May 22, 2017

A Decade of Everyday Sociology

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Our Everyday Sociology blog turns ten this month! In this time, we have posted over 900 blog posts, received more than 8,000 comments, and have had nearly 6 million visitors.

It’s a good point to take a moment to reflect on this project: how have we succeeded in starting a sociological conversation, and what still needs to be accomplished?

It’s hard to imagine that when our first post ran in May 2007, Twitter was just a year old, and Facebook had just started accepting all users ages 13 and up the year before as well. Blogging was rare enough in academia that few sociologists had their own blogs; it was so novel that the American Sociological Association’s Footnotes newsletter included an article that featured several sociologists who had started blogs (some of whom have contributed to Everyday Sociology).

Since then, social scientists’ voices are everywhere online, using blogs and all forms of social media to share findings and insert a social science perspective into public debate.

But has the conversation become more enlightened by social science research? As Jonathan Wynn recently wrote, the results are mixed. Sometimes we can learn more through online interactions with others, if we are open to learning. In other instances, the online interactions can easily get ugly because of those who spew hateful comments or spread false information parading as news.

As a Pew Research Center Report details, these are challenges that many observers are trying to figure out: if there is some sort of online moderation (human or otherwise) that moderating might limit free speech. Without it, though, some online spaces might devolve even further. Other experts quoted in the report suggest that new forms of artificial intelligence may be created in the future to weed out the worst abuses, or that as we become more identifiable our “online portfolios” may be gathered and perhaps serve as a deterrent to verbal abuse.

We’ve seen this on our own site. Our comments are moderated, and we try and maintain a classroom standard. Commenters are free to express their opinions and to disagree with ideas shared in our posts, but profanity, personal attacks, or language that would otherwise not be tolerated in a college classroom is not acceptable in our comments section. We try to keep this site as safe as a space as possible for people to share dissenting ideas without being attacked.

But starting a sociological conversation is about more than sharing opinions; it should be based in thoughtful analysis of empirical observations. In plain English: sociology is a science and its practitioners collect data and draw conclusions based on that data.

True, sociologists might look at the same data and come to different conclusions, perhaps by looking critically at the limitations of a study’s sampling method or suggesting an alternative interpretations of the results, but these assessments are based on understanding of previous or related research, rather than on opinion alone.

We might call analysis “informed opinion”—just like two doctors might diagnose your symptoms differently based their interpretation of their findings. But a good doctor doesn’t dismiss your symptoms because they don’t fit in with a particular worldview.

Our goal is to get readers engaged in more analysis, and to encourage them to think critically about how members of a society come to view their social world. This can be a challenge, especially if we learn to take for granted some ideas as truths, or if we learn that questioning a taken-for-granted truths seems to go against some of the groups to which we belong.

The same goes for social scientists. We should never stop researching, keep observing our social world, and continually be willing to let go of previously held beliefs if our data no longer support a particular conclusion.

As for us ESB sociologists, we will continue to try and spark conversations about how sociological concepts can help us better understand our lives and the lives of others. We invite you to join us in our second decade, and help us keep the conversation going.

Comments

Congratulations on making this far. I hope you continue your work and share us your thoughts. Good work !

good work.continue in the same spirit

Brilliant content is sometimes impossible to find! 

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