Wednesday, February 13, 2008


For you nerds out there (I guess - is a sociologist considered a nerd?) I'd just like to take a moment to reflect on my chosen major - Sociology. I have been taking classes for about two semesters now, and hopefully am gaining somewhat of an idea of what it's all about.

What is it, essentially? The study of the human collective. It's psychology, plural. Heavily tied into anthropology (that's very similar, with an empirical twist). Since I'm starting this major late into my college career, I'm actually going backwards and taking the introductory class this semester. We're learning the basics: how to do research, research ethics, culture, class, economics, Marx and Weber - all that good stuff.

Now, in my more particular socio classes, we seem to be focusing on these general topics:

1. Class Struggle
2. Gender
3. Globalization
4. Statistics
5. Suffrage
6. Race!
7. Gender!!
8. Class!!

Yes. Something definitely repeats in that list. We are heavily interested in, it seems, class and gender struggles throughout the world. How do the oppressed battle the oppressors? How does matriarchy struggle for a presence in patriarchy? How does race bias affect societies? It seems like, in other words, we're going over the major developments of the last century: gender, class, and race. These are really important issues because they are still issues. In many of my classes, the professors urge us to try to understand the delicate and complicated problems we face, even in the industrialized world. All in all, I'd give the focus a hearty B+.

The only thing I would really like to see more of, and so far am not, are other issues that may be harder to distinguish if we're looking on the surface. It takes a little digging, and a little remembering - but whatever happened to wonder? Or C. Wright Mill's "Sociological Imagination?" I don't want to sound idealistic, but can't we enchant our research with this wonderful tool? We have a great set of lenses to utilize: empirical research, statistics, data, sociological terminology. But what of wonder, adventure, thinking outside of the box? From dabbling into sociological books and talking with my professors, it seems they too are quick to admit you will not find such a spirit hidden readily in scholarly jargon. 

In fact, one of my professors even admitted that many books often tend to be a show of intellectualism over any honest, heartfelt questions. So I ask this one: Why can't we wonder? The answer of course, is redundant. Of course we can! There are a few gems in sociological research (Sidewalks) which attempt to narrate the research and make it accessible for everyone to learn from. It's in this spirit that I guess I am writing, too.

And in that case, let me wonder a little with you. These questions, right now, I'd like to ask without imposing concepts, and thus a bias:

1. What makes us tick, really? Not just economics, biology- those are a part of it. But really, what makes us tick?
2. What fundamental assumptions to we use to create how we see our realities?
3. Or even, can our basic assumptions about the world, and our relation to it affect every aspect of our reality - from individual actions to entire civilizations?
4. What discoveries has wonder brought us?
5. Because we believe we are born into the world, and not out from it - does this make a difference? Can it describe why things are the way they are? (Not in good shape for civilization, it seems.)
6. Let's allow ourselves to just wonder, and see what arises.

These and so many questions have arisen during my classes, but alas - they are never 'satisfied' or rather, no meaningful answer is given. To add to the starting point of criteria in our classes, I'd love to see us crack open Alan Watts' book, "Man, Nature and Woman." It explores our fundamental assumptions about humanity that run deep into culture, history and pour out in the present. The belief that there is a "self" and "other" for instance, creates a duality that seems to birth every opposite in the cosmos. These points, risen by Watts and many eastern philosophers (and sociologists in their own right), could do wonders for helping us understand ourselves, singular and plural. Why not start sailing the inner-cosmos, as well as the outer? To borrow the shamanic label, it's time for sociologists to embrace the psychonaut. 


Anonymous said...

"What is it, essentially? The study of the human collective. It's psychology, plural."

Sociology isn't psychology in plural. Society isn't a "collective".

In general, if in doubt what sociology is, I found it helpful to go back to the "source" (or at least half way) and read E Durkheim and M Weber.

shaman sun said...

"is the scientific or systematic study of society, including patterns of social relations, social stratification, social interaction and culture," seems pretty broad enough to include the psychology of groups, societies. Sorry if the term "Collective" wasn't precise in this context?

From where I sit.... said...

Not sure what the heck kind of clarification that are gonna get from looking at both Durkheim and would give you social facts (and yes, a plurality ie., collective conscience, etc...) while the other would give you an interpretive and more subjectivisit take.

I think the questions originally posed are really relevant and I would recommend looking at the debates that emerged from the whole Public Sociology debate which has sorta f*ing rocked the discipline.....
check out:


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