Transforming American Sociology

No. 104

Transforming American Sociology:

An Agenda for the 80's an 90's

T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute

April, 1984


#104 TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.


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Transforming American Sociology:

An Agenda for the 80's an 90's

American sociology has grown blindly in response to social, political and economic factors for the past ninety years. Since the days of Comte, Spencer and Durkheim, sociology has had little capacity to reflect upon itself, to locate itself in the larger politics of knowledge or to set an agenda for itself. There have been notable and useful efforts to set the knowledge process in a social and historical context. The speculations of Marx and Weber on religious ideas and practices, of Gramsci and Mannheim in the social location of political ideas, of Horkheimer and Habermas on the dynamics of scientific ideas as well as those by Popper, Friedrichs and Kuhn on the transformations of science have been especially helpful in framing the task, setting an example, and offering some well founded statements about how the knowledge process works.

Merton has done some very useful historical work as well as some descriptive work. His editorial efforts (1977) are typical. Among the questions he poses are those which relate to the institutionalization of science, the development of specialties, the genealogy of ideas, the names of seminal thinkers (if not their social location and political agenda). Wherever one goes in the sociology of science, one finds that Merton has been there. But however extensive and valid are the works on the sociology of knowledge, the fact remains that we are still in the prehistory of American sociology. We do not set our own research agenda as a collective nor do we accept responsibility for the privileged use of the knowledge we produce. The suggestion here is that we, collectively, set an agenda oriented to human rights, informed by a dialectical model of truth and pointed to policy processes located in the public sphere. The point is not to study more the political economy of science but to change it.

There are many things to learn from the sociology of science and sociology but for the purposes of our paper, the thing to note is that sociology is presently shaped by special interests of power, class and nation (Diesing, 1982; Agger, 1984); that there have been great transformations in sociology. The lesson to be learned is that there will be more changes. The moral to be taken is that there is much work to do before science comes to escape the hegemony of privileged sectors. The political agenda to be set is to facilitate a transformation of sociology, social science generally, science more generally and the knowledge process widely conceived, in such a way as to harness these to the human project. The knowledge process in its many faces must come more fully under human aegis and must be linked more closely to a specific but trans-societal and trans-cultural agenda of human emancipation. Human rights and the knowledge process must be brought into consonance.

Recognizing the useful and valid character of the previous work in the sociology of knowledge, still I want to say that there is more to do. It is not enough to locate the knowledge process in social history, it is not enough to describe the workings of science and the distortions of it. It is not enough to do useful work oriented to emancipation. The task of emancipatory social science is to set a political agenda, to control its own future, to specify the objectives of human knowledge explicitly so they can be subjected to collective criticism. The task is to take the knowledge out of its prehistory and to move it toward post-history if by prehistory we mean a condition in which the knowledge process is subject to the blind forces of genetics, demographics, economics and politics . . . if by post-history we mean a condition in which knowledge is produced and used with collective purpose, awareness and understanding. We can begin that transformation if we accept that the production of knowledge is mediated by class, corporate and national privilege, that most people are alienated from the production of knowledge and harmed by the deployment of it in every existing society.

The working assumption of this paper is that American sociology is not now linked to the human project. In my view, sociology is a knowledge process organized by a small set of professionals--some 12,000 in the States and fewer than 50,000 in the world. There is a political economy which shapes directly and indirectly the research agenda; the theory building process; as well as the policy process. In my opinion, this political economy in the West is one of advanced monopoly capital with its liberal program of paternal and marginal welfare for students, workers, poor and prisoners; with its program of expansion of the corporate model (bureaucratically organized) and with its effort to facilitate the concentration of wealth, status and power in the first world.

In the socialist bloc, the knowledge process is also distorted to serve the interests of an elite . . . a bureaucratically organized socialist state headed by a communist party arrogating unto itself a monopoly over the knowledge process. It does not serve for sociologists in either bloc to point at each other as instruments of distorted sociology, social science or science. The miniscule advantages each can claim over the other do not redeem the greater harm done to the knowledge process and, therefore, to the human condition by such elitist knowledge system and policy processes.

In the Western Bloc, Europe, the Americas, Japan and Southeast Asia, the political agenda has many dimensions, which I want to sketch out below. In the Eastern Bloc, the project will be different and, perhaps, more difficult, but those who wish to link sociology to the human project must start at home. In the Eastern Bloc, we must rely upon our Socialist colleagues to transform the knowledge process--it is not our first responsibility to point at the failings of the socialist camp. Our first responsibility is to set our own methodological and theoretical house in order. Across political economies, sociologists may support each other, offer constructive criticism, and embark upon the necessary comparative research projects. But we may not use the distortions in one epoch, in one social formation or one political economy to mask the flaws or to celebrate our own political economy. There is much to be done in each and every social formation.

In the sections which follow, I would like to set forth a political agenda for American sociology. In the next section, I will suggest a few guidelines for the human use of human knowledge. In the third section, I want to propose an agenda for each of the major fields in sociology today. Finally I will close with a summary statement.

A Sociology for Human Rights: There are several projects which American sociology must initiate and continue if it is to be joined explicitly to the human project. First, there is the identification of a set of human rights which answers to a decent and rational society but does not preclude the recliners and diversity of the 3000 to 5000 cultures already created by human genius. In other work, I have identified a set of such rights. That set requires a sociological agenda such that:

  1. The dignity of each human is augmented and the integrity of his or her community strengthened thereby.
  2. The apparatus of social control and those special costs to society are reduced.
  3. The necessary harmony between groups, societies and regions is facilitated without freezing inequity and oppression through a false and oppression peace.
  4. The necessary harmony between human society and the larger environment of the earth is enhanced.
  5. Some approximation of balance between the productive capacity of the earth and the rate of consumption is achieved without the gross inequalities of feudal, slave, or capitalist societies.
  6. Such incentive and reward structures are instituted as will recognize merit and special effort without distorting the allocation of fixed and variable capital to necessary institutions.
  7. Such tensions, stress, anxiety and insecurity as are necessary to stimulate the music, poetry, philosophy and literature which explore the light and darkness of human venture are present without the terrible physical violence now employed.
  8. Such international relations and inter-societal relations are safeguarded as will encourage the diversity of culture and social institutions found among peoples of the earth.
  9. Such intergenerational relations are instituted as will balance the costs and burdens of social change with the richness of the cultural heritage for new generations.
  10. Such resources are allocated as will inform and inspire each new cohort of young people to the social process. The society which ignores its children imperils not only their humanity but the humanity of the entire society.

The first task then is to accept the fact that the knowledge process is always political. The only remaining question is what politics are served. The agenda suggested here is that the politics of sociology be openly anchored to human rights rather than to class, national, or cultural hegemony as is now the case in both East and West.

A second task for an emancipatory sociology is the "relentless criticism of every thing existing." We must measure the performance of law, sports, medicine, school, military, family and politics against the standards above or some better set. We must establish the indicators of human dignity and despair, monitor positive and negative changes and keep these social data before the public. Measures of longevity, of creative work, of suicide, crime, infant mortality rates, caloric intake of kind and quality, of divorce and child abuse all and more must be monitored continuously, linked to the workings of the social totality and reported regularly on the nightly news. These are far more helpful to a policy process linked to human rights than are the Dow-Jones indices or the stock market reports which preempt so much of the public space.

A third task for sociology is linked to human rights in the creation and evaluation of well organized field experiments in education, child care, health care, corrections, socialization, work and political participation. Naturally occurring experiments are to be preferred over contrived experiments. Cross-cultural comparisons, especially between capitalist and socialist formations, are particularly desirable. Single experiments outside of history and social conditions are inadequate research sites. Gaming, modeling, simulating, or predicting from existing conditions are poor substitutes for cross cultural, diachronical research designs.

A fourth task is to revise the structure of theory and research. Our present organization of the knowledge process in American sociology is to produce a general theory of society using the method of successive approximations. I suggest this is impossible in the first place and pointless in the second. There is no one final, eternal, fixed and unchanging laws of society to be discovered. Human societies are human products. The laws of physical nature may be eternally fixed but the laws of society are historical --they vary in time and place. The proper task of research sociologists is to empower people to create their own social institutions with their own special, limited regulations. The point is not to study people in order to discover the general laws but to empower people so they can change the laws of society in ways answerable to the collective good.

This means that the model of research in American sociology which assumes a quest for general theory must be discarded. The idea of a hypothesis, of testing it, and of revising it until one has a proposition is a nonsense notion if, indeed, all social laws are historical. If there is no general theory of society, it is foolish to set forth a research protocol which assumes and tries to get closer to the "truth." The theories of Comte, Spencer, Marx and Parsons did assume universal laws of society. Graduate departments in American sociology still assume that there is an objective and absolute truth about society somewhere out there to be discovered and that the proper role to the social scientist is to discover and report it together with some estimate of its validity.

It is a model of society from the middle ages. It assumes society is a gigantic clock, created by a perfect creator, and left ticking away smoothly for people of limited intelligence to figure out. It assumes that if the clock doesn't keep time perfectly, it's because human beings are imperfect or because they have tampered with the mechanism. It is a conservative model of society and of sociology well designed to accept whatever inequities and privileged social arrangements exist in whichever of the 3000 to 5000 different clocks one happens to be telling truth by.

This critique of social science has been mounted time and time again. Still American sociology is organized as if such an enterprise were possible-as if there were objective and eternal laws of social relations existent. The interactionists have told us that social reality is constructed, that it is more or less negotiated and that it takes a lot of interpretation to treat any given activity as if it were a valid instance of politics, marriage or murder. Still we reject the constructionist emergent, and variable character of social reality in preference to a static, external model of society. Anthropologists have reported thousands of differing ways of doing marriage, religion, and economics. Still we look for the one universal model. Psychologists have told us that deviancy is a political term and madness is a social control concept. Still we use these as a means to explain away distress, variety, and resistance in established social formations.

Marx and a thousand others have told us that politics shape the knowledge process and that what little passes for science we have today is little more than a self-serving ideology best understood as an exercise in celebrating whatever social formation in which it appears. Still we teach generation after generation of innocent young people that there is one model of truth; that ours is the proper way to do science, to do marriage, to do criminology and to do politics. We strip the knowledge process of its history and of its sociology. We exculpate ourselves by mentioning other, more conflict and critical theories of knowledge but we abort the knowledge process in the same instant by a testing process in which the student is expected to reproduce the model of truth held by the professor.

There is a different research and teaching format which assumes that social reality is variable and that the knowledge process may be oriented to praxis rather than to objective truth. Comstock (1980) has assembled some of the work on praxis social research and has laid out the difference between the method of successive approximations and the method of progressive empowerment.

Figure 1. Steps in the Research Methods of Positive
and Critical Social Sciences (after Comstock, 1980).
Positive Social Science Critical Social Science
1. Identify a scientific problem by studying the results of past empirical and theoretical work. 1. Identify social groups or movements whose interests are progressive.
2. Develop empirically testable hypotheses which promise to improve the theory's explanatory and predictive power. 2. Develop an interpretive understanding of the intersubjective meanings, values, and motives held by all groups in the setting.
3. Select a setting (community, group, organization, etc.) which is suitable to the scientific problem. 3. Study the historical development of the social conditions and the current social structures that constrain actions and shape understandings.
4. Develop measures and data-gathering strategies based on:

    Previous research
    Observations and interviews in the setting
    The investigator's own "common sense"
    Knowledge of social processes

4. Construct models of the relations between social conditions, intersubjective interpretations of those conditions, and participants' actions.
5. Gather data through:

    Existing documents and texts
    Surveys and interviews

5. Elucidate the fundamental contradictions which are developing as a result of actions based on ideologically frozen understandings.

    Compare conditions with understandings
    Critique the ideology
    Discover imminent possibilities for action

6. Analyze data to test hypotheses. 6. Participate in a program of education with the subjects that gives them new ways of seeing their situation.
7. Alter laws and theory in light of findings and restate scientific problem to be addressed by subsequent research. 7. Participate in a theoretically grounded program of action which will change social conditions and will also engender new, less alienated, understandings and needs.
Return to Step 1. Return to Step 2.

In order to create an emancipatory sociology it is necessary to change from a monolithic and unchanging model of truth to a constructed and democratic process of truth of the sort set forth in Figure I.

A fifth task in the transformation of American sociology involves the establishment of linkages with the public sphere. This means that the encapsulated character of the sociological profession must be reversed. Rather than drawing more sharply the boundaries of a professional sociology, the emancipatory task is to locate the production of social knowledge in those sectors of society presently excluded.

Consulting, applied research and participation in advisory bodies are inimical to emancipatory sociology. To arm the state and the private corporation with factual knowledge only reproduces the structure of privilege and institutionalizes alienation. To turn knowledge into a commodity to be distributed through consultancy reports, scholarly journal subscriptions and participation in professional conferences is an exercise in intellectual hegemony. There is a role for professional organizations such as the A.S.A., the I.S.A., the M.S.S., P.S.A., S.S.S.P., S.S.S.I., and the S.S.S. among other pleasant and friendly organizations but it is a far different one from that presently set forth.

To link these together is well and good; to link them together to serve state and class interests is another thing altogether. The central linkage between the professions must always be to the public sphere. The role of the various associations must always be to facilitate the democratic production and use of social knowledge rather than the impersonal and internal use of social knowledge.

This means that the publication of scholarly knowledge in professional journals is inadequate if not hostile to the human project. Just as the research format must be changed, so must the reporting format. The task is to write and report sociological findings in plain language and in plain view. If Sociological Quarterly, Qualitative Sociology and The Insurgent Sociologist are getting more readable, the American Journal of Sociology, Telos and The American Sociological Review are getting less readable. Just as physicians use an esoteric language to maintain their control over the distribution of medical knowledge, sociologists use their own private language systems in the
same fashion. Whatever the intent, the effort has been to exclude the very people who most need social knowledge . . . the poor, the worker, the illiterate and the unorganized.

David Simon, at North Florida University, has urged that American Sociologist use the mass electronics and print media to distribute social knowledge. Rather than scholarly journals, or in addition to them, American sociology as a democratic endeavor needs to allocate as much or more resources to public information as to private systems of knowledge distribution. If we sponsor six quarterly journals, we can also sponsor one weekly news release from the office of the professional association on significant changes in social indicators, on significant results of comparative research and on significant improvements in quality of life at work, school and home.

There is much to be done before sociology lives up to the vision of Comte, Marx, Ward and Sutherland as a venture in the human project. Others will specify other tasks and that is well. Others will critique these suggestions and that is good. Still others will argue for the present system of production and distribution of knowledge and the present relationship between producer and user. There will be political battles. People will get hurt. Careers will be destroyed. Invisible colleges will be made visible and old-boy networks dismantled. These are inevitable in any kind of revolution. They are necessary and desirable. The structure of class, gender, racial, and national privilege must be dismantled. We must take, as our client, the collective good, the general public, the human project. Anything less is unworthy of the trust vested in us by the workers, farmers, and families which support us, of the students who believe us and of the citizens who need us to help them build a decent social life world.


In this section, I would like to present a few suggestions for the transformation of substantive areas of American sociology. These suggestions are offered within the framework of the discussion made earlier and should be considered within that framework. The areas below are offered as exemplars from which a critical agenda may be derived for still other areas. Those who work in other substantive areas are invited to develop their own agenda for critical theory, research and teaching.

Critical Social Psychology. The central task in social psychology is to investigate the structural factors which impair the symbolic interactional process. Rather than adducing research which supports the position that social life worlds are created by intending subjects; that self and society are twin-born; that mind is a collective product and that meaning is an interactive process, emancipatory research should treat each assumption of S.I.T. as problematic. The research agenda is to gauge the degree to which self emerges in socialization as a stable, significant mediator of individual behavior in army, school, bureaux, factory or church. Or whether wages, orders, commands, job or boss are the central mediators of behaviors. The research agenda is to locate the processes which distort and abort the symbolic process. Authority, mass media, advertising, management science and private languages of professions all subvert the assumptions of symbolical interactional theory and convert social psychology from an interactive process to a managed, cynical and privatized, unidirectional process. In the Index, I have specified some of the assumptions of contemporary social psychology, most of them untenable in the structure of social control found in prisons, schools, sports or work organized in a mass, bureaucratically organized system. Each assumption needs careful testing.

A second agenda for a radical social psychology is to connect macrostructural theory and analysis with micro-structural analysis. In a number of papers and lectures I have said that what is structure at one level of analyses is process at a more micro-level. In general all of the constraints of the larger structures of society shape the interactional process in face to face activity. In the same moment all of the face to face interactions over time and place constitute those structures. Emancipatory social psychology must always locate everyday behavior in the larger historical processes in which they occur and have meaning. Emancipatory social psychology must locate the openings for progressive transformation of alienating relations and develop the micro theory of social change by which women, minorities, workers, students and third world people may more directly shape the larger structures. This institutes the necessary dialectic between micro and macro structures embedded in the vision of humanism and romanticism which informs all progressive social science.

A third agenda for critical social psychology is a thorough study of the division of labor in the construction of social reality. As wealth and power is concentrated in the nation-state or in the multi-national corporation, the technical capacity for the shaping of consciousness--thinking, feeling, and behavior--increases proportionally. Whole cadres of mind managers are employed to serve the ideological needs of the nation and the corporation. The various media, especially television, becomes an instrument of false consciousness which falsifies all of the fundamental assumptions of symbolic interactional theory. These assumptions do describe a praxis knowledge process. The task of an emancipated social psychology is to work to institute the social and economic conditions under which, once again, these assumptions may be valid; where self and society are twin-born; where the structure of social activity is a result of a mutually constructed meaning process. A study of mass media is central to a study of social psychology today.

The assumptions of symbolic interactional theory are falsified as well by the five great structures of domination: class, gender, racial, age discrimination as well as national and international hegemony.

It is not enough to study interaction in a small group. It is not enough to show that lines and dots and cruelty is determined interactionally. We must also study the way in which the knowledge process is distorted by professionalism, by private ownership of the media, by systematic advantages enforced by the rich capitalist nations over the poorest nations in the world. The technology of psychological domination is mediated by power and privilege and will only reinforce that privilege and power. Emancipatory social psychology must help organize to censure, to resist and to transform the distortions of symbolic activity.

Critical Criminology. In this part of this paper I want to help build a critical criminology which would serve the policy needs of our crime-ridden society. The emphasis here is upon prevention of crime by instituting programs of social justice. Rather than production for profit, the emphasis here is upon production for human need, for community, and for praxis. I suggest five transformations through which a contemporary criminology must pass en route to a critical criminology.

A. The focus of American criminology must change. At present, American criminology is little more than a reporting service which describes the variety and incidence of predatory crime. In order to get a comprehensive theory of crime and anti-social behavior, a mature criminology must make trans-societal comparisons, must examine anti-social behavior in the context of the social formation in which it appears (Horton and Platt, 1983). An adequate criminology must contrast wrongful behavior to the social factors and social formations which produce prosocial behavior. It should study social relations and social position rather than individuals. It should study the position a society has in a world system of economic production and political privilege rather than just the people caught, indicted, and imprisoned. But most of all an advanced criminology must not be mystified by conceptual constraints which deflect attention from the research designs which challenge the legitimacy of existing social formations.

B. Persons separated from the means of production and thus from systems of distribution may reunite production and distribution by a) selling one's labor power, b) applying for state welfare, c) turning to a kinship/ friendship structure, d) seeking charity from religious and fraternal organizations, and e) crime. Disemployment does predict upon crime rates against property (Balkan, 1983: 68), upon imprisonment rates (Balkan, 1983: 70), and upon family violence (CBS Reports, 13 August, 1983). If one wishes to pursue policy which inhibits crime, labor intensive systems of full employment would be advisable.

Persons located in a consumer-oriented economy and with income inadequate to pursue such high levels of consumption are objectively in a crime-prone position. This includes doctors, lawyers and professors whose income cannot match expenditure requirements for an affluent middle-class life style. People who have no secure relationship to the means of distribution after retirement must, if prudent, accumulate far more than they can possibly spend in order to provide for an uncertain future. Corporations, caught in a profit squeeze, beset by employees demanding high wages, retirement benefits, medical benefits, vacation benefits, unemployment benefits, safe working conditions, control over the work process and respect on the job are in a crime-prone situation.

Add to that competition from other national and foreign corporations, environmental protection laws and taxation patterns all in a context of a demanding Board of Directors and profit hungry stockholders, venal politicians and suppliers and one has all the ingredients for corporate crime. One does not need genes, ethnicity, childhood trauma or heat waves to develop a theory of corporate crime. Generally, a critical criminology studies people and organizations in the social relations in which they must live out their lives.

C. Criminology in the U.S. is severely crippled by the definitions of crime. Since the crime-defining process operates within the logics of any given social formation in history, the concept of crime varies with the logics of the economic, political, familial, and religious institutions making up that formation. Endangering the health of workers, consumers or future generations is antisocial but not illegal in the narrow definition of crime in a capitalist system or in a legal system controlled by capitalist logics. Since the law making apparatus in the U.S. is controlled by the rich and powerful (Domhoff, 1967; Parenti, 1974), the concept of crime is bent in their direction. American criminology accepts that bias as unproblematic.

American criminology needs a concept of crime anchored in a theory of human rights and a theory of necessary repression rather than one anchored in the logics of exploitative and privileged politics.

D. There are in the U.S. several justice systems. The criminal justice system is for the poor, the young, and for minorities. It embraces retributive justice. Private justice systems are for white collar criminals and corporate criminals. They operate on the nexus of distributive justice. The Medical Justice System is used to keep the middle class out of the Criminal Justice System. It operates on the idea of individual welfare. Psychiatrists, Clinical Social Workers, Physicians and Clinical Psychologists provide gentle and sympathetic treatment for drug addicts, alcoholics, shoplifters, murderers and child molesters who happen to be wealthy enough to claim sickness or madness successfully. A sociology of crime control would examine side-by-side alternative methods to get a safe and decent society. An adequate criminology would examine all of the social control systems in a society, make side-by-side comparisons of them on a number of variables and facilitate the movement toward social justice by evaluation research.

E. Cuba, China, the U.S.S.R., and other socialist countries emphasize social justice and they do better in creating crime-free relations (Shelby, 1981; Brady, 1982, Cantor, 1974). On all the important measures of social justice, socialist countries do better than countries with private capital systems of production and distribution (Cereseto, 1983; Gorin, 1983). Organized racketeering, government corruption, street crime and political oppression have been substantially reduced in Cuba and China (Brady, 1981: 22). Moscow, Havana and other major socialist cities have safer streets now than before the Revolution. But it is not socialism per se which creates a low crime social milieu. It is social justice. Among the Hutterites there is no murder, no divorce, no robbery, no exploitation, no drug abuse, no mugging or sexual assault and there is no poverty, no emphasis on privatized consumption as the essence of the good life and no exclusion from the means of production or distribution. In Cuba, China, as in other low crime societies such as the Hutterites, community, prosocial behavior and social justice take precedence over profit, private accumulation, and affluent life styles.

If we are to deal with the ravages of crime: rape, assault, murder as well as crimes against property, a vastly different policy of social control is required. One could not design a society more conducive to crime than is ours if one tried. American criminology has not given America the theory it needs to develop such a prosocial policy. Instead it mindlessly focuses upon non-structural factors and studiously ignores social and economic factors which produce corporate crime, white collar crime, street crime and political crime. it is in sad disarray having sold itself to a primitive criminal justice system in which it has no other role than to collect and report crime statistics, to train workers and to write poorly focused scholarly articles. It is a pathetic apology for the status quo and a disreputable discipline on the take from the state. It should be banned from all respectable universities -- or at the least placed on probation until it gets its theoretical house in decent repair.

Critical Dimensions in the Sociology of Medicine. There are several tasks here. The first is to locate the dynamics of illness and death in the political economy in which they appear. The second is to generate data comparing different modes of production and health indicators. Third is the necessity to snap the structures of stratification and the growing concentration of control over the health process. Fourth is the truth of relocating medical knowledge from within the profession into the general public by helping to set up democratically organized health systems. A fifth task is to make visible alternative health care approaches--in addition to the physiological/chemotherapeutic model currently dominant. Sixth, it is essential to focus upon the mechanisms by which the doctor-entrepreneur extracts surplus value from nurses, orderlies, aides, patients, government agencies as well as insurance companies. Seventh, medical sociology should carefully monitor health indicators in the more deadly industries: tobacco, asbestos, chemical farming, textiles, nuclear power and weaponry as well as violence against the poor, the sick, and the defenseless. And a critically oriented sociology of medicine must examine the extent and means by which one nation exports its health problems to nations in the third world. Finally, an emancipatory sociology of health would make very visible and very audible the social sources of masculine and feminine panic which produces so much violence toward women and so much cutting and drugging of women. It is not enough to treat women and children after they have been beaten. An adequate system of health care must work to prevent it.

Stratification Theory. American sociology dishonors itself by producing the theory by which the stratifications of wealth, power and social honor are reproduced. Rather than adducing evidence from history, from zoology and from anthropology about the inevitability of stratification, American sociology should adduce evidence about democratic relationships and develop participation theory. Textbooks on the subject give no space to participation theory while displaying prominently chapters and sections on stratification theory.

A critical sociology does not merely describe the reality of a historically existent practice: a critical sociology helps transform society toward rational and decent arrangements that never have existed. But the case for participation theory does exist from a hundred folk societies, from a thousand cooperative and egalitarian relationships in this society and from the urgent need to widen the base for political expression and action.

An emancipated sociology would make side by side comparisons of participatory relationships with stratified relationships on measures of social justice, measures of health, as well as on measures of conflict and economy. Only after these side-by-side comparisons honestly weighed dare one speak of the inevitability of oppression. Still writer after writer, theorist after theorist, teacher after teacher makes these claims without having looked at the data. In this respect, sociologists are not scientists nor are they moral actors; they are the clowns and fools of the court who amuse the princes and popes of the earth. Such sociologists may be invited to consult with presidents and may win honors in academic societies but, in the same moment, they betray the trust vested in the office of a scholar and a moral human agent.

Conclusion. I have argued that the time has come for American sociology to set its own agenda rather than to drift aimlessly on the political and economic winds of various nation states. There are human values to which the agenda should be responsive if we are to constitute ourselves as a democratic discipline oriented to social justice. These include a) an explicit commitment to human rights, b) a determination to serve and shape the policy needs of a conflict-ridden society, c) an explicit opposition to the five great structures of domination: class, gender, racial privilege, age exclusion and authority relations, d) we need to relocate the knowledge process and move it from a professional monopoly, increasingly commodified into the general population as part of the process which creates a public sphere, e) we must accept and honor other ways of knowing then those based upon fact and inference--understanding, inspiration, and insight are also important, f) we need to build the research and theory for participation in opposition to that produced for stratification.

There is much to do before American sociology becomes an emancipatory science. And, even so, sociology has but a small part to play in politics. Still the need is great. Whatever we have done, it has not helped produce a decent social order. Inequality is increasing within capitalist countries and much more so between rich and poor countries. Crime is at unacceptable levels. The disemployment of workers and peasants continues especially in poor capitalist countries. Child abuse and distorted sexuality threatens the human project. Hunger and starvation spread even as science and technology improve the production of food. Eighty some countries, mostly in the capitalist bloc, use torture and murder as state policy. In the U.S., police, militia and military are called out in times of trouble to reinforce an exclusionary politics and deployed against workers, Blacks, migrants and antiwar protesters. While we are comfortable in our universities, corporations and institutes, injustice and misery increases. While our relationship to the means of production is secure, that of our students, our children, our neighbors and our friends abroad is not. We may observe, report and lecture on such travail or we can act on our sense of moral outrage and oppose it. History will judge us harshly if we remain aloof from such misery. We will be seen as collaborators as have other intellectuals, clerics, and technicians in feudal, slave, or fascist societies. We have a right to act morally and should do so. We need not be the agent, object and instrument of the will of various ruling elites. We can transform American sociology.


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Horton, J. and T. Platt
1983 Crime and Criminal Justice under Capitalism and Socialism. Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.
Kuhn, T. S.
1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1962).
Merton, R. and J. Gaston
1977 The Sociology of Science in Europe. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Parenti, M.
1974 Democracy for the Few. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Popper, K.
1960 The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Hutchison and Company (1934).
Shelby, L.
1981 Crime and Modernization. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.
Young, T. R.
1975 Crime and Capitalism. Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.

1981 Prologue to a Sociology of Human Rights in Humanity and Society 5 4:282-290.

1983a "Underground structures of the democratic state." The Mid-America Review of Sociology VIII, 4 (Winter).

1983b Crime and Medicine. Red Feather: The Red Feather Institute.


  1. Behavior is organized via symbols. Through interaction, the symbol comes to call forth the same feelings, meanings and behaviors in all persons.
  2. The symbols get their meaning through prior social interactions but;
  3. Symbols take their meaning in a specific context through situated interaction. Thus it is possible to say that mind is a collective event.
  4. The use of symbols by a second person shapes the behavior of a person if:
  5. The other person is defined (previously or now) as a significant other.
  6. By 4 and 5 above, it is possible to say that self and society are twin born.
  7. A person's self is constructed by person and other(s) in the use of symbols which communicate to others which, of several, social identities is being presented and which, via symbols, is affirmed by other.
  8. The other plays an important role in shaping one's self in, firstly, recognizing the right of the person to present that social identity (affirmation) and secondly by participating with the person in shaping the situated embodiment of that social identity.
  9. There is clearly a negotiation involved in the situated behavior of every behavioral event involving two or more persons in face to face interactions.
  10. The linkage between self and society also is made by virtue of the fact that social identities are the psychological aspect of status-roles.* Status-roles are the specific pattern of duties and responses associated with a given social status.
  11. A third link between self and society is to be found in the role (status) allocation process. 11a. Some persons are permitted to take some status-roles and not others. 11b. Some persons are not permitted any status-roles. The latter are referred to as "nonpersons." Prisoners, orphans, minorities, and some handicapped persons are cases in point.
  12. All status-roles are binary; thus at least two people are required for a status-role to be embodied; for a social identity to be presented, and for consciousness to occur within that status-role.
  13. The significance of an other usually derives from his/her legitimate entry into a status. Such entry entails "face rights" or the right to be recognized as situationally present. Such "presence" gives one the responsibility for participation in constructing self and society.
  14. The legitimate entry into a status-role is ordinarily via a three-part socialization process involving (a) recruitment, (b) configurational learning and (c) a ceremony of passage.
  15. Social identities are internalized by means of the socialization process. This constitutes a fourth way in which it is appropriate to speak of self and society as twin-born (and thereby to speak of a social-psychology).
  16. By the time a person is an adult (12 years in some societies; 35 in others), that person ordinarily "possesses" five or more social identities: gender, kinship, tribal (or national), age-grade, marital, and occupational.
  17. Internalized social identities are used in a self-reflexive way by a person to organize his/her own behavior in broad outline.
  18. Which of several social identities will be used to organize one's own behavior depends upon the kind of "social reality" under construction . . upon the definition of the social situation commonly understood.
  19. The kind of social reality to be constructed is determined by a process called the "definition of the situation." There is usually one definition of the situation (work, family, religion, play, and so on) for each internalized social identity.
  20. The social occasion is defined by a four-part process often called the "self-fulfilling process."
  21. The self-fulfilling process requires (a) an "idea" of a social occasion (church service, funeral, party, class, or factory), (b) a reification process by which the idea of a social occasion (a situation) is treated "as if" it were real. In the consequence, it usually becomes real if, (c) there is a situated run of behavioral performances which bears congruence to the idea of the occasion in question. Congruence is ordinarily determined by public visible and public known standards. The fourth requirement for the prophecy to be fulfilled as an instance of social reality is that it must be (d) tied to the construction of a distinctly social-life world. It cannot be mere "tom-foolery," "horsing around," "just-pretend," or other non-serious play.
  22. Parallel to and over-riding of the self-system as the central organizer of behavior is the normative structure--a set of externally imposed rules for maximizing standardized behavior and minimizing individual variation in symbolic interaction.
  23. Norms are communicated via symbols until they, also, are internalized.
  24. Parallel to the self-system as the central constraint on behavior is the sanction system. There are formal and informal sanctioning systems entailing rewards and punishments.
  25. Sanctions are always conventional. That is to say that the efficacy of a giver reward or punishment is determined by a symbolic interactional process by which pleasure or pain, cost and benefit, good or bad is defined into that event. Sanctions vary with cultures.
  26. The generic assumption of symbolic interaction is that all social behavior is produced by converting epistemological categories (ideas) into ontological categories (social facts) via a culturally determined reification process. Social reality has no bases other than that temporarily acknowledged by intending humans. There is evidence that dominance structures, territorial structures, and aggressive structures are inborn in anthropoids but the degree to which these shape authority, property and conflict behavior is unclear.

*In the literature, some writers speak of roles when they are referring to statuses. Roles do vary for some statuses. Return

Democracy is a much abused word when used in reference to Latin America. Some people include military dictatorships which use murder, torture and imprisonment as examples of democratic nations. The Reagan administration uses this meaning and sends billions-of dollars - mostly in military goods to these countries to help support them. Brazil, Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, and Guatemala in Latin America are democracies, part of the free world, friendly states and anti-totalitarian in this use of the word.

Cuba and Nicaragua, at the same time, claim to be the most democratic states in Latin America in spite of the fact that elections are not yet widely available. The Communist party in Cuba keeps a monopoly to itself over the economic and domestic policies. In Nicaragua, there is a nine-person ruling junta which is not constitutionally grounded or as yet validated by contested and open elections. In both Cuba and Nicaragua, an elite make policy while workers and peasants are free to implement it. Yet claims of democracy are made.

How is a student at CSU to make sense of all this doublethink and doublespeak? By which economic systems are the people best served? In which directions are the various countries headed? All of these questions must be answered if one is going to be able to take a reasoned and moral position-on all the struggles surging back and forth over Latin America. I would like to offer an overview of this for those readers who wish to inform themselves a bit of Latin American Week at CSU. There are other analyses sharply different from this one. One should judge this one on the coherence of the overall picture - and compare it to others on the same terms.

Latin America doesn't have the economic resources to handle the costs of three different economic programs: it could do two but not three. A first program is to build the infrastructure of a decent and democratic society oriented to social justice. A second economic program is to support the local structure of power and privilege. The third is to fuel the multinational corporations and. renew the world capitalist system. By the 1970s the international banking system had drawn Latin America into the world economy and by taking profits out of the system, hurt both the capacity for social justice and for local elites to thrive.

A quick look at the world capitalist system enables us to see the troubles and the solutions. After World War 11, the United States dominated the international market. Our factories and workers turned out a huge stream of consumer and producer goods for export. We prospered in the 50s and 60s and instituted several programs of social justice based upon this undisputed position at the top of the world capitalist system. But Japan, Germany and other European countries began to take back part of the world market. With the spread of communism in East Europe and China, more markets were lost. By the 1970s the United States could no longer afford programs of social justice at home and, at the same time, support the huge costs involved in its job as policeman for the world capitalist system. If Europe, Asia, Africa and the Mid East are no longer our market, then Latin America certainly is. President Monroe said so President Truman said so. President Reagan said so. We need to sell goods and bring food from Latin America or our prosperity is threatened.

So Latin America is torn three ways. The local bourgeoisie is represented best by D'Aubuisson in El Salvador or by various rightwing dictators in Latin America. They want to use the surplus value of workers for a luxurious lifestyle, to import consumer goods as well as put some cash in Swiss banks. The young university trained professionals in Latin America want its limited resources for programs of social justice: health care, schools, local industry, improved agriculture, better wages and working conditions as well as some resources for the elderly. Inspired by Marx and Jesus in a curious mix, these Latin American Yuppies have won elections and have instituted reforms. In doing so they have offended multinational corporations and are bounced out of office by military officers linked to the old exploiting class composed of the landed gentry and the local bourgeoisie. The right wing in Latin America have then systematically murdered the lawyers, professors, union leaders journalists and other progressive people in Argentina, Brazil Bolivia, Uruguay, El Salvador Guatemala, Nicaragua and other countries.

The United States, always seeing democracy as the freedom of American based corporations to move capital in and out of a country, take over local markets, hire and fire workers, or travel freely, uses three weapons in Latin America to support the freedoms of multinational capital.

The first weapon is the U.S. Marines. The second is the CIA. The third is the International Monetary Fund working with the World Bank. We use those three weapons to maintain our idea of freedom whether it is achieved by elected or by unelected leaders in Latin America. The United States always supports progressive forces after most of them are murdered and the brutality of our "friends" is in public view. Before that we are indifferent.

All this assumes that capitalism cannot survive without exploiting either workers at home, colonies overseas, or by periodic depressions to renew demand. All this assumes there is not enough wealth for all 20 rich capitalist countries to share in the Third World. Each must get part of overseas markets or decline as has Spain and Portugal, Britain and France, Greece and Italy. Capitalism can maintain a few rich countries nicely but not all. Capitalism can maintain a leisure class inside a society but can't provide social justice for all without exploiting other countries. In this period, the poor Latin American countries are exploited vigorously by U.S. corporations.

Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina can claim to be democratic because the economic rights of the ruling class and international capital are protected. Since workers, peasants and Indians don't count as human beings in these systems, there is no abuse of freedom. Cuba and Nicaragua claim to be democracies because workers, peasants and minorities are increasingly drawn into worker's councils, producer's cooperatives, local health and housing councils and may, in limited fashion vote where before they had no say in any realm of life it all.

So Cuba and Nicaragua can claim to be social democracies even if the aren't political democracies. Chile, Brazil, El Salvador Guatemala and Mexico can claim economic freedom even if social democracy and political freedom are tenuous at best.

The three questions posed earlier remain to be answered. In the next 20-40 years, each person will be called on time and time again to answer these questions. It will be our taxes which will be used in Latin America to help one economic program or the other. It will be our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who will be asked to kill the partisans of the three factions in Latin America. It will be our coffee our bananas, our oil and our way of life that will suffer if the United States doesn't continue to take wealth and profits out of the poorest, hungriest countries in the world. We must support Reagan and applaud the use of the Marines, the CIA, and the IMF as they destabilize movements of social justice or we must make the transition to democratic socialist solutions to economic and political problems. Each one bears a lot of responsibility on one's shoulders if one is going to be part of the political process in the United States. Whatever you do or don't do it will be important.

Guest Editorial
T.R. Young
Sociology Professor


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