I want to leave this post open ended and relatively short. So let me state my proposition straight away.
In my opinion several aspects of modern sociology along with a good part of gender studies put forward political propositions that are either utterly vague and non-committal, or when they do commit turns out to be unprovable and non-falsifiable claims. This apparent behaviour is not primarily because of the complexity of the subject, but for its inherently shaky foundations and vacuous content.
A statement has explanatory power only if it reduces the complexity by a good deal. Therefore any stream of knowledge that attempts to explain the world or parts of it, should necessarily explain itself first. The order of complexity in explaining itself should be lower than what it intends to explain. Your experiences prevent you from knowing this ultimate truth is not a good argument; far from it, it exposes the proposer’s lack of depth. In practical terms, this would mean that a well founded knowledge stream should produce accessible books and/or other resources, that are intended for a lay audience. The shock value or non-intuitive nature of an idea is not a deterrent to its accessibility. Consider quantum mechanics, string theory or evolutionary biology. They are as non-intuitive as it can get. Any 9th standard kid can read and get the flavour of these “complex” ideas. But why not Derrida’s deconstruction, Foucault’s discourses on power or Third wave Feminist theory?
Sociology departments award three times more number of degrees than physics departments in USA (data from 2015). Now compare this with economics departments, and we see thus:
Now, let me tell you a little bit as to where this comes from. As a school kid in late 80’s and early 90’s, I was into quizzing among other extra curricular activities. It is not that I was a well known whiz kid among the quizzing circle, but I could dabble. My memorising ability was not exceptional, but curiosity made up for it. For that very reason, I did not miss any chance to explore ideas, the cool sciency, mathsy, literature fancy stuff and a few lesser ones too in the old fashioned way — books, newspapers, magazines and TV documentaries. Through this way, I already had an introduction to a lot of history, classic fiction, science and mathematics that I came to learn afterwards. There was however a huge exception to this rule — social sciences excluding economics and psychology. Looking back, it makes me wonder that even in this era of wikipedia, there are very few books if any, or a new form of presentation, accessible to an school kid when it comes to many advanced social sciences. Think about it; you can get dazzled reading introduction to relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics, number theory, calculus, geography, economics, philosophy, statistics and even evolutionary psychology, but very little of gender theory or modern sociology.
Well many people might not be convinced. So let us look at some proxy evidences. Here is a good list of popular (layman) books in quantum mechanics (643), cosmology (201), number theory (104), biology (1182) and economics (173) books from one of the most active book review sites, goodreads. The listed number of books, as of 30th September 2017, is given in brackets. The number of books in popular sociology section is 245, of which many falls into popular economics, anthropology, psychology and brain sciences categories too. In my view, many are wrongly categorized. Even if we take things as granted, very few down to earth books on the advanced topics that sociology deals with such as gender, race, power and privilege, exist in that list. Why is this so?
Now here are a few plausible explanations, I could think of. More ideas are welcome.
- Lack of patronage.
- Lack of enthusiasm by the proponents of the discipline to communicate to a larger audience, or a form of concealed elitism.
- Lack of interest as far as lay audiences are concerned.
- Inability to make a clear, concise and simple communication, or shaky foundations.
I will rule out 1 and 3 immediately. The number of students who opt for these courses in developed nations is good enough an indicator for the patronage and interest aspect. I will definitely argue that 2 exist, and this is very much visible as against scientists working at the highest levels who want to reach out to high school students in their language. My thesis however shall be that 4 is the most accurate explanation. When you make it clear and simple, you have to answer some difficult questions. If you fail there, the whole edifice will get exposed. Or am I wrong?