Monday, October 10, 2011

Sociology needs a proportionate focus on improvement

I made a trip to Storrs to visit with University of Connecticut sociologist Brad Wright.  Brad wrote a gruntled book, Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World.

We had a fruitful conversation about the state of the world and the presumptions of sociology - which seem to go in opposite directions.  In many ways, as Brad demonstrates in his book, the state of the world is improving.

Yet there is no sociology of how things get better.  Sociology is best at criticism. When some area of social life starts getting better, sociology either focuses on how that practice still falls short of utopia, or moves on to another problem.

Focusing on problems is a defensible strategy if your aim is solely to solve problems. But seeing only the problems gives you a distorted view of reality - and surely no science wants that.

Focusing on problems is not simply erroneous and one-sided.  Thinking only of problems and fears undermines happiness. A happy society needs a science that appreciates improvements and our ability to solve problems, too.

Now, as you can see, I am offering a criticism of sociology's tendency to criticize.  So that this observation is not simply fussing (and ironic), let me point out that sociology is, at its deepest level, committed to truth.

Sociology needs a proportionate focus on improvement, as well as on problems.

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