Notes from the MSS Meetings

I just got back from the Midwest Sociological Society meetings in St. Louis this past weekend. The theme of the meetings this year was “Making Sociology More Public.” Obviously, this is relevant to what we’re doing at Contexts, so I attended several of the sessions on the subject, including an excellent talk by Mario Luis Small and a session with reporters from the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper, a manager from KDHX 88.1 FM and the news director from News20 television.

This last session was particularly interesting as much of the discussion centered around how, on the one hand, sociology is a broad field where people study almost anything, but, on the other hand, any given sociologist is likely only comfortable speaking authoritatively on a very narrow topic. Additionally, the usual suspects came up in discussions of presenting scholarly research to the public: the media wants short sound bites with strong, unambiguous statements of fact. Yet we have qualifications, caveats, probabilities, etc.

I tried to pull together a couple of clear lessons from the weekend’s activities for sociologists who want to have more of a public voice: