by Eszter Hargittai on November 12, 2006

Are you a teacher?
What subject?
I am a sociologist.
Then you must be good at making friends.



teofilo 11.12.06 at 8:05 pm

I suppose that’s equivalent to the “how many languages do you speak?” that linguists get all the time.


Henry (not the famous one) 11.12.06 at 9:22 pm

Let’s not rule out the possibility that one of the surviving members of Myles na gCopaleen’s army of ventriloquists is out there, supplying conversation for those too tongue-tied to speak for themselves. One of their most expensive services was to provide an entirely thrown dialogue (provided by a single, very clever ventriloquist) in which the two speakers misunderstood each other; this looks like a cheaper version of that.


Piddle 11.12.06 at 9:33 pm

Sociology is perhaps a lot like George Bernard Shaw of whom it was said that he had no enemies but was intensely disliked by all his friends.


Barry 11.12.06 at 10:15 pm

And good at socializing; don’t sociologists have to spend a lot of ‘research time’ at cocktail parties?


Matt 11.12.06 at 10:57 pm

Right, the old sociologist jokes. Totally.


John Holbo 11.12.06 at 11:36 pm

In graduate school – while taking French – I once confided in a fellow student that I wondered whether I would ever manage to get a job in my field. She commiserated with me: oh, well, philosophy is probably good preparation if you want to go on to do something ‘analytic’ – like psychology.


John Quiggin 11.12.06 at 11:39 pm

Then there’s Deirdre McCloskey’s question about economists “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich”.


Matt 11.13.06 at 1:24 am

This person seems to have it backwards, since I’d always heard that, just as people become psychiatrists because they hate themselves, they become sociologiest because they hate society.


Doug 11.13.06 at 6:08 am

7: To which the inevitable answer is “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”


The Modesto Kid 11.13.06 at 9:05 am

6 — a friend of mine got his doctorate in philosophy intending to go into business as a “philosophical therapist” — he would use philosophy to counsel troubled people. It did not quite work out; he now works in a corporate HR department.


Doug T 11.13.06 at 9:26 am

“he would use philosophy to counsel troubled people. It did not quite work out; he now works in a corporate HR department.”

I smell synergy.


David 11.13.06 at 11:21 am

I was once in Anatolia, in the early 80s, and was having a chat with a Turkish fellow who was being hospitable. “What do you do?” he asked, and he misheard my answer — “I’m an economist” — as “I’m a communist.” I was barely able to prevent him from fleeing so I could correct his misunderstanding!


David 11.13.06 at 11:23 am


Redleg 11.13.06 at 2:22 pm

When people ask what I teach at university, I tell them I teach organizational behavior. After a few seconds of silence they usually respond, “I could use some organization around my house.”

Now I simply tell them I am a management professor. That usually puts an end to the small talk.


kim 11.13.06 at 7:44 pm

Someday, I’d like to overcome my upbringing enough to answer “marine biologist.” (I’m not one, of course, but I do happen to think this was one of the better Seinfeld episodes.)


magistra 11.14.06 at 4:07 am

When I say I’m a medieval historian, I’m expected to know about everything that happened anywhere in Europe through to about 1800. Even though I am an early medievalist (working on the ninth century AD), I try to resist resorting too often to the put-down ‘Sorry, not my millennium’.

Still this is better than when I was doing my first degree in mathematics. The modal response then was for people to say ‘Oh I was no good at maths at school’ and then edge away from me. I don’t know if there are any other subjects where educated people are happy or even proud to say ‘I know nothing about this’, but it says all you need to know about the two cultures.


butwhatif 11.14.06 at 8:11 am

International Relations, anyone? (After all, it’s never been kosher polisci.)


Jacob Christensen 11.14.06 at 10:58 am

Two mischievous quotes about sociology by Kurt Tucholsky (translated from German and from my memory)

1. Sociology is the systematic misuse of a terminology invented for that purpose.

2. Since its invention, sociology has been redefining itself constantly.

Mr. T has one of two quips about economists and lawyers as well – but unfortunately none about political scientists. It seems that we are not worth laughing at. The German originals are from a little book with Tucholsky-quotes I bought years ago.


Jacob Christensen 11.14.06 at 1:31 pm

As someone (no, not one of the CT crew) asked me kindly in a mail: Here are ze German originals – they are from a small volume called “Schnipsel”:

Soziologie ist der Missbrauch einer zu diesen Zweck erfundenen Terminologie.


Die Soziologie definiert seit ihrem Bestehen ununterbrochen sich selbst.

So #2 should probably be

As long as it has existed, Sociology has been busy defining itself.

A case of Autopoiesis before Luhmann?


Martin James 11.14.06 at 4:32 pm

My favorite Sociology quip is Ortega y Gasset referring to Comte and saying hundreds of pages about society but no definition of what society is.

Also apt was his explanaiton of the origin of society, that is that the primordial response to the recognition that other thinking organisms exist is fear.

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