The State of Sociology in the Department of Sociology by Arnold Alamon
by Arnold Alamon
What kind of paradigmatic condition has occurred that would make the department let go of someone that it has taught and trained for the past thirteen years as an undergrad and graduate student, and renewed annually as a faculty member for the past nine years? When a department of Sociology fires a faculty member and subsequently denies her tenure, what does that say about the state of Sociology in that Department? Any other academic unit has the luxury of feigning ignorance about the sociological implications of their hiring and firing, but any self-respecting Sociology department must come to terms with the sociological meaning of their actions especially given these circumstances.
For sure, it is not the academic credentials of the faculty member in question that is found lacking. If that were so, the decision not to grant tenure would have been less controversial since it must be accepted that it takes a certain quality of mind to become a good sociologist. However, the faculty member has fulfilled all the academic requirements for tenure. And this is where this case becomes rife with sociological meaning. Could it be in the kind of Sociology that she represents and realizes that, in a manner of speaking, ultimately did her in?
For those of us in the social sciences, it is recognized that within our disciplines are fields of contestation in ideological persuasion and research methods – two related concerns regarding our understanding of the social world and how we intend to go about studying it. These distinctions are more pronounced in Sociology where each persuasion seeks their own disciples who would pursue the kind of theoretical implications and the corresponding methodological approaches that is unique to each.
Drawing wisdom from multiple theoretical persuasions is regarded by some as the Sociology’s academic strength and it is one of the many unique sophistications that is peculiar to the discipline. While in general, a dominant point of view defines the curriculum in any Department, there is ideally much tolerance and understanding among adherents of competing perspectives based on an appreciation of the divergent historical and intellectual origins of the various schools of thought. In other words, it is inherent in the discipline to have a higher appreciation for differences. But what has taken place in the Department that they have been caused to eschew this liberal trait of the discipline?
As a matter of Sociological commitment and scholarship, the faculty member has challenged a host of traditional and current perspectives pushed by established personalities in the Department. These dominant schools of thought range from the more traditional perspectives that hark back to the functionalist bent of these faculty members undergraduate education in the 60s and the indigenization movement of the 80s; to the more contemporary post-socialist perspectives that draw from the eclectic sources of pragmatism, postmodernism and sociobiology. What binds together these perspectives is their common disdain for a brand of Critical Sociology that insists on the continued relevance of revolutionary change.
Thus, a purge has taken place. Perpetrated not by the usual suspects but by strange bedfellows who have found a common enemy in a young faculty member who found her own Sociological voice distinct from the established personalities and their Sociologies of Capitulation.
The stakes are high for those of us who continue to believe in the emancipatory promise of the Discipline. For in this singular act, the Department has made a declaration on the “State of the Sociology” in the Department. By singling out this faculty member, maliciously accusing her of politically-loaded intentions, denying her tenure and subsequently closing ranks to supposedly defend the integrity of the Department, the tenured faculty seems to be saying that Sociology has no room for the likes of us who believe that the point of Sociology is not to interpret the world, but to change it.