Wednesday, May 03, 2006

scylla and charybdiss

Believe me, I have no intention on regularly polluting my cognitive space by developing counterarguments to the flailing assertions of fellow sociologist Mathieu Deflem. While I support his right to dissent, I want to state openly my belief that the net effect of Deflem's agitations is just additional discouragement for those who would wish to voice rational, coherent complaints about the overpoliticization/ideological-homogenization of sociology. In any case, he's written two posts on his blog complaining about a short survey that the Sociologists For Women in Society (SWS) conducts of candidates in the American Sociological Association elections (here and here). These posts irritate me enough that I feel compelled to respond with the following observations:
1. In general, the idea behind democracies is not that candidates get to determine what voters are allowed to care about in casting their ballots. It is beyond ridiculous for someone to announce their candidacy for a position in a professional organization and then say, "Respect for other people's opinions, in my mind, also includes not inquiring into these opinions and allowing such information to be volunteered (or not)."

2. If other constituencies within ASA wanted to mobilize and poll ASA candidates about issues of central concern to them, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. It's not SWS's fault that others lack their initiative.

3. It's weird to express dismay that SWS would send out a survey that focuses on the issues central to the mission of SWS.

4. Gender scholars are not some loony gang of gynoconformists. Each member of SWS has, in fact, her/his own mind. I would only have a problem with SWS providing information to members about candidates if that information was willfully misleading somehow. The SWS practice--presenting verbatim the responses provided by the candidates themselves--seems about as close to non-misleading-by-definition as one can get. If individual SWS members want to be single-issue "gender" voters--whatever exactly that might mean--this is their prerogative.

5. As a different example of single-issue voting, I want to announce that I will never myself vote for a candidate for ASA office who regards analogies to Nazi Germany as appropriate descriptions for ASA procedures or elections.
Sometimes I feel like the academic life is about dancing on a rug that has maybe ten square inches of carpet surrounded by yards of lunatic fringe.

Update, next day: Drek offers his own take on the posts in question, which he follows by offering the opportunity for rebuttal. I will have to admit to uncertainty about how exactly one would go about rebutting a drinking game.

Update to update: According to my Bloglines feed, Deflem has updated his post a couple times after I wrote this, so it might be better/differently articulated than before.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem might be that way more people believe they are standing on the ten square inches of carpet than could actually fit on that carpet.

Anonymous said...

Sea monsters, tiny carpets! Oh man, get hold of your metaphoric self. The rain will go away soon and you can walk in the sun again (and soon it will be summer -- school's out!).

shakha said...

Here here, Jeremy! I couldn't agree with you more. Well, I'm not so sure on the Scylla and Charybdis title. And I'm still trying to figure out if "diss" is a clever play, or just an over-zealous ring finger. But other than that...

jeremy said...

The diss was intentional, of course. It's a dissing post, after all. The only other diss pun I could come up with at the time involved something with Tardiss, and I just don't think enough people who read my blog are Doctor Who fans. So, I went with something from the Odissey.

A+ said...

I always thought the verb was "dis."

jeremy said...

It can be spelled either way.

Anonymous said...

I like the bit in Deflem's post about how the nominations committee was forced to choose men in order to avoid gang-voting by SWS. I'm sure last year, when the slate was disproportionately women, he would have insisted that the nominations committee caved under the pressure of SWS influence. Also, for someone who is purportedly devoted to the scientific method, he doesn't seem to have much use for constructing plausible, consistent hypotheses, let alone gathering the necessary evidence to assess them.

tina said...

I, too, hate how the entire pseudo-debate is so split into camps that you can't make a statement without campifying yourself.

It is a shame, because these are really important issues, and they should be discussed.

Anonymous said...

As ever, Deflem remains a celebrated...

Gives new meaning to "overreaching."

Anonymous said...

(Daaaaayyymn, tell me he ditn't just make fois gras outta freese's pieces? Ohhhhhh, yes he dit!)

Mathieu Deflem said...

I just discovered this post and make a few comments in response to the five points raised in Freese's original entry.

1... It is beyond ridiculous for someone to announce their candidacy for a position in a professional organization and then say, "Respect for other people's opinions, in my mind, also includes not inquiring into these opinions and allowing such information to be volunteered (or not)."

-- This quote is drawn out of context and thus misleading. I was speaking of opinions that are not relevant to the ASA candidacy. This was clear in my original post where the quoted sentence is followed by the following: "Besides, what else that is not relevant to my candidacy might I be asked?"

2. If other constituencies within ASA wanted to mobilize and poll ASA candidates about issues of central concern to them, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. It's not SWS's fault that others lack their initiative.

-- This is partly true. I agree that constituencies in the ASA as well as inividual ASA members can and should do more to inquire into candidates' positions. I even think that the ASA itself can do more to publicize candidates' positions, possibly even broaden the current system (which consists of relatively brief info). However, one cannot make a reference to "other" constituencies in the ASA in this case because SWS is not in the ASA but exists seperate from it.

3. It's weird to express dismay that SWS would send out a survey that focuses on the issues central to the mission of SWS.

-- It is not weird to express such dismay when the candidate/person being surveyed is not running for a postin SWS and is, moreover, convinced that the issue asked about is not central to the mission of the ASA and not central to the candidate's qualification.

4... I would only have a problem with SWS providing information to members about candidates if that information was willfully misleading somehow. The SWS practice--presenting verbatim the responses provided by the candidates themselves--seems about as close to non-misleading-by-definition as one can get.

-- The information is misleading inasmuch as it only includes the response to the SWS survey questions, but not the candidate's own statements. It would be an entirely different matter and perfectly legitimate (even welcomed by me) should I have been asked to comment on why I think I am running for Council, what the issues are that I think are important for my candidacy in the ASA etc. without any restriction.

5. As a different example of single-issue voting, I want to announce that I will never myself vote for a candidate for ASA office who regards analogies to Nazi Germany as appropriate descriptions for ASA procedures or elections.

-- That was not so much an appropriate analogy as an entirely accurate observation.

Also, in reponse to the comment that "last year, when the slate was disproportionately women, he would have insisted that the nominations committee caved under the pressure of SWS influence," I'd like to point out that the slate las tyear was not disproprotionately female. Instead it was very balanced. However, given SWS's gang-voting behavior, any balanced slate will favor female candidates. To deny this is to deny the outcome of last year's elections. That is evidence, n'est pas?

I am surely not in any camp and I agree that campification is a horrible burden against a dialogue. I hope that at least I have contributed to the latter, even if no agreement but alone understanding was reached.

MD

Anonymous said...

"However, given SWS's gang-voting behavior, any balanced slate will favor female candidates. To deny this is to deny the outcome of last year's elections. That is evidence, n'est pas?"

The problem is that you haven't provided any evidence of "gang-voting" behavior. A gender-imbalanced outcome (given a balanced slate) certainly does not provide this evidence. If, for example, the female candidates were just better, stronger, faster, leaner, meaner, etc. than the male candidates, the observed outcome could have been achieved even in the absence of gender-based decisions on the part of the median voter.

Anonymous said...

As ever, deflem remains a celebrated...