restricted access 6. Sociology’s Next Decades: Centrifugality, Conflict, Accommodation (1990)
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131 Within the past two years, a book bearing the title of The Future of Sociology (Borgatta and Cook 1988a) made its appearance. In that volume , some thirty sociologists surveyed the present and gazed into the future. Some commented on the field as a whole; some on institutionbased subfields such as historical sociology; some on subfields dealing with social control and social change; and some on subfields dealing with stratification (for example, race relations). Not surprisingly, sociology’s future looks like the proverbial elephant being described by several people touching its various parts. In another way it is like a Rorschach ink blot, possessing only vague objective characteristics but stimulating a myriad of idiosyncratic fantasies on the part of its viewers. The reader is told that the field is simultaneously fraying around its edges (Borgatta and Cook 1988b), losing theoretical validity (Turk 1988), and needing salvation by applied research (Berk 1988). Glimpses into the future of subfields found demography thriving and expanding (Pullum 1988), mass communication emerging from decline into resurgence (Ball-Rokeach 6 Sociology’s Next Decades centrifugality, conflict, accommodation (1990) From Cahiers de Recherche Sociologique, no. 14 (Spring 1990): 35–50. 132 l a t e r e x p l o r a t i o n s 1988), urban sociology remaining sluggish substantively but active methodologically (Lee 1988), educational sociology becoming more policy oriented (Gordon 1988), and social psychology spreading from cognition toward affect, emotion, and motivation (Cook and Pike 1988). Interestingly, however, none of these seers regarded the field as moving toward integration or intellectual synthesis; rather, the opposite trends were seen everywhere . This theme merits a central place in any prognosis for the field, including the one I will develop in this essay. The reasons for the disparity of these prospective accounts are not dif- ficult to discern. For one thing, different subfields will indeed differ from one another in their future development and location within the larger field. Second, each prognosticator brings his or her individual preferences and prejudices to bear. These are likely to be especially salient because the future is in fact unknown. And finally, prediction about the future means, above all, making selective assumptions about the stability or change of parameters affecting the field or its subfields; depending on the pattern of those assumptions, predictions about the future will vary widely. In this essay, I will try my own hand at forecasting. I will proceed by three steps: first, to identify some broad societal trends affecting sociology, including some trends within higher education; second, to suggest broad directions of change for the discipline suggested by these trends; and third, to locate certain bases of conflict and bases for accommodation and integration. The picture will be complex, presenting a myriad of independent , convergent, and divergent trends. My remarks will apply mainly to the American scene because I know that scene best; but at the same time, it should be noted that some of these observations are generalizable, in varying degree, to sociology in other parts of the world. some contours of societal change Sociology has always been a field that has been responsive to social forces and social changes. Its subject matter—social behavior, institutions, and culture—is the focus of normative, ideological, and moral sensitivities in the larger society, and these sensitivities constitute pressures on the field. s o c i o l o g y ’ s n e x t d e c a d e s 133 In addition, social changes constitute changes in the subject matter of the field, forever inviting it to keep pace through understanding and analyzing them. Any view toward the future of sociology, then, should specify the broad directions of those changes that are most likely to constitute factors conditioning the evolution of the field. In this connection, the following trends can be identified: • The long-term trends toward societal differentiation, in progress for centuries, will not be reversed. This trend toward increasing complexity will continue to create problems of integration of society and to increase the role of integrative agencies, including government. The established governmental functions, including big welfare, big administration, and big government involvement in the economy, will not recede. For that reason, the great administrative-state-rational complex noted by Habermas (1975) will continue, though one can be less certain about the validity of all his claims regarding its impact on the human condition. • The trends toward increasing internationalization of production...