Friday, February 25, 2011

The Declining Significance of Sociology

 The impact of sociology on modern philosophy was profound. Thinkers such as Emile Durkheim, Herbert Mead, Karl Marx, Auguste Comte and Max Weber helped shape the political, social, and cultural discourse of the industrial age. These sociologists were philosophers. They were part of the greater historical and cultural philosophical conversation. Their study of economic, political, historical, and scientific theory enabled them to explain the industrial transformation and construct creative theories to confront the social problems of modernity.

Before Auguste Comte coined the term sociology, sociological theorist did not exist – they were called philosophers or politicians. Today, the only philosophy sociologists’ study is early sociological theory and the new sociological theories are reinterpretations of early sociological theory. But many sociologists would rather not concern themselves with sociological theory and are even less concerned about a broader study philosophy. The discipline of sociology views the study of theory as a matter of orientation to sociology. Sociology students attend mandatory graduate classes “classical” and “contemporary” sociological theory but they consider the readings insignificant and complain that their time would be better spent reading quantitative reports concerning race, gender, and inequality.

Contemporary sociology has become one-dimensional. Graduate programs in sociology train students to apply classical theories and approved sociological methods to the study of specific demographic issues. The programs place more significance on reinforcing classical theory and entrenched sociological ideology than on the process of thinking and theorizing the greater determinants that influence American society and the world at large. Dynamic issues are simplified into interaction, conflict, or functional descriptions of societal problems.

Graduate students in sociology are thus socialized to study specific issues and not bother with the philosophies of how and why? They develop narrow minds as they focus in on the study of 2nd generation, Japanese immigrants in south Florida. They have not time to think about post-structuralism because they are too busy re-presenting stale formulas about inequality in education. They have are too busy, running regression analysis, to question the significance of Durkheim and Weber in this postmodern society. Sociologists have lost what made Durkheim, Weber, and Marx three of the most significant philosophers of modernity.

Sociologists have lost the ability to think.

Critical thinking is what made sociology significant throughout modernity.

The decline of thinking in sociology is the decline of significance for sociology. Our inability to think makes our journals, book, conversations, and solutions irrelevant to society.

Maybe sociology programs need to forget the methods and solutions of its old white men. Maybe sociology should forget the 60’s. Maybe sociology should lose its extensive databases of statistics. Maybe sociology should learn economics, politics, philosophy, English, and science. Maybe sociology should re-start its analysis of society where the patriarchs of sociology started, as part of the greater discourse of historical and social philosophy. Maybe sociology programs should stop emphasizing publication and start emphasizing thinking.

Maybe sociology can re-emerge within culture and help shape postmodernity as powerfully as it shaped modernity.


Until next time,



Anonymous said...


What's good man? I know this is an older post, but I just saw the link to it on FB. I wanted to pose the question: how does sociology consider the contributions of sociologist Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois?

Du Bois is, in my estimation, the greatest social scientist of all time. His dissertation: The Suppression of the African Slave Trade. His seminal book: The Souls of Black Folk. His powerful follow-up: Darkwater: Voices from Behind the Veil.

Not to mention his groundbreaking sociological text, The Philadelphia Negro, which invented urban sociology. How does he not get more props in the field? His word is STILL relevant and contains just the theory that would help uplift your field and mine! Just read Darkwater and you will see what I mean...

Spencer said...

Wally, are you saying that postmodernism is a good thing? Do you subscribe to the beliefs of postmodernism?