Friday, August 20, 2004

ASA Impressions

This was my first ASA. My first impression was an incredulous, "wow, I'm around so many sociologists," followed by a creeped out, "wow. I'm around so many sociologists." I had been told to expect the overwhelming size, which was both nice to blend into the anonymity and limiting as far as some panel discussions went. But overall, I was very pleased. The substance of all of the sessions I attended were very good and some were even excellent.

However, I did expect to learn more about the professionalization of sociologists from this experience. What I did learn was that some sociologists couldn't hold an argument through to its logical conclusion. Yes, for some reason it did surprise me. In the most glaring instance I witnessed, it wasn't because he wasn't prepared or a good speaker because he was both, sort of. He was just so convinced of his conclusion regardless of his ability to support it with a cohesive connected argument. This was a good lesson for me; don't EVER do this. Some still supported him, simply because they supported his conclusion, public sociology is bad for sociologists as sociologists and sociology as a discipline. Anyway, it was nice to discover Deflem wasn't a monster, just a scientistic ideologue with an unmethodical analysis to protect the scientist's agenda.

The more inspiring/interesting speakers I saw included Frances Fox Piven, Barrie Thorne, Judith Blau, Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Connell, Jeff Goodwin, Julia Adams, Michael Omi (on an especially interesting panel on the categorization of "race" and "ethnicity"), Patricia Hill Collins, Aldon Morris, Manning Marable, and Burawoy. I had hoped to see Evelyn Nakano Glenn and Lisa Lowe. Maybe they will present next year...

San Francisco was as wonderful as I remembered it. And to top it off, I was able to meet my cobloggers, which was a lot of fun. Not bad for a first ASA.


At 7:59 PM, Blogger Netwoman said...

I saw Bob Connell in a coffee shop - and wanted to say hello - but thought that would be dorky. I already embarassed myself when Dorothy Smith got on the elevator with me....yah, duh - didn't have much to say - what can you say "love your work" - "you rock" they really care?

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Erin said...

That is funny, because I spoke to him after the session and he invited me to coffee with the rest of the panel. I was of course too nervous and went to the next planned session. But I had the same sentiment, what do you say but "you're smart."

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Mathieu Deflem said...

Considering that the ‘he’ referred to is me, Mathieu Deflem, I wish to offer a few comments on this blog entry.

I am puzzled more than amused by the fact that an advocate of public sociology criticizes my ideas on the basis of its purported “unmethodical” character during a brief oral presentation. While I might console myself with not being seen as a monster, it is likewise surprising to see me referred to as a “scientistic ideologue,” when I am neither. Is there anything in my work to conclude otherwise?

Presenting my thoughts on the role of sociology in a panel on “To take a stand or not to take a stand,” my position on sociology and public sociology can hardly be called a conclusion. Rather than the conclusion of a research paper, what I presented was a position as a practitioner of sociology on the nature and functions of our discipline and profession. The panelists were asked to address a question, and I gave my answer in very sharp and clear terms. During a presentation, I find the clarity of an argument far more important than the systematic nature of its foundations –or would I really have to join the plethora of speakers whose systematic nature of technique is matched only by the level of boredom it induces on the part of the audience.

Besides, the main argument of my position is not that it is damaging to the standing of sociology, although that is one of my arguments too –and a very ironic one at that considering the intentions public sociologists attach to their work. My main arguments are more principled and primarily relate to the epistemological difficulties and consequences of a sociology that purports to be less than scientific in light of the nature of science and the plurality of ethical-political lifeworlds. Basically, the number of valid alternatives broadens considerably when we move from theoretical to practical and moral questions. I wouldn’t wish it to be otherwise and so I wonder why public sociologists do.

Readers interested in my work can consult my website, which has many of my publications online: My position on sociology is further clarified on:


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