Sunday, September 25, 2005

a short sunday spouting about the study of so-called socialization in sociology

(I'm working today on a colloquium I'm giving here at Harvard on Tuesday. This post is inspired by that, but not anything I'll actually be saying during the talk.)

Have you ever been annoyed by political officials who talk about their committment to, say, education or the integrity of infrastructure but then, in their actual actions, show themselves to have very different priorities about the expenditure of resources? I mean, where you just sit and seethe and want to yell, "Don't pretend like education and infrastructure are important to you if you aren't willing to support ponying up the resources the actually improve these things!"

Anyway, I must admit that I feel a little similarly when sociologists talk as though we were experts in human development, like our discipline is doing all kinds of work at the forefront of understanding human development and the "social" influences on human development, when in fact it would seem like inspection of major journal articles, or section memberships, or national hiring patterns would suggest that the study of development, or even just that part that is the study of "socialization," is not exactly a thriving enterprise in sociology. Myself, it's less that I feel like sociology needs to invest more in studying developmental processes, necessarily, but that we're honest in recognizing that it's a relatively small and shrinking part of our business these days. And that we are not collectively experts on topics, even if we may have strong opinions.

If you are a sociologist, take a look sometime of the "socialization" chapter of sociology textbooks. They often throw culture into it because they have so little to say. Or they dwell on old and resoundingly incorrect theories that no one outside of, e.g., the dwindling cult of George Herbert Mead, pays any attention to anymore.

8 comments:

Agee said...

Um, I haven't looked at a intro to soc textbook lately (I do try to avoid them for about 8 million different reasons), but the last time I checked, their treatments of culture and socialization were pretty damn dismal.

A+ said...

Point taken. It makes sense. But let's be honest. Aren't soc textbooks generally awful?

jeremy said...

Intro textbooks are generally awful. But the socialization chapter is usually awful-er for the good reason of having less actually to say.

Gwen said...

Dude, I study agriculture, food, and the environment. Look at how they cover THAT shit, if they bother AT ALL.

Because, you know, the way we get the nutrients necessary for our daily survival just isn't that important to analyze sociologically.

But the meaning of the Spice Girls and their brand of femininity...now that's important!

sep said...

why wouldn't one talk about "culture" when discussing socialization? what alternatives do we have? gee, people develop physically and psychologically, all the while being influenced and influencing their environment. how hard is that? yes, there might be a need for more/better theories of human development but why is "culture" the last resort?

jeremy said...

SEP: That's not what I meant. Unfortunately, I'm rushing around getting ready for a talk, and so don't have a chance right now to articulate exactly what I did mean.

sep said...

ok, i'll let you off the hook but only if you wander over to the Harvard archives and do me a little favor (?)

just kidding, of course :) or am I?

Tim Hughes said...

ok so this is totally random, but i am taking a sociology course at the university of houston and my professor wants the class to keep a sociological journal for the semester to be turned in during finals week, and to be honest, i'm in a quandary as to what that all entails. From what i've been reading (with the help of a dictionary) from Peter Berger's book, Invitation to Sociology, the science circumscribes just about every aspect and ancillary subject of the word "social" i can think of, and writing a journal about it seems a bit staggering to say the least. So i've been reading your blogs as a psuedo blueprint for my undertaking, and if there are any pointers you could give me about what topics to tackle that would be extremeley helpful.