High School Sociology

I've got your back! No need for double blind here!

I’ve got your back! No need for double blind here!

I always played on the margins of social groups. Nobody could ever fuck with me when I was a kid because I was physically intimidating and prone to violence, and I was smarter than most people on top of that. But mostly, I tried to remain stoned enough not to even notice my physical and intellectual inferiors. It’s a bit funny looking back, but not funny enough to go to my 30th high school reunion, after all I was in Tulsa just a few weeks before for a bike race and to see my mom. What has always fascinated me about social stratification is how it plays on intangible but clearly ethnic and class-based cues to discern who the “cool” people are. And, of course, since I really was a cool person, the definition of who is “cool” in broader high school society was really about who is what we used to call a “sosh.” Very Tulsa, of course, for those who read SE Hinton, I never did, but I knew her from coming into the restaurants where I worked (she married some worthless rich oilee), and she was a decent person.  Popular people who crave social gratification are generally only rewarded because they were little rich boys and girls, and/or were willing to actively participate in the social sanctioning system that created the status hierarchy. The hierarchy had nothing to do with how nice you were, how much you helped others, your talents at sport or arts (perhaps excepting football), or even physical attractiveness. It was all about the suck-up cliquishness that defined the hierarchy based on wealth, ethnicity, and the willingness to unyieldingly support the reinforcement of the status hierarchy. Sociology is a lot like that, and we’re about to see a real “market adjustment” because of that.

I’ve always been somewhat liminal in my profession, and most of my age group peers are not my professional peers. I’m 47, but i’ve been a professor since 1991, and I made tenure at Vanderbilt in 1995. The “cool kids” are generally people who are my age, but got their PhD’s ten years after I did. I worry that the current crop of highly rewarded “sosh” sociologists–the “cool kids” who are not really very cool, but instead are complete attention whores—are not going to be able to sustain the work that needs to be done to continue the regular production of scholarly thought in the discipline. Most of the “cool kids” are pretty fucking narrow in their orientations, training, and coverage of the discipline. It’s okay to focus on your own shit, but you can’t edit ASR if you have no clue about theory and research outside of your area of expertise. And, you can’t edit a journal at all if you have no idea how the editorial process works, or of the enormity of the project of producing social science. The Regnerus fiasco and the problem of ASR’s complete collapse are related. On the one hand we had a journal with strong production focus and a strong editor making a decision to publish something that should not have been published, and on the other we have a journal where decisions are simply not being made, and authors are dealing with 3 and 4 revise and resubmits because the editorial coalition has no focus. SSR made a bad decision because more senior scholars were not willing to be critical of developing sampling and data collection techniques (and didn’t read the paper very carefully), and most of the “cool kids” refuse to review for “minor journals.”  ASR has problems making decisions because of their clusterfuck administrative structure, and the fact that none of the editors are very general in their scholarly orientation–It’s hard to know how to edit a journal (much less the top journal in the field) when you haven’t done many reviews, served on many editorial boards,  or edited a lower tier journal. But, of course, “cool kids” are certainly not going to review for minor journals much less edit them.

What worries me is that the age of the intellectual is over, and that means that nobody will be minding the store in the future. I can envision a time when professional editors with no scholarly merit come to control the publication process—much as they do with book publication. What will matter is only whether or not the article in question will generated downloads and maybe citations. Scholarly merit won’t matter shit. And, of course, the big effect of the Regnerus fiasco which none of the “cool kids” seems to understand is that we are now creeping towards a review process which not only rejects the ideal of double blind review, but makes reviewers and authors completely open—thus encouraging review by high school popularity, rather than scholarly merit.

In any event, I’m worried that the next generation of sociologists are ill-prepared for editing our journals and taking up the serious task of making hard decisions about what should and what should not be published. The sociological “soshs” are inexperienced, uncooperative, naive, and ill-equipped to succeed the serious scholars from the baby boom who are about to retire. This is going to hit us hard as a discipline, and it could produce a kind of bickering and fracturing that has left disciplines like anthropology reeling.


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