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Should Every Sociologist Blog? My Take

April 5, 2012 by and tagged , ,

Philip Cohen started it. No one asked me but I’ll butt in anyway.

The answer is, of course, yes. Sociologists should also be all over Twitter, Tumblr and other social networking platforms. To all the reasons Cohen mentions in his post, let me add a few.

First of all, in the context of the field of social sciences, sociology is not the most powerful discipline. It is not the one most featured by traditional media. This is a topic I have blogged about before. When the media when to discuss social issues, they tend to call on psychologists, economists or political scientists. Sociologists are the bottom the list for several reasons. One is that reporters and journalists may not be clear as to what sociologists actually do. The discipline is so diverse in coverage that it might be hard to pin down and to provide the standard definition (systematic / scientific study of human behavior…) is not really helpful.

Two: sociology has a reputation of being a discipline populated by hippies and lefties (not that there is anything wrong with that but that certainly does not do justice to the diversity of the sociological population, after all Peter Berger and Charles Murray are considered sociologists, so there.). This means, it is not considered a “serious” discipline (like economics, which has a lot of maths). And I would argue the media is more comfortable with the individualist narrative provided by psychology that fits more neatly in preexisting cultural frames of explanation for social phenomena and issues.

So, faced with a situation where media presence is sketchy at best, and caricatural at worst, why not make use of the web 2.0. to try to fulfill the promises of public sociology. It is then up to us to claim our media space on our own terms thanks to the technological tools available to us.

Blogging is a good way to start because the price of entry is low. The platforms have gotten easier and easier (think Posterous and Tumblr) for those who are reluctant to fully set up their own websites and get their hands dirty with coding. Blogging is a good way to promote the sociological perspective on current events as well as research going on in our field without the barriers of peer-reviewed publication, the jargon and overall awful academic writing.

Blogging is an easy way to showcase what is distinctive about the sociological outlook on phenomena and issues, and the toolbox that we use to analyze them. These conceptual and theoretical tools should be guiding our blogging practice.  I would also argue that sociology (thanks to the concepts and theories) is best equipped among the social sciences to deal with social change and social movements. Maude knows these are now central topics on which to point the sociological spotlight. No other discipline can fully grasp the dynamics at work in a variety of social movements from the Tea Party to Occupy to indigenous peoples struggle.

While sociology’s thematic diversity may be a problem for traditional media, it should provide for a diversity of blogging on pretty much every topic. And that is a good thing, the more the merrier. Years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich was a keynote speaker at the ASA. She mentioned that she would love to have a list of sociologists working on different topics handy so that when she would write a piece on, say, poverty and gender, she would immediately know who to contact. I don’t know if any initiative emerged out of that but one can easily see how a list of blogs could be created and curated with their corresponding specialization, if any. It is not hard to figure out what the main theme of Philip Cohen’s blog is, or mine, for that matter.

The next issue with blogging is whether or not the genre is dead (it’s not) what with Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I think there is still space for more developed thinking and analysis that cannot really be accommodated by Twitter. On the other hand, Twitter is great for networking with other sociologists and circulate links, ideas or just hang out and have fun. There are 351 people on the sociology list I created on Twitter. I would never have found these people by just blogging, not to mention all the other people who have some more peripheral interests in sociology without being sociologists themselves. Twitter puts the strength of weak ties on steroids. That is all well and good but we still need stuff to share over that network. We still need to generate content and that is what blogging is for.

Such content can come from multiple sources, and it should. Whether we review books, report on professional papers or conferences, analyze current events or focus on illuminating sociological concepts and theories, or a mix of all that, this is all useful public sociology. We are making the discipline more relevant by showcasing its relevance (if that makes any sense). If there is one thing that public discourse needs is more rationality and analytical clarity while challenging commonsense tropes, and exposing unearned privilege.

So, to blog or not to blog… yes, a thousand times, yes. I know, I know, tenure, promotion, institutional realities (rather nasty), etc. But look, if one has something to say, and if it looks like blogging should be the right platform to say it, then why not. It is true that, at this point, there are no institutional rewards for blogging (maybe for people who blog for major publishers?). That is true. Hopefully, this might change. But the only way this can change is if there is a critical mass of good sociological blogging to justify it.

So, start socblogging.

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