Friday, December 8, 2023

Sociology Meetings

When Jukka Savolainen wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal I couldn't quite believe it, so I had to go look. Indeed, on the website of the American Sociological Association describing its 2024 annual meeting we have the official "theme" of the meeting

"..sociology as a form of liberatory praxis: an effort to not only understand structural inequities, but to intervene in socio-political struggles."

"To intervene." "Political struggles." 

American Sociological Association. My emphasis.

For a long time, people have made fun of the "social sciences" including economics as pretend sciences. We have "physics envy," they said, but will never really measure up. Well, a lot of social sciences are not pretending to be sciences anymore!

There is a lot of attention to the political conformity and censorship going on on campuses, but not enough I think to the similar problems of professional societies and journals.  Professor Savolainen for example doesn't feel particularly "included" these days. 

Hopefully, the explosion into public consciousness over the last few weeks of just how rotten and politicized academia has become will make this sort of thing look pretty embarrassing by springtime. 



  1. One might reflect on the words of Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917), Professor of the Science of Education, Chair in Education and Sociology, (Sorbonne):
    "For if society lacks the unity that derives from the fact that the relationships between its parts are exactly regulated, that unity resulting from the harmonious articulation of its various functions assured by effective discipline and if, in addition, society lacks the unity based upon the commitment of men's wills to a common objective, then it is no more than a pile of sand that the least jolt or the slightest puff will suffice to scatter."

    — Moral Education (1925)

  2. Let’s be clear as to what is so offensive here.

    It’s not that these guys have trashed the practice social “science”. Sociology is “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society” (at least that’s what you get from OED, maybe not the ASA). You don’t need the tools of science to engage in that study. You can learn a lot about the development, structure and functioning of human society by reading novels, history, and scripture. For all I know, you can learn useful things about society by watching porn.

    What you can’t do is play this sleazy sleight of hand where you turn your study into a grab for power. Notice the flabby pretentious language—they want “a form of liberatory praxis…. to intervene in socio-political struggle”. In other words, they want to make some people do what the ASA wants them to do.

    If this was only an an annoying bait-and-switch, I wouldn’t be so annoyed. I might do what little I could to keep economics from walking down this path (or maybe I should say further down this path), but a strongly worded letter to the Board would be enough. However this grab for power has corrupted the academy. We saw that this week in the pathetic but revealing testimony from the college presidents. The liberal principles that Cass Sunstein discussed in his NYT article made the advancement of knowledge within the academy possible. But they get in the way of the grab for power.

  3. My view is that there's an over supply of people with social sciences degrees that leads to a surplus of them in genuine scientific tasks. Thus, they --through associations like ASA-- seek to promote an artificial demand (AKA activism) to absorb that surplus

  4. The excruciating stipulations of DEI suddenly evaporate when one is calling for genocide?
    But don't get your hopes up.
    Institutions are permanent. The defense department will never say the risks have been reduced and we need less money.
    The DEI crowd will never say there is not enough racism or sexism to bother with anymore.

  5. What economic dynamics led to the corruption of Big Academia?

    I'll suggest that the peer-review process is easily corruptable because opinions are not independently distributed.

    To fix the problem, I would suggest that:
    1. Votes to accept or deny tenure, PhD awards, paper publication etc. be made private, to reduce the conforming effects of peer pressure.
    2. Suppliment peer-review with replication. R esearch should be replicated before publication. Research replicated in 3 institutions on 3 continents will be much less likely to be spurious or fudged.

  6. Liberatory praxis to intervene in socio-political struggles? Ugh! Is the ASA channeling Karl Marx?

  7. "While economics is about how people make choices, sociology is about how they don't have any choice to make." -- Bertrand Russell


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