10 Things Sociologists Know That You Don’t?

Hans Noel, a political scientist at Georgetown, has a fabulous, short, readable paper called Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don’t (The Forum, 2010).* The paper reviews major findings in American politics research, mostly focused on campaigning, in a style aimed at interested non-academics. Noel starts with research on how fundamentals (mostly involving the economy and wars) determine most of the presidential vote, and then goes on to talk about the difficulties of interpreting survey results in light of the fact that most people don’t have strong opinions on most political topics and thus their opinions are very malleable in a polling context. I highly recommend the paper.

Reading it got me to thinking: what would a sociologist’s version of the same look like? What are 10 findings that we consider pretty well-established that we would want, say, every journalist or politician to know? This is a very different question from the idea of “principles” of sociology, in some ways it’s the exact opposite end. What are our most important and still not widely believed findings?

I think my top candidate would be something involving how much racism still exists in the labor market, drawing on Bruce Wester and Devah Pager’s work (for example). The figures are simple to explain and hit home the point incredibly well. Other race-related findings could involve the tremendous, unprecedented boom in US prisons (and the racial disparities therein) and the persistence of intense segregation. Last, I’d be tempted to include “Brown v. Board mattered less than you think” (following on Rosenberg’s The Hollow Hope) as a lead-in to discussions of how enforcement matters as much or more than court decisions.

What else would make the cut? What about from organizations or economic sociology?



  1. Amanda

     /  September 17, 2011

    Meritocracy is a myth.

    • I’m especially a fan of the point that meritocracy and equality (of outcomes, anyway) are mutually opposed even in principle. Lemann’s “The Big Test” is a nice history of the idea and practice of “meritocracy” through the history of the SAT.

  2. Thinking about it more, I think some of the findings around public opinion and climate change fit in here, for example:
    Most people think there is debate among climate change scientists about whether or not climate change is real and caused by humans, but actually the vast majority of climate scientists believe that. Believing that climate science is inaccurate has become an article of faith among Republicans, such that more educated Republicans are more likely to disbelieve the science, while the opposite is true of Democrats.

  3. That Braverman was right about de-skilling as an inexorable part of the labor process reaching more and more of the workforce. I was thinking of his writing on the separation of decision from execution when I saw a set of interviews on meaning and work today, which included this quote from Dan Ariely:

    “Now, I think in the modern workplace, we do the same thing. Think about something like SAP. You have this incredibly complex and expensive accounting and control system that take big complex project, break them into pieces, everybody does one little piece.

    I remember when I was at MIT and my assistant basically filled out one part of one form as most of their job in terms of doing accounting. Then somebody else would do another part of the form and somebody else would approve it.
    From his perspective, he never knew what was going on. He only knew there was this form with 15 fields and he was in charge of three of them and that was it.

    And you can ask yourself whether companies are doing a lot of that. Whether by hailing efficiency and breaking jobs into small components, we’re basically eliminating people’s ability to find meaning.

    I think we are weighing an Adam Smith kind of efficiency against meaning in labor, and I think the scale often tips too much towards efficiency and not enough toward meaning.”

    Link: http://bit.ly/pd6G6h

  4. The insight that the processes constituting and underpinning markets are not market processes in themselves is a fundamental, and widely ignored, insight from economic sociology.