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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Kenny G of sociology

People with absurdly elevated opinions of themselves are common in all walks of life. In some parts of academia they compound the sin by writing endless screeds of garbage & then cry foul when they get taken apart. Hey guys, wise up. Criticism of what we write is part of the point of it all. If you just want an admirer go buy a mirror.

I get increasingly  irritated by the  blowhards of British sociology who are always going on about the importance of debate but who do their very best to avoid it with anyone who poses the slightest threat to their delusional world view. If  debate never involves moving out of your chummy comfort zone and avoiding anyone with teeth then it is difficult to see how the discipline is going to survive academic natural selection. 

Calls for sociological unity in the face of a cold and threatening environment are really just a  convenient ruse when what one is being asked to unite behind is just so much confused nonsense tricked out to look appealing to the media, a gullible trade book audience and a few tame adherents of other disciplines who are tagging along so they can pursue their own agenda.

In other walks of life they have the balls to call a spade a spade. When Pat Metheney expressed contempt for Kenny G after he had the effrontery to overdub his appalling muzak inspired sax on a Louis Armstrong recording, Richard Thompson penned a little ditty by way of comment. I agree with Pat Metheney. Oh for some inkling of the same degree of honesty in our neck of the woods.


Anonymous said...

There is social science and there's plenty of glorified journalism pretending to be the former.

Colin said...

Indeed. Though I think it is even worse than that. Good journalism is at least as valuable in its own way as social science. There is a lot of sociology though (I'm not really qualified to speak about the other social sciences) that would neither qualify as competent social science nor competent journalism.

A basic requirement is that even if what it is about is complicated - as it well might be - it can be explained in language that a decently educated person can understand. All fields have their jargon or shorthand, but if Feynman can explain quantum electrodynamics to non-scientists then a sociologist should be able to explain their work to a lay public. My intuition is that if they were to do so, in many cases there would be nothing left to explain.

No product, no payment. Bullshit survives because it is the bullshitters direct interest to be as obscure as possible and in the interests of the consumers and fellow travelers to pretend to understand it. In a way it is like a religious liturgy. All the faithful join in on the responses even though they have no idea what it actually means, everyone feels good afterwards and everyone feigns shock at the blasphemy if anyone questions it.

"How does he hold those notes so long?
He must be a genius. Wrong!
He just has the mindlessness to do it."