Thursday, December 01, 2005

sociological heresy...(mine, of course)

RE: deviance...I have never understood the reason to have any entire class devoted to "deviance." deviance is pretty simple to explain and then it's just a parade of different forms of deviance — like a freak show. i always tell my students that deviance and conformity are two sides of the same coin — they fuse when one takes into consideration how they are both relative and neither is absolute; you can cover that idea in one class period.

RE: SP vs Social work...i made this statement some time ago on the list (or the SAS list, rather) and it seems to make the distinction for me. SP/AS should be about changing/modifying institutions — patterns of social behavior, on whatever level. Social work is not about that, it is about assisting specific individuals; yes, they might do some advocacy for groups, etc., but their focus is not on collective, institutional change(s), it is one individual change.

I think the reason that we continue to be bewildered about what AS/SP is, is the fact that, as far as I know, we have no established theory nor methods for effecting different kinds of social change — we don't have a science of social change. IMO, to be a "real" discipline, we need to have some general principles or ideas about how we go about creating change, what works, what doesn't etc. We do not have a systematic body of knowledge like this. Again, IMO, it goes back to my suggestions about developing manuals or handbooks on how to create social change(s) at different levels of social reality. You want to change your familial behavior? Do this. You want to change your classroom behavior? Do this., etc. We don't have a tested, agreed-upon body of work to build on. Other disciplines do, but we don't.

This, however, is how I see our entire discipline — disparate and fluffy — no grounding. Yeah, we have data on everything social, but we still think (and teach) students about these three perspectives all of which are much more conceptual than empirical. You can't build a science on concepts alone. Functionalism is a conceptual scheme; conflict is, too. This is not to deny the evidence of inequality nor of stratification, but do we really believe that patterns of behavior are responsible for this? Patterns of behavior are "disembodied" ideas; we are really talking about people and what people are doing. Seems to me that is what we need to find out more about — how and why do people change? Once we know that, we might be better able to begin building some testable ideas about how to change the social behavior of those people.

I recently finished reading Skinner's Walden Two and am now reading Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Skinner was ahead of his time, IMO. He was not the monster I understood him to be. Many of his ideas have tremendous relevance for sociology and AP/SP. I think he was found to be distasteful because his perspective pulled back the covers of social/human reality — something that no one wanted to see or seriously consider — we are all controlled by something, mainly through fear, so it is an issue of who is doing the controlling, not whether or not we are controlled.

Skinner knew about how people change and so do many people who adhere to a behavioristic approach. I think it is very worthwhile to investigate. After all, what are "social rewards/benefits" and "social sanctions" but reinforcers and punishers?

Hmmm, maybe I'm going to start calling myself something else...


Anonymous said...

Actually, a major social theorist that visited my university recently said that himself and Talcott Parsons were routinely contacted by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s looking for graduate students who were experts in revolution to work for the state department on Latin America. The goal was to use these scholars to end revolutionary movements in these it seems we do have some relevance to the powers that be, afterall :-(

johneglass said...

interesting, i wonder if they ever provided them with anyone?