Beating up on the sociology degree

I spotted two stories in recent days that suggest sociology majors have no value. The first was at the Wall Street Journal and titled “Sociology and Other ‘Meathead’ Majors“:

In this happy season of college graduations, students and parents will probably not be reflecting on the poor choices those students made in selecting their courses and majors…Most colleges offer a cornucopia of choices, and most of the choices are bad.

The bad choices are more attractive because they are easy. Picking not quite at random, let’s take sociology. That great American democrat Archie Bunker used to call his son-in-law “Meathead” for his fatuous opinions, and Meathead was a graduate student in sociology. A graduate student in sociology is one who didn’t get his fill of jargonized wishful thinking as an undergraduate. Such a person will never fail to disappoint you. But sociology has close competitors in other social sciences (including mine, political science) and in the humanities…

Others try to imitate the sciences and call themselves “social scientists.” The best imitators of scientists are the economists. Among social scientists they rank highest in rigor, which means in mathematics. They also rank highest in boastful pretension, and you can lose more money listening to them than by trying to read books in sociology. Just as Gender Studies taints the whole university with its sexless fantasies, so economists infect their neighbors with the imitation science they peddle. (Game theorists, I’m talking about you.)

I am not quite sure what is going on here as Mansfield indicts a broad swath of disciplines, including implicating his own field of political science. Is he suggesting that the natural sciences are not “counterfeit majors” because they deal with facts? Should colleges be steering all students away from majors other than the natural sciences that are unwilling to make value judgments? Mansfield seems more interested in making inflammatory comments about other disciplines than in providing solutions to the problems of the modern university. And the affirmation of Archie Bunker’s views of his son-in-law seems strange considering Bunker’s conservative and inflammatory viewpoints.

The second putdown came in the opening to a piece about the spelling bee in the Washington Post:

The National Spelling Bee, now underway — or it it weigh? — is a hilarious concept. What better way to announce to the world at large that you have a totally useless and unmarketable skill — besides, I guess, framing your sociology degree? You’re a world-champion speller, eh? Do you also play the mountain dulcimer? That might have more practical applications in the workforce.

I’m guessing this is supposed to be facetious but still, it suggests a sociology degree is akin to having a “totally useless and unmarketable skill.”

Perhaps this is all part of the larger discussion about the value of college and getting a job but I suspect there will be many more opinions thrown out there about certain disciplines and sociology in particular. It looks like sociologists should continue to think about how to best describe the value of sociology for both our students and the broader world.

0 thoughts on “Beating up on the sociology degree

  1. Before you beat up on a major, remember, it’s not necessarily the major itself causing all of these problems. Universities have to sell their programs in those 100 level courses. Here they will tell students that their program is everywhere, they will fly with the status of the degree alone, and that they all will have an upper hand when they graduate. Generalist or specialist, there is a curse one bears when someone reacts to this marketing expecting degreed status to bring employment.

    A specialized undergraduate, such as engineering, might know a foundation with an brief area of specialty that might be marketable by title alone. The curse is that thousands of others also have completed this same program and the competition is tough. One needs that specialized knowledge to get in the door. However, if everyone else has it, one must still study more to move ahead.

    A similar curse comes about when a generalist foundation is studied–each course is another introductory course with skills that aren’t marketable by title. Lots of generalist information is studied in the undergrad but what can you do with it? The average American might look at a 300 or 400 level soc book by title thinks that they already saw this information on the television. The intorductory foundation becomes a tough sell until performance in a specialized area is achieved.

    It’s not necessarily the major that will cause you pain. If you make your career choice using a simplistic paradigm, i.e. these are the crappy majors, these are the good majors, let’s take the good majors, you will find yourself unemployed in the same hole. Status will not market your degree. You must respect the discipline you have studied and build on that so it is presented effectively and engages when new situations anre introduced. That is a tough lesson and it takes time.


  2. Ahhh but what if the major bears a stigma? There is no such thing as a sociologist and if an employer sees that you couldn’t figure that out and change your major, then the major will causse you pain.


  3. Six months later….It is more difficult to gain an entry level proessional position just because one needs an applied skill that fits the position. Sociology will fit the world of academia but in the applied world its a hard sell….sigh


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