Tuesday, May 02, 2006

brightest bulb

Someone complained to me that various entrants to the "How many sociologists does it take to change a light bulb?" contest were "insulting" to sociology. I sort of thought this was the point of lightbulb jokes, but that, in the same way economics has somehow managed to survive endless repetitions of that "assume a can opener" joke,* sociology could weather the lightbulb query. That said, I don't want to come across as being too much of a disciplinary downer, especially since, in substantive terms, I've actually been more enthusiastic about sociology lately than what my posts might suggest (really!).

In that spirit, I ran the idea of a Celebrate Sociology! lightbulb joke contest by my friend Kestrel, but she was pretty tapped for ideas:
Q: How many sociologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. Moreover, it will be a better bulb than the one before!
and also
Q: How many sociologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: All of us share responsibility for that light bulb. But, working together, in communities, we will not just change the bulb, but create the base of understanding on which we can build a better, fairer world!
Nonetheless, to be sensitive to any sociologists out there who may have been insulted by the lightbulb contest, I have decided to award the winner to:
Q: How many sociologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One.
As no one actually had the foresight to enter this, despite it being the factually correct answer (at least, in modal terms), no prize will be awarded. However, a different and non-sociology-centered contest of considerably more consequence might be announced here soon, so keep your monitors tuned to JFW.

* How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? An economist presumably would point out that the more rational thing would be for the economist to spend that time doing more economics, and then to use part of the extra earnings to pay an unskilled worker the minimum wage s/he'd accept to change the lightbulb instead, thus achieving a changed bulb and additional income. But then the economist would guffaw and say that, of course, this is just a joke, and the transaction costs of finding that unskilled worker would be too high, not to mention the whole agency problem of having to monitor the unskilled worker or else s/he'd probably just steal the light bulb and maybe some cutlery as well, so really the answer is that it would make the most sense for the economist to just do it.

6 comments:

Tom Bozzo said...

That footnote shows that you could have a real future in economics, Jeremy.

dorotha said...

i can change a lightbulb on my own, but, honestly, i prefer to have a helper so that i can hand the burned out bulb to them and they can hand me back a fresh bulb. well, that is just for bulbs in the ceiling. lamps i can do on my own.

i'm barely a sociologist, but, on average, i'm a 1.5 kind of girl.

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

My bedroom has this weird curly "energy-saving" lightbulb in it. When it goes out, I am probably going to end up calling the landlord.

Kieran said...

Q: How many sociologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One.


This atomistic, reductive, individualistic answer is supposed to be supportive of sociology how, exactly? Hmph. Why don't you just go ahead and slap us in the face while you're at it?

As to the economists, everyone knows the answer to "How many economists does it take to change a lightbulb?" is "None, the invisible hand of the market will change it."

PS, I find it hard to believe that someone really thought the lightbulb jokes were insulting. I mean, honestly.

Kim said...

Kieran: The joke is rather insulting to lightbulbs, which come across as dim, burned out, and disposable.

Come to think of it, these adjectives might also be used to describe some academics, too. (No, I'm NOT thinking of anyone in particular. Really.)

Henry said...

I think a better answer to the "How many sociologists does it take to change a lightbulb?" is:

3/5!

It takes less than one sociologist! They're just that bad ass.