Sunday, July 27, 2008


The conference was constant non-stop hilarity for me, at times engaging, at times disappointing. But it was fun nonetheless.

You know the problem I’ve talked about in science, scientific research, and academia in general? It’s the problem of a lack of real work, truly new ideas, a lack of creativity. Well, the same is in the social sciences. There was one American who was a professor at the American University in Nigeria, and what he used the term “posturing.” There was a lot of talk. But the original power of sociology was the power to enact and bring about social change. That fire has gone. In fact, this same professor said sociology was dead in Nigeria. I wondered if the same were true in South Africa. For all the sociologists in the country we had a conference of maybe 120 people. I was shocked.

Being a social science, I knew statistics was integral to the work. When I made a comment about gender psychology (how it manifests itself in conversational differences between genders holding other influencing factors constant) Tate (a gentle, hard-working, and persevering teacher who just completed her first year at Shine Elementary school in Houston, TX—CONGRATS!!) said that I could not make those statements without statistical proof. I said something about my statements being based on observation (in all- female groups, women tend to interrupt each other, whereas men (in mixed groups or in all-male groups) tend to wait more and let another person finish; women tend to speak with subtext, men tend to speak superficially (text); etc. etc.). Tate said she is wary about statements made with no statistical “proof” or evidence at least to point in that direction. And she’s right though I believe in the power of observation. I think (just due to the talks I went) I saw only 7 talks (out of about 20-24 talks) that used any type of data collection and analysis (whether through surveys, interviews, experiments, etc.). I was surprised. It seemed a little more like pure humanities. And I saw a quote at the conference from Einstein reminding us not to forget about the importance of science and “the scientific method in solving human problems.” It makes sense. At one talk, a Nigerian student(?) questioned the American professor at the American University in Nigeria. The student said that he needs a more qualitative approach and not quantitative. But the comment was foundationless because the purpose of the professor’s surveys and interviews was to get data in order to make a qualitative statement. The quantitative is a tool (stats is a tool) in order to get to the implications and solutions to problems (the meat of sociology). In fact the conference taught me a few lessons:

1) You can make claims without data collection or stats.

2) If you want to increase the appearance of validity or bolster your work, use the words “epistemology,” “Marxist,” “Weberian,” “ontology,” “methodology,” and “dialectical.” That’ll get ‘em.

3) Sociology has no meaning. Put any adjective in front of the word and then you can talk about the nominalization of the adjective. For instance: health sociology—give a talk on health; industrial sociology—give a talk on industry.

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