenicians depends on trust -- and insight into the wants of others. Herodotus says that the Lydians were the first retailers. He may have been factually incorrect while still hinting to the remnants of the Hittite-Sumerian engagement; but the fact is that he cared enough about retailing to wonder how it started - and he knew that the Greeks did not invent it.

“It is sociology’s task to study the resulting balance between social reproduction and social transformation.” (page 6)  Giddens cites the founders of the study: Comte, Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Foucault, and Habermas.
“Habermas is perhaps the leading sociological thinker in the world today.  … According to Habermas, capitalist societies, in which change is ever present, tend to destroy the moral order on which they in fact depend.  We live in a social order where economic growth tends to take precedence over all else – but this situation creates a lack of meaning in everyday life.  Here Habermas comes back to Durkheim’s concept of anomie, although he applies it in a new and original way.” (Page 12.)
Spencer may have created
"The Modern Life" 
Where is the "sociological imagination" to accept the morality of capitalism on its own terms, rather than ethnocentrically condemning it for not being one's own?  Empirical evidence is also lacking.  How many "capitalist societies" did he examine?  In 3000 years, China never had one.  Greece and Rome were not. Did this happen to the Islamic Golden Age that the drive for profits destroyed the moral foundation of Islam?  Was this the case in Renaissance Italy, or in Holland later, or then in England and America?  Are these different capitalist societies or continued expressions of the same one?  How have Singapore and Hong Kong fared?  Is Singapore in moral decline?  How would you measure that?  Any moral standard would by definition be objective, which is denied by the insistence on the "sociological imagination."

Nothing in Giddens's introductory chapter approaches a marketable use for the study.  No citation exists for a sociologist who actually made the world a better place.  We have many critics, of course, but nothing like a lightbulb or a suspension bridge or a computer or a medicine is offered.  I submit that any such examples that could be found are submerged under an anti-capitalist mentality that decries earning money by invention, making fortunes by removing inefficiencies, earning a living by creating markets.  Sociologists might mention Thomas Edison, but they are not happy that he was a millionaire.  (In fact, Giddens does not cite "invention" at all, though he does discuss "innovation centers" as a kind of city where bright people come together as at Cambridge. )

I agree 100% that stepping outside your given cultural context is important.  This is required  for  understanding that others near to you or far away are different.  Indeed, in our global capitalist society you may have more in common with people geographically distant from you, but culturally close.  That said, the fundamental error is that sociology attempts to study societies, organizations, firms, polities, and groups without acknowledging the individual as the primary element of any conglomerate, agglomerate, or confluence. 

Sociology could have been built on Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, and Georg Simmel.  In our time, the works of Dierdre McCloskey – Bourgeois Virtues; Bourgeois Dignity – define a new narrative to explain us to ourselves.  But McCloskey is considered an economist, though, of course, so were Marx, Weber and Simmel.  In America, Robert King Merton and his socialist comrade Paul Lazarsfeld made money from their public relations firm.  Sociology could be defined as the study of the individual in society.  We belong to many societies – local, national, and global, professional, recreational, religious, and more.  Recently, Jennifer Lena of Bernard College has been writing about how musicians socialize among themselves.  In the internet age, you can find musical collaborations on YouTube.   National Public Radio reported on Musicians Collaborate from Afar on the Web .  TED Talks gave us "Eric Whitacre: A virtual choir 2,000 voices strong."

Simmel studied Money
on its own terms
According to the most politically powerful sociologist of our generation, the leading sociologist of our time railed against capitalism.  Neither of them perceived the sociology of music.  In Giddens’ textbook “music industry” is an Index entry pointing to a discussion of media imperialism.  Bollywood appears not at all.   Afro-Celtic music is missing of course. 

Science has a sociology, as do art, sports, video games, board games, comic books, micro breweries, cooperative groceries, garden clubs, veterans associations… and within sports, NASCAR, the Olympics, sandlot softball, community center chess, ... the list is as deep as human action.  I assert that sociology will be economically viable when we break the Marxist monopoly and admit that markets are an important means for people to cooperate in the attainment of common goals serving individual needs.  When we do that - and educate a generation on that basis - then sociology will have a market function, whether you completed a certificate in social media or a doctorate in (well, ahem, after all...) "social media." 

Sociology has the same value as a liberal education.  Indeed, sociology could be the gateway to the liberal arts. I suggest that the most profitable path to that goal is for sociology to begin with the individual and demonstrate the reward in pursuing it as an academic study with market utility.  

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