i suspect there is a third way

An example (otherwise unimportant to his argument) that Harry Collins uses to illustrate a concept in his 1998 AJS on evidential cultures:

Consider that there are two ways to organize an undergraduate course in sociology during periods of high politicization of the subject. One can insist that every teacher of sociology presents an unbiased course, so that if, for example, they favor a Marxist approach, they also put the counterarguments, or one can allow each teacher to teach according to his or her biases but make sure that the faculty as a whole is balanced.

Indeed, I suspect that these two approaches are correlated: the more “balanced” the department, the more likely the individual instructors are to be “unbiased” in their courses.

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.

4 thoughts on “i suspect there is a third way”

  1. Don’t both the quotation and your response make the false assumption that the political pressures on a campus are toward balance? Campuses themselves have valances, and in most periods of heightened politicization, one side has a lot more power and or influence than the other, where the relative power/influence varies across places as well as across fields.

    And don’t they both confound the matter of “balance” in competing theories that both have academic respectability with the pseudo-balance of giving equal time to political views that lack academic justification? Do we really need to give equal time to creationism, or the theory that avoiding sex education prevents premarital sex, or the belief that white men are discriminated against in the job market?

    And are there not places in which even including Marx on the syllabus (along with others) is treated as obvious evidence of leftist bias, just as including overtly misogynist or racist texts (even if balanced by non-misogynist or non-racist texts) is treated as obvious evidence of bias in others?


    1. Hi olderwoman,

      Here are two news stories about white men who won court cases based on claims of employment discrimination:



      Here is a news story about white male Frank Ricci, who won a U.S. Supreme Court case based on claims of employment discrimination:


      I’m certainly not claiming that sociology classes discussing bias need to spend equal time on the bias that whites face versus the bias that blacks face or to spend equal time on the bias that men face versus the bias that women face: bias against blacks and women (and against some other groups, for that matter) has occurred for longer and been stronger than bias against white men, so it’s perfectly reasonable and responsible to spend more time teaching about the bias that blacks and women and some other groups face.

      But the balance that I am concerned with is not balance in terms of time but balance in terms of how evidence is evaluated and presented. For example, if we are going to accept a court ruling of employment bias as evidence of bias, then we need to treat that type of evidence the same no matter who the plaintiff is; if we plan to second guess a judge or jury to make our own determination of whether employment bias occurred, then we need to second guess every judge and jury decision using the same criteria no matter who the plaintiff is.

      So, no, it’s not necessary to spend an equal amount of time teaching about employment discrimination against white males. But it might be a good idea to not equate belief in that type of discrimination with creationism.


      1. Sorry for being cryptic. This is a sociology blog not a law blog, so I wrote like a sociologist, which is about the statistical patterns. You are correct that at the individual level, there are particular instances in which a majority person can be discriminated against. I was speaking of the weight of the statistical tendencies. Many uneducated white people actually believe that, on average and controlling for qualifications, it is easier for a minority person to get a job than a white person, while the bulk of the evidence for most occupations goes the other way. It is fair to say that the weight of the evidence in this instance is not quite as overwhelming as for evolution vs. creationism, but it is still quite strong, as your own comment admits.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Avoiding discussions of threatening politics and theories in social science works the same way that avoiding discussion of teenage sexuality did in high-schools — it ensures that the people who continue to engage in that discussion do so with low evidential standards, keeping the topic mired ignorance and prejudice.

    Open dialogue about teenage sexuality has been an incredible success for reason and human freedom. So has the conversation on homosexuality. The idea that we can’t expect the same by inviting controversy on human biodiversity, masculinity, rape, intelligence, materialism, international trade, individual agency, and so forth, seems wrong.


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