Sociologists, online and off, spend a lot of time comparing our discipline to economics and debating how it is they managed to become so prominent. The unstated goal, of course, is to make sociology itself more important. In terms of contemporary tactics for that disciplinary project, I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking to political science instead.
For example, The Monkey Cage is a fantastic blog and a major voice for the discipline, now hosted at the Washington Post. In addition to a strong group of regular contributors, the blog also hosts short summaries of research by graduate students and faculty who might not otherwise be able to get their work seen. The result is a venue for political science research to reach a larger set of readers.
Comparing The Monkey Cage to the New York Times’ The Upshot is revealing: The Upshot seems to be run more directly by the paper and hosts content by full-time journalists covering economic issues along with columns by economists. But the number of voices is much smaller, and most of the coverage of new research is second-hand (journalists or academics writing about other people’s work). The Upshot reflects the (relative) dominance of economists in policy discussions, but The Monkey Cage might be a tool for cutting through that. Sociologists are not going to be invited to something like The Upshot any time soon. But maybe we could aim for something like The Monkey Cage.
In a more inward-facing context, the journal PS: Political Science & Politics does not have a clear parallel in Sociology. PS brings together content like discussions of the success of election forecasting models, retrospective book symposia on classic works, innovative teaching tricks, and debates over the best way to structure conferences – and that’s just the most recent issue. It’s somewhere between a section newsletter, ASA’s Footnotes, American Sociologist, and Teaching Sociology. And it’s fun! Here’s a bit from that debate on the modern academic conference, in a paper titled Defending the Federation from the Rom-ulan Empire or, If Conferences Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix Them:
Rom begins his essay with the claim that “The conventional political science conference is a dinosaur, large, lumbering, and increasingly ill-suited for its environment, although extinction does not appear imminent” (2012, 333). Is the dinosaur metaphor accurate? I have not seriously studied dinosaurs since the fourth grade, but I remember that they flourished for more than 150 million years and were well adapted to the environments of their time. They became extinct because an asteroid hit the earth, the original case of “punctuated equilibrium”—too bad dinosaurs could not have read Baumgartner and Jones (1993).
Serious conversations and serious proposals can be silly at the same time. And I admit a bit of envy at how much currency sci-fi references have in political science. PS seems to have captured that spirit well. I wonder what sociologists could do with a similar outlet. At a minimum, we could have a few laughs.