Today there will be a little less Drek in Total Drek.
However, while I do believe in free speech, I also recognize that I post from behind a curtain of anonymity. (Now, I know you didn't think I was actually named "Drek." Where did you think my family was from? "Bullshitistan?") As such, the individuals and groups I discuss in my posts do not have the opportunity to face me squarely. I regret this, but prefer anonymity as, among other things, it allows me much greater latitude to be appropriately vague when it is advisable and possible to be so. As a consequence of this, I think it not inappropriate for me to make certain reasonable accomodations for those who wish to respond to what I write.
And so, it is with great pleasure that we embark on what I hope will be the first in a series of rebuttals from those I have discussed on this blog. Today's guest, Dr. Jim Pass, is the primary advocate for the establishment of an ASA section devoted to "Astrosociology." When he contacted me a few days ago to take issue with my thoughts on this effort, I invited him to provide me with a rebuttal to post here. I am pleased to say that he has taken me up on this offer. So, without further ado, please give a warm welcome to Dr. Jim Pass.
Astrosociology: A Necessity Rather than an Absurdity
First, let me thank Drek for this opportunity to reply to his earlier comments regarding the establishment of astrosociology as a new subfield. His offer allowing me to respond is accommodating even if the tone of his remarks was not quite so generous. (The material below consists of excerpts of a copyrighted paper currently under development). As laid out here, my response centers on two major statements (of many possibilities) pertinent to astrosociology, and reflects ongoing points of contention of those who oppose it. For the most part, my responses are on a general level.
Statement 1: The study of human activities related to space, from a sociological perspective, reflects an important undertaking.
I start with this statement due to the demeaning response that the general subject matter generates among some sociologists. Even the term "astrosociology" results in disapproving remarks by some. Critics of my basic proposal sometimes respond with jokes about Tang, "the final frontier" and "putting the ass in astrosociology" as many of you are aware. I have only one question about such critical approaches: Is this truly necessary? "Outer space" receives ridicule as well, but in sociology, the term "space" possesses several meanings. I believe it is wise to make this distinction.
In contrast, societies value space exploration. Ultimately, human beings and organizations, constituents of societies, will move further into space for cultural as well as practical reasons. (I am sure none of us favors a dystopia in our future!) A spacefaring future is a legitimate possibility. We are more likely to move into space than back into caves, humor notwithstanding. The arguments against astrosociology seem dated as we continue to move forward in our expansion into space. Current measures such as the number of human beings in space are irrelevant to the overall trend. That is, the pace of progress in space is less important than its inevitability.
It should be obvious that sociological inquiry in this area of social life is an important undertaking despite detractors. A lack of interest by particular individuals is not equivalent to the irrelevancy of an entire subfield. Other specialties are of less interest to me, yet I do not call for their removal from the discipline.
Statement 2: As a discipline, sociology inadequately covers the areas of study related to outer space.
Many oppose the establishment of astrosociology because they claim existing subfields, such as the sociology of organizations as well as science and technology, continue to cover the pertinent issues without consequence. As a first step to counter this view, permit me to list a few of the areas proposed to fall under the purview of astrosociology:
organizations in the astrosocial sector; space policy; space law; international cooperation/conflict regarding space; spacefaring future and its characteristics; cultural influences on human activities in space; impact of space sciences and technologies (including contributions to solving social problems and "spinoffs"); space advocacy and education; the roles of the state and private enterprise in space; the influence of the military; and practical astrosociology (e.g., sociologists involved in the planning of space communities and other "hands-on" efforts).
As things now stand, how many subfields are required to cover all of these areas of sociological inquiry? Is this situation truly manageable? I argue it is not.
By bringing together unorganized areas of concentration currently considered separately, with space serving as the underlying theme, astrosociology possesses the promise of allowing a single literature to develop. This new organized approach potentially provides for a greater chance to move forward at a reasonable pace. Sociologists specializing in Marxism, criminology, and all other subfields enjoy this same advantage. Unquestionably, outstanding sociological works related to space do exist, though that is not the point. The problem lies in their disorganization within the existing structure of the discipline.
Disorganization has a major consequence. Overall, the sociological study of space remains underwhelming. Only a new subfield dedicated to this area of social life can generate interest, not to mention a level of legitimacy that is clearly absent. The study of human behavior related to outer space continues to attract ridicule even though thousands of human beings work in areas related to space, and have been doing so for decades. How has the
space age affected society? How much do we really know? Respectively, the simple answers to these questions are tremendously, and not much!
While I, too, worry about the proliferation of unneeded subfields and specialties in sociology, proposals with merit that demonstrate a need for establishment must not succumb to unexamined rejection. The sociological community will ultimately decide on the intrinsic worth and necessity of astrosociology. Whether or not the establishment of astrosociology as a new subfield becomes a reality, it deserves a fair hearing, and serious consideration, without the unwarranted contempt already evident in some circles. If any subfield deserves serious consideration as we move further into the "final frontier," it is this one.
I thank you for your time and consideration of my proposal to establish astrosociology as a new subfield. I welcome your responses.
Well, folks, that's it for me (Drek) today. If you have any questions or comments for Dr. Pass, please use the e-mail account he supplied above. You can also leave comments here, which I will forward to Dr. Pass, but if you choose to do so please clearly indicate that your remarks are directed to him. Or, you know, just send them directly and avoid the middle man.
Editorial Update: The original text I received from Dr. Pass contained numerous hard carriage returns. I have removed them as best I could, without destroying the intended paragraph structure, so as to ease reading. Any errors this introduced are entirely my fault.