Sociologically Adrift

 

This is REAL sociology

This is REAL sociology

Thirty years ago in the Summer of 1986 I was preparing to take the GRE exam. Back in those days, there were few opportunities to take the exam, particularly if you didn’t want to have to travel.  I bought a book and worked through the practice tests, it wasn’t hard. I did very well, except for one part that didn’t matter—the subject test in sociology. I don’t even know if we still have such things, and we never looked at them at Duke or Vanderbilt, nor do we request that people take them for admission to SIU (if they still exist). By “didn’t do well” I mean that I failed miserably. Scoring  in the bottom quarter. As I was taking the test I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know any of the answers. Most of the stuff was meaningless worthless minutia from 1960s era functionalist sociology. Nothing about Marx, only the least interesting stuff on Weber (most of that was actually wrong, as well) and Durkheim. Lots of BS American sociology and social construction crap. No exchange theory, no political economy, no social movements, no gender theory, just a load of shit that some committee of losers cooked up and sold to ETS. It was a useless instrument that demonstrated nothing.

A few years back, a couple of “sociologists” I had never heard of wrote some pithy book to make money claiming that people don’t learn anything in college because they gave them pre- and post- tests of “critical thinking” and the means didn’t budge. No shit, Sherlock. We’ve known that since the 1870s. You can’t grow IQ. We can teach you shit, but we can’t cure stupid or create smart. Of course, the real purpose of Academically Adrift was to torpedo universities, particularly public universities, by claiming that we need to be held accountable for learning outcomes—reversing the arrow of student responsibility for learning—and particularly to undermine disciplines that tout the goal of increasing “critical thinking.” Good luck with that, to all who think they can. You can introduce students to materials that may change their point of view, but we cannot increase actual critical thinking as measured by what amounts to intelligence tests.

No doubt these two sociologists have now become quite influential in administrative circles. What’s next? They want to bring back the subject exam for all! Not just people who want to go to grad school (because, if they had ever been on an admissions committee or been DGS they would know that such instruments are bunk), but instead for every single sociology major! Or even anyone who took intro? Whatever will make the most money for the Pearsons/Wiley/Sage/insertpredatorpublisherhere and do the most to justify cuts to whichever disciplines they can get a bullshit subject test for. It’s a fucking bad joke to see these yahoos on the cover of the Chronicle and writing crap for Inside Higher Ed.

They even tout that this movement for “no sociology major left behind” is “faculty driven”, by which they mean that a few sociologists took money from the Gates and Teagle foundation to help cook up their assessment test. I’m sure they’ll all collaborate on the intro textbook our administrations will try to force us to adopt, and we’ll be expected to teach to the test—even though looking at the list of I’m sure I’d disagree with their interpretations of what sociology majors should know—or even what sociology is….

The sociologically adrift are quite upfront in their partisanship on the discipline “In sociology, for example, one of the five essential concepts is the “sociological eye,” which means students “will recognize key theoretical frameworks and assumptions upon which the discipline is founded and differentiated from other social sciences.” That underpinning, the book said, includes founding theoretical traditions (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Mead), a critique of rationality to explain human behavior and how social forces affect individuals.”  Jesus fuck a bunny in the ass! “Sociological Eye”? Mead? Really? I don’t agree with any of this!

At Vanderbilt, I used to teach a very rigorous intro to sociology course with no textbook. We read primary works by Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Homans, Emerson, Blau, Coleman, and then we had a coursepack of articles on substantive themes from Social Forces and ASR (copyright was too hard for AJS and others). I always began and ended the course with the same sentence “Sociology is the foundation of all of the social sciences, it encompasses all of economics and political science, it explains much of what is interesting in psychology, there are many perspectives and interpretations of what we do and what we know and how we can know it. You can’t possibly cover all of them in one course or even in a career. Frankly, I don’t know what sociology is.” But that isn’t going to stop some gaggle of assholes with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Teagle Foundation from telling me.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Sociologically Adrift”

  1. Stephen Hagan Says:

    Which is the least interesting stuff of Weber in your opinion? I have a love-hate relationship with the man myself so am interested to see how we line up.

    • sherkat Says:

      Most of what is taught about Weber is wrong. He never had a theory or a perspective outside of trying to figure stuff out and make sense of social stuff. Anyone who claims otherwise is an idiot who has never read Weber’s work. Bad sociologists tend to focus on the Parsons/Coser misinterpretation of Weber’s notions of rationality and on the Protestant ethic bullshit which is simply a thought exercise with no basis in reality.

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