Wednesday, April 07, 2004

(contest) name that sentence

In my graduate methods class, we spend the first half of every Tuesday class discussing an article from ASR or AJS. The articles have been selected for maximal methodological variation, which really has led to a (quite enjoyable, in fact) canvassing of a wildly broad terrain. Anyway, this week's article was from ASR and on the responses of police to protest events in New York in the late 1960's and early 1970's. I emphatically do not mean this as any larger dig at the authors of this article or the article itself, but the article had this sentence at the start of the conclusion that induced A Certain Type Of Moment for me. The sentence being:

"Despite popular and academic beliefs to the contrary, we have shown that police have varied responses to protest."

What happens in This Certain Type Of Moment is that I am transported back home to the family farm, where I am sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, who dropped out of high school to get married and who has always been suspicious (even while supportive and proud) of this whole "professoring" gig of her youngest son. This particular issue of ASR is sitting at the table between us, and gust of a wind or something sweeps through the kitchen and blows open the journal to this particular page. My mother's looks down and her eyes happen to fix upon this one particular sentence, denuded of all context, and she reads it out loud: "Despite popular and academic beliefs to the contrary, we have shown that police have varied responses to protest."

Then my dear and wonderful mother looks up at me, a little puzzled, and she says, politely: "So they're saying the police don't respond to all situations the same. Like sometimes they make arrests or try to break things up, and sometimes they don't. Seems pretty obvious, don't it? But, they're saying that before they did this research, everybody believed that police responded to every--whatyoucallit--'protest event' in exactly the same way. That's a pretty strange thing for everyone to have believed, if you ask me."

And, in that moment, I have absolutely no idea what to say. I just close the journal and try to distract her by pointing to something out the window.

It's a Recurrent Type Of Moment, not at all confined to this one article even though this time it happened to prompt this post. The Recurrent Moment is provoked by a specific Type of Sentence, and I want to have some (preferably catchy) name for this Type of Sentence. That's the special weblog contest; e-mail me your entries.* The basic experience of this Type of Sentence is that I read it and am overcome with the feeling that the sentence--if read in isolation by a layperson--is probably not the most compelling ambassador of the insights offered via the sociological imagination.**

* Clarification: the contest is to offer a catchy name for the moment described above, not to provide further example of sentences evocative of that moment in prominently published social science work. Examples of the latter are certainly welcome if you have any, but they won't win you a JFW kewpie doll.

** Nor, for that matter, are such sentences necessarily or even usually very representative of the quality and findings of the research reported in the rest of the article. Sentences that read as very unprofound in isolation can obviously appear in the context of very good and non-intuitive work. And, yes, I am also sure that I probably have my own sentences somewhere in my nascent oeuvre that could induce similar Moments in others.

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