Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Blast from the Past

Way back in the old days when I first started this blog* I wrote a post dealing with a proposed new subfield of sociology: Astrosociology. At the time I was somewhat critical of the idea, arguing that I saw nothing in the subject matter of this new area that wasn't adequately covered elsewhere. Being the disagreeable curmudgeon that I am, I used this to claim that adding such a subfield would merely fracture the discipline and make us even less effective than we are now.** This post was followed up by a rebuttal, published here on Total Drek by James Pass, the founder of Astrosociology. I won't say that the rebuttal convinced me that my position was incorrect, and the resulting debate didn't help any, but I was content to let the matter rest. I had said my piece and was satisfied.

Since then I haven't heard a great deal about Astrosociology. This isn't to say that nothing has been happening with it, however. Dr. Pass has apparently been a guest on some sort of podcast program, he's published on the online outlet The Space Review, and there's even an article on Astrosociology on Wikipedia.*** I am, indeed, impressed by all this activity.

Yet, the progress in Astrosociology has not been entirely positive. Recently another blogger whom I will call the Sage**** wrote a post dealing with the recent Pacific Sociological Association meetings. Now, I'll be the first one to admit that I've gone to the PSAs several times and, frankly, they're not my cup of tea. I'm a quantitative guy and, by and large, that kind of work isn't very prominent in the PSAs. Moreover, mixed into a selection of very neat qualitative work are a few... oddities. There are always a few panels or papers that make me scratch my head and wonder if a panel on Deconstructionist Literary Criticism was somehow mixed in with our own discipline's work. In any case, the Sage had much the same experience of the PSAs and wrote a brief post commenting on it. In the course of this post which highlighted such oddities as a paper purporting to be a result of collaboration with the afterlife,***** he also had an opportunity to remark on a paper being given on Astrosociology, saying the following (beginning with a quote from the conference program):

"Educating Astrosociologists: The Need to Bring Outer Space Into Social Science Classrooms (the guy's affiliation, not a university, is"

I certainly agree that "astrosociologists" should be better educated, but I think we disagree about exactly how that should happen.

Now, arguably, this wasn't the nicest thing to say but, really, it was pretty innocuous. A little gentle ribbing that, frankly, isn't any worse than the sort of mischief the structuralists get up to with the interactionalists and vice versa. Nonetheless this apparently set off a shitstorm. Sage subsequently posted in his comments two e-mails that were, apparently, sent to faculty in his department. The first is relatively gentle:

My impression from his blog is of a person who habitually builds up his own ego by trashing other people with catty and facile one-liners. I daresay he fancies [himself] clever and witty. He is quite possibly incapable of presenting a cogent and in-depth argument on anything, or else he just gets off on inflicting his puerile, thirtysomething angst on whatever victims happen by. His apparent insensitivity to the Hispanic-American experience is particularly distasteful. I would advise that no one take the time to respond to this person, as his silly blog merely attacks matters that clearly he has not made any effort to understand.

Of course, while relatively gentle, it's still difficult to understand. Sage is many things but insensitive to the Hispanic-American experience? I would argue that, judging by his post, it's quite the opposite. Still, the best was yet to come as a second e-mail awaits our attention:

My impression is that this sociology grad student must have been in a bar hanging off of a stool -- instead of a coffee shop as he alleges -- the whole time he was in Oakland. (By the way, the conference hotel was several miles away from the UC-Berkeley area.) Because as a busily interacting session chair at the PSA conference, I swear to God I didn't see him at the meetings. Proof that he wasn't at the meetings is his recounting of what were in presentations that we have intimate knowledge of and know his stories about them to be false. I hope the Sociology Department did not spend too much on his travel funds.

Actually, the theme of this PSA conference had something to do with sociologists taking a hard look at the discipline and where it is going. That is why I launched the "Pirate Professors, Deviant Departments, and Disappeared Programs" session. The "Astrosociology" session had something to do with expanding the sociological ecology as we enter not just a new century, but a new epoch, as mounting challenges (global warming, the decline side of oil, worsening natural disasters in increasingly more populated areas, etc.) require the direct or spin-off instruments and processes of outer space production.

Not only is this catty 30-something disdainful of the Hispanic-American sociological scholarship experiences concerning Gregory Morales and his mentor Boz, but young [Sage] makes several comments in the material below to show that he is uppity-feeling'd regarding his perceived low-rent pedigree of our affiliations.

He completely miscasts my presentation on the fascist administrative destruction of an internationally, nationally, and ASA-acclaimed department at Niagara University so that those administrators could construct a CJ program on top of it. My talk had nothing to do with General Pinochet or Latin American dictators. But, it had everything to do with the sort of high-handed techniques that European professors experienced as Nazism mounted. What was this young fellow drinking in that Berkeley "coffeeshop," anyway? To be sure, it was [Sage]'s sociological participation at the PSA that was in the "slow lane." Evidence suggests that it wasn't even that -- that he wasn't even on the highway at all, with his parking brake on, sociological imagination disengaged, being in a roadside drinking establishment off the main drag.

Well, in a few years, when this angst-driven 30-something comes to us for some sort of connection, we'll be sure to remember. In addition, the realities of the sociological job market ought to throw him off that high horse he is riding when he isn't riding a barstool in Berkeley coffeeshops. Right now, I'd just love to get put on his thesis committee to help straighten him out. [Emphasis added and some edits inserted******]

Now, back in the old days I was somewhat rude to the folks of Astrosociology and they took me to task for it. Readers can examine what we said and reach their own conclusions. Yet, in our disagreement, we at least didn't promise revenge on one another. What we're seeing in the response to Sage's humorous commentary is something quite different- a sort of vindictiveness that I find difficult to stomach. To be honest it reminds me of nothing so much as the Intelligent Design folk who respond to academic disinterest with cries of persecution. Astrosociology still seems to have a lot of skepticism to overcome in its bid to become a recognized ASA section, but I'm fairly sure that aggressive and shrill tactics like these won't help much in that.

We bloggers have a responsibility, to be sure, but at the same time we're just bloggers. Most of us have relatively little traffic and anyone that takes us too seriously has a problem. Hell, I don't even take myself all that seriously as one can easily see. So, when something like this happens I'm just amazed.

Perhaps Astrosociology will be the next big thing but, seriously, threats and coercion aren't going to get it there any faster.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, Jeremy discusses this same topic and, as usual, does a much better job than I could. Go read him.

* As it happens we're coming up on my three-year Blogiversary in about two months or so.

** I know, I know: no mean feat.

*** Hell, I'm kinda jealous about that actually. Aside from Jeremy and Kieran are there any sociology bloggers with Wikipedia entries?

**** Oh, his name is public. I just really like getting to call someone "The Sage." Makes them sound like some sort of Batman villain.

***** Or at least it sounds that way from the title, "Views of Education from Beyond this World" - Emails and Conversations with my Dearly Departed Mentor 'Boz'

****** Basically I've just removed specific references to the Sage's identity and affiliation. They're easy to find but, frankly, I have little interest in spreading muck any further around and, so, have refused to identify any of the participants directly.

As a concluding note: I will now go back to trying not to comment on my own discipline as it will inevitably get me into trouble. That this is the case really depresses me.

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Blogger TDEC said...

It's a shame that you get in trouble. Keep writing about it though, people generally write best about what they are most passionate about. (Just not all the time. I like the non-sociology stuff)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 7:07:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Bozzo said...

I was bummed to start a post sort-of on the subject only to find out that I'd been beaten to the irresistible "astroglide" reference by nearly three years.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

On the other hand, Tom, it's not like that joke ever stops being funny.

Well, TDEC, in truth I've largely avoided getting in too much hot water for anything I've written but, sooner or later, I'm sure it'll be my turn.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 11:38:00 AM  

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