not that there’s anything wrong with that

Have you ever seen one of those screwball comedy scenes in which the regular guy protagonist walks into a bar and only after a few bumbling scenes and conversations filled with misunderstanding and innuendo does he realize… hey, everyone here is gay, this is one of those gay bars people talk about?

I was intrigued by the conference I’m attending because it seemed ideologically diverse, as opposed to sociology discussions in which people often only seem to voice about 3% of the electromagnetic spectrum of political opinion. So I’m sitting there and it takes me the better part of the morning to realize… hey, this conference is not ideologically diverse, I’m only one of two people who seem like they have left of center views*… and why does this organization called the Liberty Fund seem to have a higher profile than, say, NSF?… wait, this is mostly a conservative conference!

At dinner, one of the fellow participants talked about how “sociology is the sewage system of social science.” Then a couple minutes later he asked if I was in political science. “Sociology.” A fair number of negative references to sociology had already been made by then, and by that point I think I had already felt a little bit like one of the repeatedly shocked dogs in the learned helplessness experiments.

* Left to the center of the electorate, I mean. I’m not left of the center of sociologists.

Update: To repeat what I said at the conference, I actually like ideological diversity in intellectual conversation. Also, I suspect many of the people had political positions there that are not easily categorized on the left-right spectrum. And, I had a good time at the conference and am thankful to its organizers, so I hope this post didn’t sound like a criticism of them.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

9 thoughts on “not that there’s anything wrong with that”

  1. At dinner, one of the fellow participants, about whom much could be said, talked about how “sociology is the sewage system of social science.”

    I know several well-known Liberty Fund conference junketeers who talk like this all the time. None of them, in my experience, has any kind of non-clichéd view of social science. Some of them are actively stupid. But they certainly have a grand old time sucking on the teat of liberty at various fine locations around the country.


  2. Is the Liberty Fund merely libertarian? Many of them are principled and intellectually honest and open minded–at least the small-l ones. I distinguish b/t “libertarian” and “conservative.” Some of my best friends are libertarians and Fed Soc types. I think they call me, lovingly, their little commie. My North Vietnam-defecting dad would have a fit to hear that.

    Of course, in the political spectrum of sociology, I’m relatively conservative, or at least moderate. Like, I’m not a Marxist anarchist, and while I definitely argue for equality of outcomes, FDR’s second bill of rights, universal healthcare, social and economic justice…I do so within the current political system and even current free market economy. It’s all contextual. I get accused of having false consciousness all the time!

    The political ideological spectrum of academia has always intrigued me. It so changes per discipline, group, sub topic. Especially if you’re interdisciplinary, like I am. It’s weird to travel in diffrent circles. I feel ya, J-Freese. You must feel like you’re a tourist right now, lost in translation.


  3. Oh, and qualification: that remark made to you is totally dumb, and if Liberty Fund peeps are like that, well then, maybe they are just conservative blowhards. I was merely commenting on the spectrum of “conservativism” and how it must be considered relationally to the much more liberal soociology crowd. So being merely libertarian, to this law geek person living in a world of Fed Soc judges, isn’t so conservative, but it might to the sociologists.

    People are always telling me to go to the Institute for Humane Studies for grants. I feel weird about that, since I am SO not libertarian, and yet would love to have some research funds.


  4. They attract some interesting people. Some friends and colleagues of mine attend their events sometimes. (There’s a ranch north of town here that they like to use sometimes for conferences.) But they have their fair share of hacks, too, and it’s a good place to go if you want to hear some fairly boring views about the state of academia.

    The best thing about the liberty fund is their excellent and very cheap editions of hard-to-find stuff in classical social, political and economic theory. Many are freely available as PDFs. (Often, funnily enough, these editions are reprints of texts originally edited by Marxist economists — like Sraffa’s edition of Ricardo, or Meek’s stuff on Smith.)


  5. Is it Liberty Fund or Liberty Counsel (

    I don’t recall anything sponsored by Liberty Fund but Liberty Counsel does a lot of these sorts of things and the comment you received would more fall in line with Liberty Counsel. There press release on CA Supreme Courts opinion on gay marriage today is proof of that.


  6. Liberty Fund. The link in my post is correct.

    BTW, I do not want my post to be construed as any kind of commentary on the organizers of the conference, who I’ve enjoyed meeting. (I do actually enjoy talking to people with diverse points of view.)


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