the Discipline for Branding Purposes Only
The January 2008 email newsletter ASA Member News and Notes highlighted a statistical fact sheet produced by the ASA’s Research and Development Department on The Health of Sociology. The importance of this topic warranted a more detailed treatment, and additional information would have made the fact sheet more meaningful and credible.
For example, a more complete portrait on salary would have indicated the median score on salary as well as the mean. Salaries vary widely not only by region and by level of professorship, but also by the relative status of the institution. They also vary widely between sociologists working within and outside of academe. For most of the sociologists that I know $66,207 is an all-but-unattainable dream salary.
The Health of Sociology also reports an increase in the number of available positions. What kinds of positions are being referenced here and what am I missing? There seem to be fewer positions listed in the ASA Job Bank, not more. I have noticed the increasing tendency of academic institutions not to automatically replace old lines as attrition occurs. A more comprehensive picture of employment trends in sociology would have demarcated the percentage of positions that are full-time, tenure-track academic positions, adjunct, or otherwise non-tenure-track positions, and positions outside of academe.
Finally, The Health of Sociology reports, "More than 43 percent of eligible members voted in the last (2007) ASA presidential election... the highest rate of voter participation among disciplinary societies." Is this a relevant indicator of the relative health of the field, and should it really be a point of pride that not even half of ASA members bothered to vote?
While I appreciate some of the changes that the ASA has been making over the past few years (e.g., striving to become more inclusive and less hierarchical, working to acquire a politically relevant voice, website innovations), I am concerned that the organization may be ineffective in addressing many of the pressing concerns affecting the majority of sociologists.
- The slow but steady erosion of the system of tenure;
- The increasing use of adjuncts;
- The pressure on faculty to use assessment tools that are of questionable relevance;
- The vast disjunction between sociology courses at the elite schools versus mainstream institutions and community colleges; and
- The significant publishing imbalance between the glut of textbooks that regurgitate the same ideas (in increasingly simplistic, and practically speaking, irrelevant terms) and the works of a minority of scholars who are given carte blanche to pursue their versions of innovation.
In light of recent developments in sociological theory abroad (e.g., Bourdieu’s theory of habitus and the reproduction of cultures in education), it would appear that the field of sociology in the United States is contributing to the very social problems it claims to be ameliorating. Historically there has been a tension within sociology between individuals seeking to professionalize the field and those seeking social change through critical sociological discourse. In my view, the ASA, like the nation as a whole, is undergoing an unprecedented shift toward professionalization for the first time in more than a quarter century. It is beginning to question the value of organizing social relationships in terms of the managerial model.
Does the fact sheet "sell" sociology well? Perhaps, but should that be ASA’s driving concern? The innovations that I see taking place within the ASA may be good for branding purposes, but appear to be doing little about the real challenges facing sociologists in higher education today.
Nathan Rousseau, Jacksonville University