The Uses of Controversy in Sociology

The Uses of Controversy in Sociology

The Uses of Controversy in Sociology

The Uses of Controversy in Sociology

Excerpt

"It is what we think we know," Claude Bernard once remarked, "that prevents us from learning." This is why it seems imperative from time to time to reassess our stock of knowledge to determine whether the received wisdom on which we rely still stands up in the light of current experience and knowledge. Such a reassessment may take the form of systematic inventories of ideas and attempts at codification, but it may also proceed by way of critical dissection of past and present contributions. It is the second path that we have chosen in this volume.

"Conflict is the gadfly of thought," John Dewey has written; "it stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of our sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving. ...Conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity." It is in this spirit that we have entitled this volume The Uses of Controversy in Sociology. Not all controversies, alas, provide enlightenment; when the contenders argue from mutually exclusive positions and have no common ground to share, the result is usually, as the French say, a dialogue of the deaf. But when it is the case -- as we think it is with all the contributors to this volume -- that divergencies and debates proceed with a shared commitment to the growth of sociology as an intellectual discipline, controversy is likely to lead to needed clarification of issues and to a clearing of the ground for future advance. The controversies of today, we would contend, point to the cutting edge of future developments.

Many of the contributions we have collected in this volume take a dim view of established sociological pieties and of the fads and fashions currently on the ascendant. And this is as it should be since such countercyclical thinking, as David Riesman once called it, seems peculiarly apt to alert us to the perennial task of re-evaluating our fund of knowl-

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