From: Steven Thiele (
Date: Wed 11 Feb 2004 - 00:57:00 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: the meme/brain problem"

    At 01:53 PM 29/01/2004 +0000, you wrote:
    > <It is true that the great bulk of sociology is intellectually
    >empty. It is a combination of such things as ideology, wishful thinking,
    >careerism and professionalism.>
    >That's an outrageous and almost entirely unfounded comment- yes their are
    >parts of the social sciences that are cringeworthy to other parts of the
    >academy, and to some us within the social sciences too (the cultural
    >relativists and postmodernists spring most easily to my mind), but your
    >comment displays a tremendous degree of ignorance which is unfortunate.
    >If you actually look closely at parts of the social sciences, you will see
    >much that overlaps with approaches from the natural science to questions
    >such as the evolution and development of cultural. Diffusion of innovations
    >work, for example, has mostly been conducted in the social sciences.
    >If you're too quick to dismiss entire disciplines' worth, you won't find
    >anyone outside your own to listen to your views.

    My comment may produce outrage, but it is not unfounded. Modern sociology has been going for about 150 to 200 years. For most of that time the dominant positions in sociology have been Marxism and functionalism. The former is based on the claim that social life is a dialectical progression, the latter that social life is a solidarity. Both of these claims are entirely unfounded. Other early sociologies, variously influential in their time, like that offered by Spencer and Comte, have long been disregarded, even by sociologists.

    In more recent times, sociology has been characterised by a range of different and incompatible positions, most of which must be wrong simply because they can't all be right at once. Sociologists avoid this obvious conclusion by the strategy of presenting the different positions as

    Sociology is a mess and it is time sociologists admitted this.

    This doesn't mean that there is nothing of intellectual value going on in sociology, but it does mean that it is a minor current. If anyone disagrees with this, then spell out what sociologists have achieved of lasting value and then compare this with all the nonsense that sociologists have come up with over the last 200 years.

    If sociology had made a substantial contribution to the understanding of social life there would be no room for deficient explanations like memetics. Memetics only survives because sociology has largely failed in its self appointed task.

    Steven Thiele

    Steven Thiele Sociology Discipline School of Social Science Ph. 02 67732992

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