booing david brooks

[Discussed here by Doug Hartmann and here by Brayden King.]

David Brooks received the ASA award for “Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues”–an award begun as part of the recent desire for more public sociology. Apparently some people booed and such when the award was announced. I wasn’t there; neither was Brooks. Question: Are we talking a lot of jeering or a little? I know some people were worried there was going to be full-throated nasty insurrection and that appears not to have come to pass.

Given that Brooks was selected for an award through a clearly defined and ostensibly reasonable ASA process, is it okay for folks to boo the announcement?

Granted, I can’t imagine a circumstance under which I would boo an award-winner–although I could see myself discreetly walking out or simply refusing to attend. People have deeply held moral convictions and feel compelled by them; there is no sociology without passion for social issues, and “social issues” is right there in the award’s title. It isn’t like booing the person who wins Best Dissertation. Sure, it’s always a problem in sociology to figure out where the authentic expression of deeply-held moral convictions ends and less noble Kanye-esque moral preening begins, but that’s a different matter.

Myself, I wish there was more ideological diversity in sociology, because I think it would increase the public credibility of our profession, so the idea of there being at least some pretense of diversity of the folks we give awards for public reporting to is appealing.

It is interesting to imagine a scenario where Brooks had been there, which I presume would have provoked an even more boisterous negative reaction, and all that had been captured on video and uploaded to YouTube. (Perhaps alongside this video of one sociologist’s take on Vegas.) Would the interpretation of a person-on-the-street been “You go, sociologists, stand up to power!” or “Whoa! Why’d they give him an award if they were just going to be tacky about it?”

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 “booing david brooks”

  1. Not sure why one would go to the presentation in order to boo it, but if he said something particularly nasty I could see being so moved. Ultimately I prefer frankness to civility if we have to choose.

    I remember when Donna Shalala addressed ASA in New York – sometime around 1996, I think. She was generally critical of Clinton’s welfare reform dismantling, and several colleagues yelled out “why don’t you resign” (presumably in protest).


  2. Re Donna Shalala, I’m pretty sure I ran into Fran Piven before that event, and she said she was planning to ask Shalala why she wouldn’t resign. I don’t know if Fran called out from the audience, she might have.

    Re Brooks, do we know who booed? My opinion about the meaning of the event depends on who did it.


    1. I was there. It was indeed Fran Piven who asked Shalala why she didn’t resign (the policy change had already happened by that point, and Shalala was regretfully recapping the details of it). However, she didn’t shout it from the audience; she waited until her turn in the Q & A. Frankness and civility. There were many cheers from the audience in support of Piven’s question, but then Shalala had time for a thoughtful answer, which I recall to be mostly about a concern that she and Clinton were staving off some much more harsh cuts proposed by Republicans, and she wanted to be present to mitigate the harm of the new policy.


  3. Today Brooks wrote ( Paraphrasing Republicans’ message, “Middle-class families no longer have to practice thrift because they know they can use government to force future generations to pay for their retirements. Dads no longer have to marry the women they impregnate because government will step in and provide support. … There’s much truth to this narrative. … Nanny-state government may have helped undermine personal responsibility and the social fabric, but that doesn’t mean the older habits and arrangements will magically regrow simply by reducing government’s role.”

    ASA can give awards to conservatives as far as I’m concerned, but that’s just empirically ridiculous.


  4. i’d be interested to know the degree to which we have ideological diversity among sociologists, beyond the simple labels ‘are you a democrat or republican, liberal or conservative.’ something a bit more indepth, like views on abortion, welfare/state programs, religious conviction, taxes, immigration, etc. i would imagine that it would look a bit murkier. i would guess it would also vary by program, city, region, etc. for instance, i did undergrad at binghamton back in the 80s and assumed all sociologists were angry, radical marxist/world systemers. then i got to virginia in the 90s and came in for a rude awakening. some conservatives, lots of jackets and khakis (few women at the time), little in the way of the ‘typical’ rabble rousing leftist sociologist or grad students…


  5. I don’t buy the claim that ideological diversity would generate more respect for the discipline. I don’t think ideological diversity in economics, for example, leads people to respect the discipline, but it does allow partisans of all stripes to find someone with expert credentials to find someone to cite. Similarly, biologists are all over the place politically (save on the need for public funding for research), but there’s still a very large fraction of American opinion that is unconvinced by things that they do agree on (e.g., evolution), and find some authority with some kind of degree to cite instead.
    Basically, we need to be honest, and to try to educate our audiences about how social science works and how it can help. Here, we’ve done a pretty crappy job (as a society).


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