Sociology’s Final Frontier

by Kieran Healy on June 26, 2004

Via Baptiste Coulmont comes word of an effort to establish a new subfield of Sociology. Jim Pass, who as far as I can tell is an adjunct sociology instructor at Long Beach City College, is trying to get Astrosociology [Warning! Monster Java Zombie Nightmare Website from Beyond 1996], um, off the ground. He has managed to get a paper on this topic accepted at an Informal Roundtable Session at the upcoming ASA meetings in San Francisco. He’s also organizing an Astrosociology Interest Group meeting[1] for the many, many sociologists who will want to join his proposed section-in-formation.

What is Astrosociology? You may well ask. According to Jim’s helpful email,

Generally, astrosociology is the study of astrosocial phenomena (a subset of all social phenomena)

Well, obviously. My initial thought was that the field would be picking up where Elizabeth Tessier left off. Elizabeth managed to extract a Sociology Ph.D from the Sorbonne a few years ago with the argument that Astrology was as good a science as any other, and vice versa. America is always a few years behind the French trend-setters. But this hope was dashed when I read Jim’s clarification that the field dealt mainly with

all human behaviors related in some way to outer space; a neglected area of sociological inquiry.

Now, it’s true that outer space is a neglected area of sociological inquiry. My naive view was that this was explained by the fact that, at any one time, there are are perhaps three or four people in outer space. That’s enough to keep a social psychologist happy for most of their career, but the rest of us might run into problems. As a great sociologist once said, after all, the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. But Jim is not confining himself to outer space. Although this is a wise move, it makes Astrosociology rather less interesting than it first appears. Jim’s programmatic statement on the field at the roundtable (Table 15: New Ideas in the Sciences) is paired with just one other paper, by Juan Miguel Campanario of the Universidad de Alcala. Unlucky for Juan Miguel, you might think, but his paper title is Resistance to New Ideas In Science, so they should be well set up for a good chat. In a creative scheduling decision, Juan Miguel is also supposed to be speaking simultaneously at Table 16, “Media, Sport and Science.”[2] Bizarrely, his paper title at that Table is Studying the Competence for Space in Sociology Journals. But it’s the wrong kind of space! So near and yet so far!

fn1. Monday August 16, 6:30pm, Union Square 24/San Franciso Hilton. I’ll be there!

fn2. It’s a big tent at the informal roundtables, alright.

{ 17 comments }

1

Chris Marcil 06.26.04 at 5:41 pm

Lingua Franca, thou shouldst be living at this hour…

2

dsquared 06.26.04 at 6:18 pm

I maintain that unlike astronomy, quantum physics, sociology or evolutionary biology, the science of astrology gives me twelve falsifiable predictions every day in my newspaper (twenty-four, in fact, if I buy an evening newspaper), and thus is far superior to most other candidate “sciences” on Popperian grounds.

3

lago 06.26.04 at 8:23 pm

When I first saw that paper on the program, I thought it was another project from “transmodern critical realist” Mark Foster.

4

Matt Weiner 06.26.04 at 8:36 pm

Isn’t the dude talking about the sociology of NASA and such-like? That doesn’t seem obviously ridiculous to me, though the name he’s chosen for his field certainly sucks.

5

Lance Boyle 06.26.04 at 8:45 pm

“…by the fact that, at any one time, there are are perhaps three or four people in outer space…”

Three or four people that we know about.
Cheney, bunker. Venus, obscured by clouds. Well?
The “exploration” of Mars is a feint. Cheney’s clad’s dug in on Deimos, waiting. Funding and a modicum of professional respect will make it all much clearer.

6

Ophelia Benson 06.26.04 at 9:51 pm

“Lingua Franca, thou shouldst be living at this hour…”

Er…

7

Kieran Healy 06.26.04 at 11:04 pm

Isn’t the dude talking about the sociology of NASA and such-like? That doesn’t seem obviously ridiculous to me, though the name he’s chosen for his field certainly sucks.

Yeah, he is — and there’s already quite a few people who study that (e.g. Dianne Vaughn’s excellent book _The Challenger Launch Decision_). But I mean, look at that web site. I ask you.

Cheney, bunker. Venus, obscured by clouds. Well?

You have a point there, lance.

8

tina 06.26.04 at 11:21 pm

Are there other subfields of sociology that ask for donations through PayPal? I feel like we’re missing out on a big fundraising opportunity here.

9

John 06.27.04 at 5:13 am

DD, astrology is actually a nice instance of verificationist methodology in action, particularly in its character assessment as opposed to predictive mode. Most predictions (descriptions of individual character based on star signs) work pretty well, and this is robust to minor errors like getting your birthdate wrong.

10

Danyel 06.27.04 at 9:25 am

dsquared, today (according to Astrology.com) my horoscope was: “You’ve been saving it all up for a chance like this one, so it’s natural to be exuberant. Other people might be alarmed at your excitement, however. Tone it down just a tiny bit.”

If I can find a way to convince myself that this somehow applies to today, then it is probably not falsifiable. Otherwise, it is false.

(Quick note: today, I sat around at home and worked on my dissertation. Same as yesterday. Same as tomorrow. Yes, I’m pretty boring these days. Exuberant is *not* the way to describe me.)

11

rea 06.27.04 at 2:57 pm

Well, but consider the sociology of a Mars mission–a minature society of 6 or 8 individuals, confined together in close quarters for a period of several years, dealing with the boredom and enforced inactivity of interplanetary travel . . .

Of course, that situation is a staple for science fiction novels, in which sex, violence or both invariably result.

12

Matt Brown 06.28.04 at 7:48 am

Feyerabend beat Tessier to the argument about the respectability of astrology by decades.

13

Baptiste 06.28.04 at 8:19 am

Not only is he (Jim Pass) asking for PayPal donation, but he put ads on google :
see http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&q=astrosociology

or
http://www.coulmont.com/blog/index.php?p=88

Jim Pass on Google

14

maria 06.28.04 at 3:09 pm

“all human behaviors related in some way to outer space; a neglected area of sociological inquiry.”

Does the moon count as outer space?

i.e. will topics such as menstruation and werewolves be included? Come to think of it, how about practices related to solistices, equinoxes, and so on?

15

Matt Weiner 06.28.04 at 9:43 pm

Hey, no fair asking me to look at the “Monster Java Zombie Nightmare Website from Beyond 1996.” But I do admit that, if the man had any class at all, he would have begun his proposal “In considering this strangely neglected topic….”

16

Chris Martin 06.28.04 at 11:21 pm

Your quip about social psychology doesn’t make sense btw

17

Dr. Gene Ray 06.29.04 at 6:38 pm

Hey stupid – are you too
dumb to know there are
4 different simultaneous
24 hour days within a
single rotation of Earth?
Greenwich 1 day is a lie.
4 quadrants = 4 corners,
and 4 different directions.
Each Earth corner rotates
own separate 24 hour day.
Infinite days is stupidity.

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