Lately, some of my Facebook friends have been posting a link to Herbert Gans’s 2002 entreaty to become public sociologists. In it, Gans states that anybody can become a public sociolgist but cautions that “Audiences are the ultimate gate keeper” and that “public intellectuals must be willing to speak to topics that interest them, and with frames and values that are comprehensible and acceptable to them.”
The above photo, in which a bookstore’s Social Science section (which consisted of one shelf) has been overrun by Bill O’Reilly, indicates that we might not be doing the best job of this. The Social Sciences section was next to the politics section, so it is likely that these books overflowed from there (although I would argue that they don’t belong there, either!) but I couldn’t find a single book on this shelf that was actually based on social science research. The next shelf was related to crime and was filled mostly with the “true crime” genre.
I think that Nathan Palmer’s recent reminder that, for our students, we are the public face of sociology is important, but we still appear to be failing Gans. If none of sociology’s best sellers appear in a bookstore in a rural area of the country and people’s idea of sociology itself is derived from Sudhir Venkatesh’s appearance on the Colbert Report, then maybe we are too focused on what our colleagues think of our work and not focused enough on what our neighbors think of it.
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