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How Ideology Has Hindered Sociological Insight

Abstract

American sociology has consistently leaned toward the political Left. This ideological skew hinders sociological insight in three ways. First, the scope of research projects is constrained: sociologists are discouraged from touching on taboo topics and ideologically unpalatable facts. Second, the data used in sociological research have been limited. Sociologists neglect data that portray conservatives positively and liberals negatively. Data are also truncated to hide facts that subvert a liberal narrative. Third, the empathic understanding of non-liberal ideologies is inhibited. Sociologists sometimes develop the erroneous belief that they understand alternative ideologies, and they fail to explore non-liberal ways of framing sociological knowledge. Some counterarguments may be raised against these theses, and I address such counterarguments.

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Notes

  1. In the field of personality psychology, reinforcement sensitivity theory posits that three systems underlie human emotions. The behavioral activation system (BAS) handles appetitive reactions, the fight–flight–freeze system (FFFS) handles aversive reactions, and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) handles ambiguity. The experiences mostly closely associated with the respective systems are fear, joy, and anxiety. One reason that some people have different emotional dispositions is that they have different levels of baseline activation in these systems. Happy people have relatively greater activity in their behavioral activation systems, although their other systems are activated when appropriate. Depressed people have relatively little activity in their behavioral activation system. Sufferers of anxiety disorders have relatively high activity in their behavioral inhibition system. In my experience, academic disciplines contain similar systems with a unique profile in each discipline. Political science, economics, and history are happy. Psychology once suffered from anxiety, but it recovered. Sociology has been suffering from a prolonged episode of anxiety, and labors under the illusion that the ending of anxiety is synonymous with the beginning of joy.

  2. For examples of such syllabi, see:

    www.asanet.org/images/members/docs/pdf/teaching/RESection5Jorgenson.pdf

    www.sites.clas.ufl.edu/soccrim/files/SYG-2000-2894-syllabus-Schnable.pdf

    www.deanza.edu/distance/syllabi/soc1_12m.pdf

    www.howdy.tamu.edu/Inside/HR2504/PDFs/SYL_201331_13215.pdf

    www2.humboldt.edu/sociology/syllabi/Soc%20F2013/Soc%20316%20-%20Gender%20Society%20-%20L%20Cortez-Regan%20-%20Fall%202013.pdf

    www.sociology.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/syllabi/2011Fall/SOCY4131-Harrison.pdf

    www.tilt.colostate.edu/files/eportfolios/7/File32-Mar-16-2008-11-59-59-AM.pdf

    www.soc.utah.edu/courses/Syllabi/Spring%202012/Martinez_3041.001_Rock&Roll_Spring%202012.pdf

  3. Epistemic egocentrism can often be found in moral philosophy, where philosophers expect people to behave as though they are cognizant of unknowns. Consider this illogical claim by the moral philosopher Peter Singer (2013): “The man or woman who wears a $30,000 watch or buys similar luxury goods, like a $12,000 handbag . . . is saying; “I am either extraordinarily ignorant, or just plain selfish. If I were not ignorant, I would know that children are dying from diarrhea or malaria, because they lack safe drinking water, or mosquito nets, and obviously what I have spent on this watch or handbag would have been enough to help several of them survive; but I care so little about them that I would rather spend my money on something that I wear for ostentation alone.”

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Acknowledgments

I thank John Boli and Christian Smith for their comments on earlier drafts.

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Martin, C.C. How Ideology Has Hindered Sociological Insight. Am Soc 47, 115–130 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-015-9263-z

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Keywords

  • Sociology of knowledge
  • Sociology of ideas
  • American sociology
  • Ideology
  • Methodology