Monday, February 17, 2014

A Case for Sociology: Definitions of Science Reexamined

This paper was originally written for a Philosophy of Science course I took, where I was extremely contrary and insisted on bringing sociology into every discussion.

            In April of 2013, two Canadian immigrants were arrested in connection to an alleged terrorist plot. Many wondered what conditions could cause individuals to plan to commit violent crime. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked to relate his thoughts about how this question could be answered. In response, Harper stated that now was not the time to “commit sociology” (Cohen 2013). In the U.S., other social sciences have come under fire as well. Political Scientists have found their National Science Foundation funding cut, unless the research being conducted promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States” (American Political Science Association). In February, the American Sociological Association released a report titled “Sociology Is a STEM Discipline” in response to concerns about universities cutting social science requirements (Hillsman 2013). These three examples all illustrate the strains placed on social sciences as they are forced to live up to heightened expectations that their “hard science” or “natural science” counterparts never face. It is difficult to imagine an elected official stating now is not the time to “commit physics” to discover the direction of a bullet exiting a gun, or for policy makers to cut funding to chemistry projects that do not result in medical discoveries, or for universities to cut general education requirements that include biology. This paper will show that the social sciences fall into the category of simply “science,” and should therefore be held to the same expectations as all sciences—no more, and no less.
            In order to accomplish this goal, I will take three steps. First, I will construct a definition of science which is comprehensive, yet does not exclude those things we already consider science. I will do this by examining a number of definitions of science relayed by philosophers of science. I shall examine each definition for its strengths and weaknesses, and remove definitions which necessarily exclude parts of science that are not under dispute. Second, I will compare this definition of science to the aims, goals, and practical application of sociology. I have chosen to examine sociology as a representative of the social sciences both for my familiarity with its workings, and because it represents both the good and the bad of the social sciences. With its checkered past, sociology has created many of the tools we hold dear today, and is often turned to when an example of social science work is needed. Finally, I will consider a strong objection to the definition of science I will develop. This objection declares that my definition remains too broad to accurately capture the subtle nuances of with it means to be, and to not be, a science.
            I will begin by constructing a suitable definition of science. I will begin with a broad definition of science and gradually narrow until it is clear that the definitions discussed must exclude those things which we already consider science such as physics, biology, and chemistry. Munson defines science most broadly when he discusses medicine. He claims that “the internal aim of science is the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the world and the things that are in it” (494, original emphasis). There are few who would argue with this statement. It does not make any claims to truth, and remains suitably broad so as to include all the sciences. However, it is so broad that one can easily argue that philosophy and other things that would never desire to be science can fall under this label.
            Next, we move to Kuhn who agrees that science attempts to find out some truth about the world (although not “Truth” which is an impossible, and in fact undesirable, aim). It is the means by which science acquires this truth that is important for Kuhn. Science—to borrow a social science phrase—must go through a cycle of “boom and bust.” Scientists develop strong paradigms which explain enough about the world to be extremely fruitful and useful tools in puzzle solving. They then implement these paradigms during the boom phase before finally cracks begin to show. Many scientists will still cling to the old paradigm; however, eventually a new one will emerge that explains enough things more accurately that it is accepted over the old paradigm. This new paradigm produces a new booming stage of puzzle solving. The acceptance of a single paradigm is vital in obtaining a “mature science.” At this stage, scientists do not question their methods and paradigms and in fact reproduce paradigm indoctrination, which Kuhn views as a functional aspect of science. As Kuhn describes it, this cycle’s necessary nature is difficult to trifle with. However, it is possible to dispute the use of paradigms using examples from biology and the study of evolution which involve multiple paradigms that cannot be combined adequately. I shall therefore revise Kuhn’s statement of science to say that a specific, singular paradigm is not what makes a science, rather it is a set of agreed upon mini-paradigms which, taken together, produce a complete set of methods for that science.
            However, this definition still remains broad, begging to be refined. This is where the problem in constructing an adequate definition of science arises. Here, it becomes easy to turn to Machlup who appears to offer a very logical and correct definition of science. He claims that science must have the follow characteristics:
1.      Invariability of observations
2.      Objectivity of observations and explanations
3.      Verifiability of hypotheses
4.      Exactness of findings
5.      Measurability of phenomena
6.      Constancy of numerical relationships
7.      Predictability of future events
8.      Distance from everyday experience
9.      Standards of admission and requirements

KHR 136
I shall not address the problems with all of these statements in this short paper. Suffice to say that many of his claims concerning characteristics of science are also characteristics of social science (e.g. measurability of phenomena, where he has clearly never heard of the term “statistically significant”). Other statements do not seem to derive logically from what a science must be (e.g. distance from everyday experience, which must exclude any science which endeavors to be approachable and understandable). Further, several of his statements of what science is appear to be incorrect (e.g. exactness of findings, which demands a grand theory that no science has truly obtained). Suffice to say that the sciences, at the very least, attempt to obtain each of the nine characteristics, but often fall short. Because of this his statements must, unfortunately, be watered down to more general statements that still include the types of science we are not disputing.
            In addition to these statements about science, it is also clear that philosophers of science are making subtle, yet important, assumptions about the amount a particular science covers. These assumptions require that each science focus only on a small area of study at a time, such as Kuhn’s individual “puzzles” to solve. Even though these sciences may have theories that claim to be holistic, they also subscribe to numerous mini-theories that allow for practical workarounds for problems, specific statements about particular phenomena, and ease in computation. In other words, when discussing Einstein’s physics paradigm, Kuhn necessarily obscures physics’ complicated micro-level work which requires the development of small theories for everyday application. Other philosophers make similar leaps. Thus, it is clear that each science has sub-sciences within its discipline, each concerned with its own small corner of the world.
            Based on these statements about science, it is clear that science is any enterprise which involves systematic study of a portion of the world to gain a deeper understanding or expanded knowledge of that portion, and which uses methods that are so accepted by the enterprise that they go unquestioned. Further, its final aim is to reach a high degree of certainty about statements made concerning that portion of the world. Notice that this definition does not require science to be more than it is. It does not require science to obtain complete certainty or truth, only a high degree of certainty—and even then it is only an aim, not a requirement. Further, the aim of science is to expand knowledge about a portion of the world we are not adequately knowledgeable about. This statement does not require that said knowledge be practical. It is this definition which forms my knowledge throughout the concluding sections of this paper.
            This definition of science clearly allows for the inclusion of sociology into its ranks. Sociology has chosen to study how humans, as a group, function to create societies. There are many smaller branches of sociology which study things such as educational attainment, race, gender, popular culture, and many other things. Sociology does so in a systematic way, using methods that have been tried by others in the field including content analysis, surveys, and interviews. To be sure, sociology is often expanding and redefining what it means to be systematic, however many other sciences face similar expansions. In the field of sociology there are a handful of basic theories which are unquestioned, such as conflict theory and symbolic interaction, and serve as the basis for other derivative theories, such as the social distance scale and the concept of “doing gender.” Finally, sociology attempts to reach a high degree of certainty about the areas it explores, generally through a repetition of data discovery and a general statistical significance in robust findings. In summation, sociology easily fits under this definition of science.
            However, an objection to this claim rests on the idea that this definition remains too broad to adequately capture what it truly means to be a science and a non-science. It is true that one can make an argument that such fields as literature studies could fall under this label. Literature studies often discuss a small portion of the world—perhaps as small as a single stanza or phrase—in order to expand our knowledge of that portion beyond simply words on a page. Further, their methods are generally accepted and consistently reproduced in training new literature studies students. One may also attempt to argue that literature studies attempts to gain a high degree of certainty about that section of the world they are studying—however, this is where I think the analysis goes foul. Literature studies quickly becomes less a matter of certainty and more a matter of perception. It is easy to say, in literature studies, that one individual is perfectly able to interpret a given work differently from another, with no ill effects on the discipline. However, in the social sciences and hard sciences such a difference in interpretation is disputed and the singular, highly-certain statement is reproduced.
            Further, this exercise relies on the principle that there is some subtle nuance to what makes a science that cannot be adequately qualified or quantified. This nuance seems to be the driving force behind many discussions of what it means to be a science, as philosophers are left with an icky feeling when they consider the social sciences and natural sciences standing side by side. It is certainly fine to say that the definition of science holds some subjective aspect; however that is not what our authors have admitted. In their attempts to qualify science these philosophers have necessarily excluded many of the things they would readily call science. If this is true—that science holds some sort of “you know it when you see it” quality—then it must be admitted and discussed openly. Until then, the definition of science must include the social sciences.
            In this paper I have discussed a definition of science which includes many aspects such as narrowness in focus, undisputed methodology, and a desire for a high degree of certainty in findings. This definition is supported by statements from a variety of authors, and from statements about certain sciences we do not worry about. Based on this definition sociology, as an exemplar of the social sciences, earns a place among those things we call science. Despite objections that the definition remains too broad, or omits certain subjective qualities, sociology remains a science steadily onward.

American Political Science Association. 2103. “American Political Science Association Advocacy.” APSA: networking a world of scholars.
Cohen, Tobi. 2013. “String of terror incidents no reason to ‘commit sociology’: Stephen Harper.” Ottawa Citizen.
Hillsman, Sally. 2013. “Sociology Is as STEM Discipline.” American Sociological Society: From the Executive Officer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thoughts on the Great Divide: Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

In their text on the women founders of sociology, Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley write about Chicago Women's School of Sociology. "Their quantitative skills are sophisticated," they say, and "their qualitative techniques reflective and ingenious, and--unlike some modern feminists--they express no ideological tension in choosing between these modes."

Continuing with Reflexive Sociology Month, I'd like to take today to do a little reflecting on the differences between quantitative and qualitative research, why those differences are important to sociologists, and whether those differences are enough to privileged one type of methodology over the other.

First, let's define what we are talking about. Hopefully most of you know the basic differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research answers pointed questions using deductive reasoning and lots of fun numbers. Qualitative research explores problems or less-well defined questions using inductive reasoning and a variety of different methods (sometimes numbers are even involved!).

St. Mary's University has a good breakdown of the differences between quant and qual research. Does your university have a similar breakdown? Does it say something different? To me, the most important differences is that qualitative research asks "why" or "what," and quantitative research asks "how many?"

Given these differences between quantitative and qualitative research, and ignoring the places where there is overlap, it is easy to see how quantitative methodology is often privileged over qualitative. Ask a lay-person on the street which is better: 30 semi-structured interviews or a 10-question survey distributed to 1000 people, and they will pick the later. We feel better when we hear that 1000s of people said something.

What isn't clear is whether this differences has a basis in reality.

Full disclosure: I hate it when people equate "quantitative" with "scientific." Throwing numbers at a problem does not mean you are doing science, nor does doing science mean you must always use statistical analysis. I'll be writing more about what it means to be a science (natural or social) later on this month. Suffice to say that the privileging of science (or an ideal of science), coupled with its conflation with quantitative methods, seems to play a large role in the privileging of quantitative over qualitative methods.

Instead of focusing on this argument, I will attempt to lift up qualitative methodology to the same ideal that quantitative methods already purports to meet. 

Funny thing about deductive reasoning--you know, the thing that defines quantitative reasoning--is, it doesn't exist. Not really. Deductive reasoning is just based on inductive reasoning that we are really sure about. Not guaranteed about, just really sure. Saying that deductive reasoning is somehow better, somehow more accurate, or more (I'll just say it...) scientific is ignoring all of the inductive reasoning that came before it. You cannot have a quantitative analysis of any kind stand up to scrutiny unless you have first done a qualitative analysis, or had it done for you.

This doesn't mean that qualitative analysis is simply a means to an end.

Qualitative analysis allows us to get closer to the biases of our subjects and further from the biases of ourselves as researchers.  Since it is impossible to remove bias from our work completely, it is better both to be upfront about it, and to study different biases from different angles.

What do I mean when I say that qualitative research helps us get further from our own biases, and into the biases of others? Consider the quintessential type of quantitative research: the survey. Surveys are designed to ask large volumes of people identical questions and then compare results across questions, demographics, and other boundaries. In every case of survey design the researcher must chose every question long before the survey is distributed, and hope the questions they chose are right. Have you every thought, if only I could change that question now that I've started data collection?

Because of their inflexibility, and because they are based first in author bias and second in responder bias, quantitative methods are not always the best choice. I have often seen it said that qualitative methods are (somehow) more biased than quantitative methods, which seems not to be the case. Rather, the difference is that quantitative methods have their bias from the start, whereas qualitative methods add it in later based on the bias of the data collected.

I would love to do a small-scale study of how quantitative methods is both conflated with being "more scientific," and whether it is privileged in the sociology community in as great as a degree as it seems  to be privileged. What are your thoughts on the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods? Is one always better? If you say "it depends" do you really mean it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Young Sociologists and Norm Acquisition

Pop quiz! How do we pass on norms?

I'm sure we can all think of a few dozen examples of norm distribution ranging from television, to education, to parental guidance. To me, all of the ways we pass on norms boil down to two basic ways: showing and telling.

We tell rooms full of kindergarteners that sitting quietly is good and normative. We show home ownership is normative by by showing successful adults on television. We tell our sons that wearing dresses is not normal through words like "sissy." We show that this isn't normative through hate crimes. Sometimes telling and showing are intermingled as one, but they are still both important to norm distribution.

Generally we try to pass on norms as early as possible in human development. We start them young with color coded clothing, norm-espousing cartoons, and children's books that define race and class as much as they do fantasy and ethics.

In thinking about how norms are passed on in our general society, I realized that norm distribution is passed on the same way within the culture of sociology. Sociological society passes on its norms to young people (college students) by doing and telling. I will take this space to discuss the way these norms are expressed, as well as their content.

I have always been a little tone-deaf when it comes to norms. I generally don't realize I'm breaking an unspoken (or even spoken!) norm until a friend points it out after the fact. Writing fanfiction is totally normal, right? Or hating heeled shoes? Wearing tattered clothes? Raising and growing my own food? Going to professional conferences as an undergraduate?

As an undergraduate student I attended local, regional, and national conferences, and I discovered that their response to my youth was very different.

At my state conference I could present my work and even organize panels while being completely open about my status as an undergraduate. At regional conferences, I partially hid that fact because it never occurred to me that I should tell anyone. My submission was judged by merit instead of assumptions about my educational background. Anyone who wished could put two and two together and figure out that I was submitting as a student, but my university had no graduate program. Yet they didn't. And when I arrived I got comments about how young I looked. I wasn't even old enough to drink yet.

I discovered that attending a regional conference at my age was worthy of praise. To me, it was a natural extension of attending a local conference (and only later did I learn that even that was unusual). An age-related norm was being told to me: kids like me don't go to conferences.

 When I expressed interest in attending the ASA conference to my adviser, she explained that this would be different. I wouldn't be allowed to simply submit my paper to panels and hope for acceptance. Rather, I should go through their Honors program. I dumped my paper in with dozens of other papers from undergraduate students across the country. Someone stirred the pot, and a few rose to the top for acceptance to the program.

And this was where I received a crash course in norms and sociology.

Here is a list of the norms which were either stated or shown to the 20-30 undergraduates in the Honors program:

  1. You are expected to go to graduate school.
  2. Applied sociology is not as valued. For proof, here's our token applied sociologist! We put him on a panel with Earl Babbie, because that's a totally equal power display. 
  3. Your work isn't important enough to deserve its own line in the program. No, not even just the title. 
  4. You should aspire to be a board member. Or maybe even the president of the ASA! Ha ha ha.
  5. You're the next generation. It's up to you. Without you, and people like you, sociology is sunk.
  6. You have so much freedom! Freedom at conferences is valued. As proof, make sure you attend all of the required activities, which gives you about one free hour a day. Attending all the required activities for Honors students is even more valued.
  7. The bread and butter of conferences is in the panel discussions.
  8. We got some experts in your field to act as discussants on your panel: graduate students 1-5 years older than you.
  9. Ask questions! But not too many. You're just kids, after all.
There are more, of course. In general we were taught that we were the next generation of scholarly sociologists, but that we should not presume too much. This makes sense, because we were a bunch of know-nothings who thought we knew everything.

The ASA Honors program seems to be designed to explicitly transfer the norms of sociology into the minds of future sociologists. Much like the intro course functions as one's first introduction to what it means to think sociologically, the Honors program functions as a first introduction to what it means to think, and act, as a professional sociologist.

Some of the norms were hypocritical, much like our larger society's norms. Some were disappointing, again no surprise there.  Some had already been expressed to us throughout our undergraduate careers. Others were new and exciting.

Since this is reflexive sociology month, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that what was missing was that reflexivity. At no point did I hear "here are the norms of sociology. Here is what you do and don't do." Rather, norms were presented as facts about professional sociology.

I would encourage everyone who works with up-and-coming sociologists to critically examine the way they pass on the norms of sociology. Realize that sociology as a profession functions like any other aspect of society. We have our norms, we pass them on, and so we define what sociology means.

What norms do you pass on everyday in your discussions, interactions, and classrooms?

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Applied/Academic Split in Sociology: Part 2

On Monday I talked about how difficult it is to define the differences between applied and academic sociology. They both use the same tools to tackle issues of society. Despite this, applied sociologists are still excluded from professional organizations. Today, I will explain the connection between early female sociologists and our current views on applied sociology. Finally, I will offer some suggestions for increasing the inclusion of applied sociologists in sociology more broadly.

Separate spheres of sociology.

In the early days of academic sociology in America, professors of sociology had one goal: the make sociology an accepted discipline. They had a lot to overcome, as many felt that sociology didn't have the raw theoretical power to be a mainstay in academe. Was sociology something one could study at a university? Was it deserving of office space and its own faculty, or should it remain subsumed under philosophy and political economy? Could one even study society? Was sociology even a thing?

In order to make sociology more palatable for scholars of a broad variety of disciplines, early academic sociologists decided to make sociology as theory-driven as possible. Sociology was defined as a descriptive discipline. That was what was acceptable to academe in the early 1900s, and so sociology became descriptive.

Besides their love for sociology, early academic sociologists had one other thing in common: they were almost exclusively men. This was a result of education practices in early America. Women were barred from, or did not attend, college or university. As a result early sociology--and indeed, all disciplines--was dominated by male professors. This meant that a very specific type of sociology was praised; a type that reflected the socialization of males in that era. Academic sociology, then, much like the men who defined it, was defined as a thought-driven discipline that was able to cerebrally separate itself from the social structures it studied. Sociology was then defined as a "neutral science."

This emphasis on neutrality we now know to be impossible. Neutrality generally means the will of the majority, not true neutrality. As to the definition of science, that is a discussion for another time.

Amidst this defining of academic sociology arose another sphere of applied sociology. This sphere was primarily created and defined by women, including founders like Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and, in Germany, Marianne Weber. These sociologists used the methods and existing theory of sociology to define their own theories and offer their own solutions to the problems they saw in society. These sociologists were often in conversation with their male counterparts in academe, but did not go on to receive the same lasting recognition.

Why is this?

The theory I present to you is that sociologists in academia did not wish to associate with applied sociologists for fear of losing their well-fought-for positions as professors of a legitimate science. We see a similar struggle continuing into contemporary times.

This struggle between applied and academics sociology was first split along gender lines. Both males and females occupied separate spheres and had different tools at their disposal. As a result, the developed different ideas of what "sociology" meant to them. Today, the split is less pronounced along gender lines, yet there is still an issue with applied sociology being less accepted by academic sociologists. The argument over whether sociology should be a proscriptive or descriptive science is a contentious one. There have been many comments on this blog (some of which never saw the light of day due to hurtful language choices by the author) which have declared sociology to be a non-science precisely because some sociologists make suggestions on how to change society. These comments proliferate sociology and contaminate it's online presence. Spend thirty seconds in the comments section on Sociological Images and you will see what I mean.

These comments stem from two places. First, ignorant lay-people who do not understand the history of sociology. Second, sociologists themselves who fear demotion amongst other disciplines. Through this fear we attack applied sociology for being "non-science," even though they use the same methods, tools, and sociological imagination we do. In this way we spread distaste for applied sociologists beyond the boarders of our discipline.

Thankfully, we can put a stop to this if we put our minds to it.

How can we integrate?

The first step is to stop thinking of applied sociologists as less-than for taking quote-unquote "real jobs." Don't despair when a bright young sociologist expresses interest in an applied job. Do not be jealous or look down upon applied sociologists. Instead realize they are brothers and sisters in arms attempting to spread the discipline of sociology for and wide, just as we do when we teach and research.

Second, realize your own place in the history of sociology. Do not allow yourself to be ahistorical in your dealings with students and faculty. Simply by reading this post you have taken the first step in gaining a real knowledge of the history of sociology, and that can go a long way. 

Finally, begin thinking of ways to integrate applied sociologists into our professional meetings in more than a token way. Invite them to panel discussions and give them the tools they need to hold up their end of the conversation. Ask them to serve on your boards and contribute in meaningful ways to meetings and planning. Acknowledge that professional meetings are currently set up around the schedules of academic sociologists. What can be done to encourage the attendance of applied sociologists?

Through just a few steps we can work towards a synthesis of the rift in sociology. 

I look forward to your thoughts on this post. What can be done to bring together applied and academic sociologists? What is your theory on how the history of applied and academic sociology continues to reverberate today?

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Applied/Academic Split in Sociology: Part 1

Because, really, we should talk about this.

As a discipline we have set up different spheres of work, and we privilege academic sociology (often referred to just as "sociology") above applied. I am taking this space to explore why and how this separation exists. I'll start by defining the assigned differences between applied and academic sociology and discuss my observations of professional meetings. On Friday I will explain the connection between applied sociology, social work, and women and then offer my suggestions for improving the inclusion of applied sociologists.

The difference between applied and academic sociology.

I can think of no definition which accurately captures the differences between applied and academic sociologists, because the differences are so minute and nuanced. It is perhaps easiest to say that there is an aspect of doing that applied has that academic sociology doesn't. This implies some incorrect things, however. It implies that academic sociologists think, while applied sociologists "merely" do. It implies that academic sociologists never do, and never want to do. It implies that research in and out of the field, and theory creation, are not types of doing. And it implies that "merely doing" sociology does not require the same academic rigor, methods, and knowledge that academic sociology does.

All of these things are untrue. So what are the differences?

The easiest cop-out is to say "you'll know it when you see it." The only true difference is that academic sociologists are employed by a university and applied are employed by, basically, anyone else.

The vast majority of sociology majors will become applied sociologists, if they seek a job in their field. They will use their knowledge of theory, methods, and social interactions in ways that the larger society (sometimes misnamed "the real world") deems "practical."

Part of academic sociology's dislike may stem from a push-back to the near-constant demand for a more "practical" discipline. We have been asked to redefine our discipline in terms of job skills and future money-making potential. So, when we see a student who loves sociology for the reasons we have, and our professors have, and their professors have, stretching back to the inception of sociology as an academic discipline, we are happy. We are happy because they love it just because. They love reading dense articles and writing theory-driven papers. And this pure sort of love is given a higher place in our hierarchy.

This is probably why we don't make a huge effort to include applied sociologists in our professional meetings.

What's the deal with professional meetings?

My state sociological association has an annual meeting that lasts a day and half over Thursday afternoon and Friday in mid-October. They have a place on their board for an applied representative. Sessions take place during the day and evening and cover things you would expect to see at the ASA, only smaller. Sessions on recent research and the state of the discipline abound. They also schedule several talks from book authors on their current work as what we would call applied sociologists.

My regional sociological association has an annual meeting that lasts almost a week and conveniently lines up with when most universities hold their spring break. They do not have a place on their board for an applied representative. Sessions take place during the day and again cover things you would expect at the ASA. Plus, the evenings are filled with attempts to socialize through quiz bowls and dinners.

My national sociological association, the ASA, has an annual meeting that lasts almost a week and conveniently falls when all universities are on their summer holiday. Their board is not structured to allow an applied representative. They hold sessions on the state of the discipline, current research, and plenaries meant to encourage scholarly thought. Evenings are again filled with attempts to socialize, this time separated along the lines of the sections of the ASA. If you care about race, you go to that reception. If you care about bodies, you go to that one. Students have their own reception, but are also invited to others.

It isn't a coincidence that applied sociologists have a bigger impact on local associations. They are less likely to receive funding from their work to travel or pay membership dues, and can take a few days off more easily than a week. It also isn't a coincidence that regional and national meetings fall at times where most academic sociologists don't have to teach. What this means, however, is that applied sociologists are given real barriers to access professional meetings, and no voice in changing that access.

What has lead to the exclusion of applied sociologists from professional sociological associations? I have offered one possible reason: a response to the recent demand for "practical" sociology. On Friday I will discuss another possibility: this stems from early sociologists' views on separate spheres for men and women, and applied sociology was women's work.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's Happening! RSM2014!

Announcing the start of Reflexive Sociology Month 2014! A time where sociologists of all ilks can reflect on what makes our discipline great, and where we can improve. We can reflect on our position in the world as sociologists.


A major part of teaching sociology is teaching students to develop their sociological imaginations. A major part of our sociological imagination is the ability to think reflexively. To know and understand our place in social spheres. We usually ask people to understand their place in spheres of gender, race, time, sexual orientation, and class. As sociologists, we can also examine our position within the sphere of academic disciplines, science, ethics, and social change. Where does sociology fit into these spheres?

I'm making the best of this month with eight great posts about sociology! Because there is nothing more nerdy than chatting about sociology for a month. Join in the fun by thinking honestly about where you fit in sociology, how sociology has shaped you, and how sociology fits into our larger society.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

James Quayle Dealey: Journalist, Linguist, Sociologist

Continuing our 104-part series on past ASA presidents, I present to you our tenth president: James Q. Dealey!

This may be the only picture of him available online!

Born in 1861, James Quayle Dealey had an early interest in linguistics through his brothers and their work with the Galveston News. Besides having the best possible name for a journalist, Dealey worked hard to gain an education. He began in public schools before moving on to receive his BA in in languages from Brown University.

Dealey began teaching soon after receiving his BA. He taught courses on history, ancient languages, and Latin. He eventually went on to receive degrees in Greek and German.

He began to develop a growing interest in Political Science and Sociology through a close association with Lester Ward, whom he wrote Textbook of Sociology with in 1905. Dealey joined many professional organizations, lectured around the world, and even became chair of his department at Brown.

Many of his works are available online. His Sociology: Its Development and Applications provides an interesting view into early 20th-century views on the development of sociology.  You can also read about his work on the sociology of family.

In 1928 he retired from teaching and rejoined his brothers at their newspaper. He raised four children with his wife, Clara Learned. He died in 1937 while having a conference at his place of work.

For more information about James Dealey, check out the ASA website and the Texas State Historical Association.