Thursday, October 19, 2006

Silent Sociology

In my field (Sociology), the best wave of writing was done by the Silents and came out in the 50s and 60s. The boomer writing that followed just doesn't do it for me in the same way.

I'm thinking of writing along the lines of
Berger and Luckman's [i]Social Construction of Reality[/i], [i]Sacred Canopy[/i], [i]Invitation to Sociology[/i] and many others
Mills' [i]Power Elite[/i], [i]Sociological Imagination[/i] and others,
Mills' english translation of Weber and others,
the resurgance of ethnography in community sociology,
and so on.

That period captures something interesting going on in Sociology. It was a cusp between the functionalists and industrial sociologists of old (How can we tweak the industrial system to make it more efficient?) and the neo Marxists (What is the lived experience of being a factory worker?). But the neo-Marxists brought an energy into analysis, and a perspective that had been ignored for 50 years. They blew fresh air into a stale discipline, but at the same time, the old analyses weren't completely discredited. By the time I hit grad school, that old stuff had been reduced to ridicul-ous strawmen. And the new fresh analyses were starting to feel stale. The thing is though, is that the originals weren't stale, just those who fancied themselves in the newer tradition.

Talking with colleagues, I have wondered why this is. Why that tigh focused period of such good writing? On the one hand, the old stuff was a little shopworn. The new was fresh, and needed, and ripe for exploration. Forty or 50 years later, the neo marxists feel pretty pathetic. Sociology is ripe for another revolution.

Randall Collins [i]The Sociology of Philosophy[/i] suggests that academic generations are about 35 years long, or the working life of a scholar. The neo marxists have certainly been going at it for 35 years. Strauss and Howe's Silent Generation kickis in here too. These guys would have seen the good stability of a solid social system in their youth, and they would have seen the benefits of opening up to the awakening as solid adults. This might have given them a perspective that made for such good analysis. The boomers that follwoed BELIEVED the awakening line. The GIs that preceded them BELIEVED in social stability. But the silents in the middle would have had a decent, fairly mature, vantage point from which to see the costs and benefits of each.

At any rate, the time has come for a new generation of writing in Sociology.

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