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‘Sociology begins by disenchanting the world. It continues by disenchanting itself’ (Gouldner). Discuss.

“Sociology begins by disenchanting the world, and it proceeds by disenchanting itself” (Gouldner, 1973, p.27). The opening statement of Gouldner may confuse some initially, but the elemental particulars are more easily understood when looked at in constitute parts. To disenchant oneself means that we remove ourselves from our false conceptions or illusions that we may have about the world that we exist in, allowing sociology to view the world for what it actually is, and to ignore the conflicting illusionary concepts. The idea here is that sociology is able to firstly, understand the world in which it exists (the doctrine of sociology) to allow it to understand itself (for sociologists to be able to understand sociology). Latour (1988, p.173) states that what Goldner is trying to achieve, is an understanding that sociologists should not become preoccupied with what they produce, the literature; but that they should concentrate on looking at the world as one single entity. If sociologists are able to find a balance between dissecting and recreating understanding, than the initial statement by Goldner may be able to be facilitated. This paper will look at some of the important debates fed by those who support and those who criticise sociology and aim to come to a conclusion as to if it is possible to ever understand sociology.

Within society, all answers are able to be found and by doing so enlightens and liberates us states Gouldner. He suggests that if we take a viewpoint on sociology that is reflexive as opposed to rigid and objective, then our social lives are enhanced. In ‘For Sociology’, Gouldner’s book on the titles doctrine, he does not always write from the reflexive position (Hammersley, 1999). There is a need to be able to understand what sociology actually is if we are to critically appraise the work of Gouldner and his opening statement for which this paper revolves. Touraine (1999) asks if in modern society, sociology is indeed the study of society at all, or if due to doctrine developments it has become a complex methodology incorporating scientific concepts than it was ever intended. To be fair on the analysis for such questions, we need to be able to refrain from being objective and objecting a reflective approach from the offset; to stop us being overwhelmed by illusionary perceptions. We must understand that sociology does not have all the answers and is unable to provide solutions to all of the societal problems we are faced with today. This reflective approach is vitally important if those investigating sociology are to remain unbiased in their method.

A social scientist must position himself with a mode of exploration to allow him to view the social world and his social self as part of the social world without conflict from a variety of confounding variables (May, 1999). To take this approach is known as radical sociology Gouldner (1970). The social scientist must appreciate that his understanding of the world will never go beyond his own capabilities and that any advancement would only require a variety of changes within knowledge. Goldner suggested that sociologists should challenge themselves to be able to exist within society, almost phenomenological in their approach and be able to experience living; to become one with the doctrine of sociology in which his studies emanate. A sociologist writes about the world around him and must understand that his descriptions can be interpreted in a variety of different ways by others. This is also likely to include criticism and the social scientist must be willing to accept such criticism and also embrace it; allow it to fuel one’s own investigations. Such an approach has often been criticised in terms of the lack of concentration that is placed upon ethical considerations from those very realistic in nature to the more theoretical or truth seeking.

The approach of the “knowledge for what or for whom?” perspective demonstrates such a frustration with the investigation of sociologists (Lynd, 1939; Mills, 1959). McLaughlin (2005, p.31) highlights such an argument with;

“We do not have the university or societal resources, the granting agencies and elite foundations or the political will to establish a fully scientific sociology, unconnected to applied programs, public intellectual life, the state or student demand for undergraduate education.”

Michalski (2008, 521), is altogether different in his understanding;

“Globalization affords an excellent opportunity to develop a genuinely universal, scientific sociology. In recent decades, the politicization of the discipline has undermined the central mission of sociology: scientific discovery and explanation.”

We have two schools of contemplation, one very much convinced that sociology is not one that can incorporate science in its exploration and another that says the modern world is unable to be understood for what it is without sociological examination.

            Again we find ourselves drawn back to definitions of what sociology actually is in terms of the definition. And it appears complex. The individual social scientist will have his own definition which relates to his ideologies and the world in which they live. As to why we even have scientists who explore our social world facilitates further questions. Hammersley(1999; 1.3) suggest that Gouldner did not make a differentiation between what sociology actually is and what it is actually meant to do.

 “The failure to distinguish between these two issues is endemic in the main traditions on which Gouldner drew: functionalism and Marxism.” Hammersley, (1999; 1.3).

Goldner was one of the first sociologists who used a sociological approach to actually study sociology; that is to utilise the methods involved in social science to understand knowledge. He understood that the social scientist had to become part of sociology. Gouldner perhaps was preoccupied with the academics of sociology, how it should be conducted on how we should study it, and neglected much of the hands-on approach of actually implementing sociological study (Gouldner, 1970, p.443). Bauman (1992, p.143) suggested that the warfare and welfare bureaucracy within America with a springboard for empirical socio that. And understanding such as this is more in line with that of Gouldner, that there is an academic purpose and place within sociology. Sociology is something that is facilitated when the analysis of important aspects of human life need to be compared with a variety of different datasets to allow us to develop and move forward from where it is we stand. Sociology has also been described as ‘a bureaucratic discipline’ (Dahrendorf, 1996, p.31), a science purely created to deal with aspects and concerns that are created as part of living in a modern world.

            Hammersley (1999; 1.3), states that states that Gouldner is occupied only with universal values and not with social interests which others incorporate into their socio logical world. He saw it as a bureaucracy, and that sociologists had become researchers for the welfare state” (Gouldner, 1970, p.445). There is a contradiction as for an individual to work as a sociologist and to become one with his research, difficulties will always arrive with trying to meet such universal values alone, as an individual is unable to act in a socio logical world without incorporating his own personal views and values. Some writers have suggested that the position of the researcher within his sociological world is vitally important in socially and have referred to it as “the socialorigins [sic] and coordinates (class, gender, ethnicity, etc) of the individual researcher” (Wacquant, 1992, p.39).

The position of the researcher forms part of as larger picture with their relationships and associations with others who form part of the educational doctrine. There will always be differences of opinion and understanding between these individuals and these needs to be understood. The intellectualist bias is always an issue for sociologists and should be incorporated into a social scientists daily practice. A further argument from Wacquant is that the process of submerging oneself into sociology, to live and breathe the discipline causes us to miss some of the everyday interactions that are so important within sociology. Due to the submersion we may not be able to question how such finite details appeared in the first instance as we ourselves are too deep within a particular ‘instant’ (moment).

It would appear that Gouldner may been arguing for the understanding of sociology as a mass of sociologically understanding, to understand what it is to understand. Bourdieu & Wacquant (1992, p.73) suggests that the really important aspects of sociology are those which we cannot see. This idea further supports the notions proposed by Gouldner. A sociologist must begin to query his own philosophy and to be able to analyse how they are within the environment which forms the predominant basis of their study. It would be as if they have to question absolutely everything, we must seek the ‘sociology of sociology’ Bourdieu (1990, ch.6). Bourdieu’s recommends that sociologists have to travel beyond viewing sciences experiences and to understand the organisation or arrangement of the subject, alongside cognitive components. He strived for a more reflexive approach to try and answer the many questions which had not been satisfied. There is a bias in many interpretation and sociologists must be fully aware of this bias.

            An aspect of sociology that should be understood is its idiosyncratic nature, each individual will view sociology in a different way to his peers.

“The infinite substitutability of terms and of texts makes conclusions undecidable. Because infinite substitution cannot be a self-confirming process, the expanse that it opens up also seems to be bottomless”. Platt (1989, p.649).

Platt describes sociology as a continuous flow of unanswered questions, so much so that it may be, that we are never able to satisfy everything we seek to find. This may in fact be what sociology is; a continuous drive to seek understanding; to understand a notion of understanding which will always be changing. Perhaps it should be looked at in the terms of the ‘now’, and avoiding although what’s and how’s. We exist in a world that is indecisive, full of opposition with regards to opinions and views and therefore this is always going to have an effect on the process of the sociology as a science. How can we measure something that is always changing. Yet, as aforementioned, sociology may in fact be the study of these differences and may satisfy those who seek to understand why there are differences.

It has been suggested that sociologist’s should come together and form ideas and understandings from their cumulative knowledge and pay less attention (or be less preoccupied) with what it actually tells us about the world and the way society runs within it. The idea here in is that if the data can be accumulated it should speak for itself (May 1999, 4.1). May indicates that some sociologists have spent years trying to find a nouveau aspect to socio knowledge which enlightened is everyone and is something which everybody wants. The truth of the matter is that our world is ever-changing and the nouveau data of today is tomorrow’s old news. Sociologists should embrace that which he finds, explore it and contribute it to the doctrine. There should not be a preoccupation with the ethics of what is right and wrong but what we can find for scientific development and therefore our understanding will naturally grow.

It is this process by which the understanding of disenchanting the world and disenchanting itself can be accepted. It is exactly in this way that May understands how we should see the world to provide theoretical data. When we regard the approach of Gouldner in a conclusive way we are able to see that his approach is contributed to by two opposing concepts. He utilised sociological knowledge to be able to explain exactly what sociology is, which in essence is biased. Secondly he appears to recognise the failure of scientists within the sociological doctrine, to actually ‘do’ sociology; to seek and absorb information. As a reader, it is hard to know from which point of view it is that Gouldner places himself. However, what is undeniably clear is that his ideas sparked the beginning of the development into a worldwide understanding of sociology. Perhaps, through his misunderstanding is of the discipline, sociology has developed into the scientific doctrine that it is today, allowing society to continue and function.

            We are now able to understand what it was that Gouldner was trying to tell us. He was explaining that in modern society and with our ever enhanced knowledge that we no longer need such extremist thinking of our previous existence, that we need to be more flexible and be able to reflect, be aware of the effect that integrating may have on the data itself and to the understanding that is taken from it. His final words of Against Fragmentation, represented what is that he was trying to portray and that which we as modern sociologists should understand now.

“My own conclusion is to the contrary. I therefore believe that one of the central tasks of social theory in our time is to attempt to rethink the position of theory’s own group involvements and to re-examine the conditions, social and organizational, requisite for the development of an effective community of theorists committed to the understanding of the social totality.” (Gouldner, 1985, p.222).

He suggested that society should become reorganised and if we were to do so, may finally come to understand that which we are seeking to find. Yet, we must always be aware, of the fact that what we know today is likely to change tomorrow.


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