Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Sociologists Made Themselves Irrelevant

The Chronicle of Higher Education
December 2nd, 2014

Early in 2014, President Obama announced a new initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, aimed at alleviating the problems of black youth. Not only did a task force appointed to draw up the policy agenda not include a single professional sociologist, but I could find no evidence that any sociologist was even consulted in the critical first three months of the group’s work, summarized in a report to the president, despite the enormous amount of work sociologists have done on poverty and the problems of black youth.
Sadly, this situation is typical because sociologists have become distant spectators rather than shapers of policy. In the effort to keep ourselves academically pure, we’ve also become largely irrelevant in molding the most important social enterprises of our era.
We need to reinvigorate public sociology. To be clear, I’m not talking about general volunteer work—helping at a Habitat for Humanity project or a drug-rehab facility, for instance—though those are noble and worthwhile efforts. I’m talking about using our expertise to help develop public policies and alleviate social problems in contexts wherein the experience and data can, reciprocally, inform our work.

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