They say you should never read below the line after you publish an article in the public domain. Yes, but what if you’re a sociologist? You have to read the comments – it’s your job to know how society reacts to a particular viewpoint. Besides, one of a sociologist’s prime traits is extreme nosiness. So I look. My favourite comment came after I had written in a national newspaper about being a working-class academic and living on a council estate: “Where is her child’s father?” a reader demanded. That was just class – in every sense of the word.
Nosiness or someone who likes observing other people and social interactions? When sociologists describe what makes them tick (or at least how this is written in textbooks for Introduction to Sociology), people watching or a curiosity about social behavior is typically invoked. This could happen through reliable and valid data (in its more scientific and publishable forms) or through eavesdropping, seeing with your own eyes, and even acting within social situations (see breaching experiments as an example). Sometimes this is described as a sociological imagination. Such interest in the actions of others could be interpreted as nosiness, particularly if social norms are violated, but I hardly think reading online comments counts: reading such comments is observing actions taken in the public domain.