Sociology and Bias
I just finished 2 classes; “Introduction to Sociology,” and “Social Problems.” This will be the beginning of a short series on sociology and social problems. I hope to cover immigration, race, the achievement gap in education, and crime. My textbooks were: Discover Sociology; by Chambliss and Eglitis, 2014 Sage Publications, and
Social Problems; Community, Policy, and Social Action 4th; by Anna Leon-Guerrero, 2014 Sage Publications.
Sociology as a modern science began in the 19th century in the same era that Darwin developed his theory of evolution. This is important to note because the main sociological theories share some principles with evolution. Sociology, though it was not labelled that, is actually an ancient art covered in the past by philosophers. Plato speculated that if we could understand the principles of the universe as designed by the master craftsman then we could understand how to organize and run society. Confucius philosophy was addressing social crises because society was in chaos. His remedy proposed a restoration of order by restoring respect for authority. Modern sociology is different in that it proposes to be a science, “Sociology is the scientific study of human social relationships, groups, and societies” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 3).
Auguste Comte (1798-1857) gave us the name “sociology” and set forth principles for the new science, it is to be based upon facts alone and these facts should, “be allowed to speak for themselves” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014, p. 9). From my observations, modern sociology attempts to use facts, but mostly it is highly opinionated and biased. All of the statistical facts must still be interpreted, and this is a subjective process. Chambliss and Eglitis warn us about misuse of statistical data, “statistics illuminate the social world around us…on the other hand….may also obscure some important issues” (2014 p. 169).
Correlations and Theories
The scientific method begins with observations and inquiry, then forms a hypothesis and tests it, confirming or rejecting it and then forms a new hypothesis. After a hypothesis is confirmed with tests it becomes a theory. The beginning observations are typically in the form of correlations. We seek factors that have a causal relationship to what we have observed. With statistics there may be many factors involved in what is observed, the challenge is determining which factors have a causal relationship and which are spurious. This is where the element of bias becomes critical; bias can, “misrepresent the full dimensions of what is being studied” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 35). A good sociologist is aware of their own bias, and the bias of others, and takes precautions. The bias apparent within both texts leans towards blaming institutions for social problems and denial of agency as a contributing factor.
Here are some examples of bias in these texts: In chapter one, Leon-Guerrero is giving an example of using the sociological imagination to understand social problems and says, “Let’s consider homelessness. …it emerges from familiar life experiences. The loss of a job, the illness of a family member, domestic violence, or divorce could make a family more susceptible to homelessness” (2014 p. 20). These are all valid contributing factors but it seems that the exclusion of substance abuse conveniently portrays the homeless as only innocent victims. Substance abuse is a major factor in homelessness and should not be ignored. Go to any homeless shelter and take your own survey by asking or getting to know the people. There are many types of homelessness and many circumstances such as the underemployed so I am not judging all homeless, but pressing for objectivity.
Leon-Guerrero’s author bias is evident in chapter 2, Social Class and Poverty. She presents the functionalist and conflict perspectives without challenge, but debunks the interactionist perspective. Some from that perspective have proposed that lifestyles contribute to poverty as she explains, “Some sociologists have suggested that poverty is based on a culture of poverty, a set of norms, values, and beliefs that encourage and perpetuate poverty” and she sites sociologists who claim that “the poor are socialized differently and pass these values on to their children” (2014 p. 51). It did not bother her when the conflict theory claimed that capitalism oppressed the poor into poverty, but now she spends two more paragraphs explaining why the poor never contribute to their own situation through poor lifestyle choices, and she shames those who suggest otherwise.
We should have expected this bias because in the introductory chapter referencing (Irwin 2001) she states that we can use the sociological imagination to find the source of problems not “based on individual behaviors, instead reminding us how the problem is rooted in society, in our social structures themselves” (2014 p. 8).
Science delivered us from harmful superstitions of the dark ages and it is this critical thinking that I expect of a social science. Religion and science sometimes diverge because religion claims that physical science does not have the capacity to test or analyze non-physical realms. Like religion, maybe sociology recognizes that dealing with humanity is very different from hard physical sciences, yet it does proclaim to be a science. I propose that if sociology is a valid science then it should stay connected to physical science as much as possible.
In chapter 7; Families, Leon-Guerrero says, “The nuclear family – two parents and their biological children living together – is exalted as the ideal family” (2014 p. 166). This is more than a social construct; this is the biological definition of family. In nature there is no other way to have family. Today, as always, it still takes X and Y chromosomes to make babies. Our text has a problem with nature, “In addition to the false image of the nuclear family, we also embrace other myths about the family” (2014 p. 167). This textbook, and possibly sociology in whole, quickly loses credibility.
A concept presented in sociology is social construction and socialization which both mean that we are products of society. The tension between nature and nurture or between biology and socialization is presented relating to family, gender, and deviance. Chambliss and Eglitis begin with a fair discussion of gender, “Sociologists acknowledge that a complex interaction between biology and culture shapes behavioral differences associated with gender. They seek to take both forces into account, though most believe culture and society play more important roles in structuring gender and gender roles” (2014 p. 209). They are upfront declaring that most of sociology leans towards the contributing factors of socialization. After this declaration they spend the remainder of the chapter explaining how harmful and oppressive gender roles are to society and portray a neutered society as preferential, “When parents interact with their children on the basis of gender stereotypes, they may reinforce them. Yet parents can play an equally important part in countering such patterns, by being role models and socializing their children into norms and values reflecting greater gender equality” (2014 p. 212). The premise of modern sociology that gender differences mean inequality frustrates the sociologist as they continually attempt to separate humanity from biology. They attempt in vain to show that inclinations in education are socialized rather than innate (I guess that without this they would be unemployable). It is frustrating to them that in general males do prefer certain subjects and females prefer others.
I agree with sociology that many aspects of gender are social constructs. I do appreciate the insights into social dynamics that sociologists have observed. But I start with biology and see gender as based in biology. I see no advantage or equality benefit with a neutered society. What I see is that the social constructs are often distortions of nature. For example: biology has equipped females for child bearing and some societies attempt to limit the role of females only to childbearing. This is a harmful distortion of nature. We should be able to affirm nature and still affirm the rights of individuals to be all that they dream of.
It troubles me that these textbooks go unquestioned as authorities into higher education. I am concerned that the great influence of higher education over society is used for perpetuating sloppy thinking. If these text books are used as standards in many classes across the country, what is the effect on our society? Is academia a social problem? The conflict theory would propose that the elite class uses education to maintain their status through the illusion that they have authority, because we are a “credential” society. If sociology and it representative texts is a truly valid science, then it should make sincere efforts to be objective.
Chambliss, W. J., & Eglitis, D. S. (2014). Discover sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Leon-Guerrero, A. (2014). Social problems: Community, policy, and social action (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.