Sociology on Trial
Sociology on Trial
Sociology has as its task the analysis and understanding of the organized structure and operations of society and the basis in values and attitudes on which individual participation in social life rests. The carrying out of this task presupposes sociologists capable of doing the work and a society capable of tolerating their results. There are a number of reasons why neither of these presuppositions is easily achieved.
Grant us first that any "objective" social analysis or social commentary --that is, any analysis or commentary that does not start from accepted or established points of view--is critical either directly or in its implications. Simply by presenting radically different perceptions of a world that is otherwise taken for granted, society is irked, irritated, and perhaps threatened as well. Analysis exposes the glue that holds the joints of society together and it forces people to view themselves within what is at best a fairly precarious social order. To the extent that society even notices the critical sociologist, it can be expected to make a negative judgment on his work.
The critical sociologist requires at least two qualities (a) an ability to get outside the world of his own experience and to project himself into the centers of life and institutions with which he does not in the ordinary course of events have direct experience, and (b) an ability to detach himself from the prevailing values and attitudes of the organized groups in society in order thereby to gain a level of understanding that goes beyond conventional perspectives. For this some measure of alienation is necessary, however it is achieved, and whatever idiosyncratic point of view it represents. However, the very structure of the social world of the sociologist as constituted professionally makes it difficult to achieve these requirements.
Sociological practitioners live and work in universities and other bureaucracies as jobholders whose time and attention is regulated by the requirements of the occupation. They have come to think of sociology as a "field" which possesses jurisdictional rights on a subject matter which can be used as a basis for making claims for budgets and fees from administrators who control the purse strings. They form professional associations organized to perform the classical functions of the guild--regulation . . .