“The domestic governing body of sociology”?

June 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

The Disgruntled Sociologist has been perusing the ASA’s amicus brief (pdf) in the Wal-Mart case – subject of so much lively debate over on orgtheory and scatterplot about whether the ASA was right to file the amicus brief, whether it was a good amicus brief, whether sociology was under attack in the Wal-Mart case, etc.  (Yes, TDS peruses such things just for kicks.)

This post is not meant to relaunch those debates. (For the record, TDS’s answer to all three questions is no.) Instead, TDS wishes to highlight the following intriguing sentence from page 6 of the amicus brief (emphasis added):

The domestic governing body of sociology is the American Sociological Association (ASA) which organizes professional conferences, establishes rules and norms for professional researchers, publishes the discipline’s flagship journal and several specialty journals, and defines the discipline.

(Andy Abbott and others may wish to dispute the bit about the flagship journal, but let us leave that aside.)

What does “domestic governing body of sociology” even mean? In what sense is sociology being governed? And which king or queen granted the ASA this charter?

And the ASA “defines the discipline”? Funny, TDS would have thought that sociologists define the discipline through their work – for better or worse. Does this mean that the ASA has a checklist somewhere that can be used to determine whether someone is really a sociologist?

Guess that large (and growing) share of sociologists who are not members of the ASA are guilty of practicing without a license. Oh, the horror.

Seriously, it is quite horrifying that the ASA would include such a description of itself in a legal brief.

§ 3 Responses to “The domestic governing body of sociology”?

  • krippendorf says:

    With all due respect to TDS, a benign interpretation of the “define the discipline” clause is that the authors meant define as in “describe the essential features of”, not define as in “set forth the meaning of.” And, the ASA does have a statement on its “what is sociology” page. It may not be a statement we all agree with. (Sociology is the unifying social science? That’s funny, anthropology makes the same claim on it’s “what is anthropology” page…). But, it’s nonetheless an effort to define-as-in-describe the discipline.

    (It’s another question whether these sorts of statements have any effect whatsoever. Who reads the “what is sociology” page, other than me just now? Then again, as the AAA discovered with its decision to remove the word “science” from its mission statement, *someone* cares.)

    “Governing body of sociology” is, I agree, a reach. I would have preferred language like, “service organization for sociology”, but (a) no one asked me, and (b) it’s not at all clear that the ASA staff sees the ASA this way, rhetoric notwithstanding. And therein lies the crux of the problem.

    • Agreed that the crux of the problem is less the words per se and their parsing, than what it tells us about how the ASA (staff, Council) thinks of itself.

      Re “define the discipline”: fair enough, although that sounds like a very generous understanding of what they could mean by “define” — are they really saying, “if you’re confused by your Merriam-Webster, come to us”? To the Supreme Court? Or to anyone, for that matter? Which makes one suspect that they mean something more.

      Re the AAA, that is a dispute about the mission statement of the professional organization. They decided that the association was no longer committed to advancing anthropology as a science — which is controversial because there is dispute about the content of the discipline among anthropologists. It is perfectly acceptable for the ASA to define what the *ASA* is trying to accomplish. But that is rather different from defining the discipline.

  • krippendorf says:

    edit “the ASA does have a statement” to “the ASA does have a descriptive statement”.

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