I was sitting at home last weekend, wondering, as I often do, what the point of sociology is. So I decided to find out by emailing an expert, Professor of Sociology, Laurie Taylor, of BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed (a programme I genuinely enjoy—if only, some weeks, for its brilliant title):
Dear Laurie Taylor and the Thinking Allowed team,
I often manage to catch your programme, which is usually very interesting - but I am always left with one nagging question:
What on earth is sociology *for*?
I don't want to be rude, but I'm guessing from the –ology suffix that it aspires to be treated as a proper scientific discipline. Interesting though your programme undoubtedly is, however, I've never heard anything on it that could be labelled as a scientific hypothesis, let alone a theory.
So what is sociology for?
Answers on a post card, please to:
This morning, I sent another email to Prof. Taylor:
Dear Laurie Taylor,
Thank you for reading out my email and referring to it throughout your programme this week.
I'm sorry I made you feel defensive. Perhaps that explains why you felt the need to use the old rhetorical trick of misquoting somebody and then ridiculing (albeit in a humorous way) something they never said.
As we both know, I did not say that sociologists never come up with hypotheses or theories - any idiot can do that (indeed, sociologists seem particularly adept at it); I said that I had never heard anything on your show that could be labelled as a *scientific* hypothesis or theory. There is a world of difference - but a sociologist probably wouldn't appreciate that.
I also couldn't help noticing that you made no attempt to answer the central question of my email, namely what is sociology for? Although the tone of my email was characteristically - and I hope appropriately - light-hearted, this was a genuine question that I thought might make an interesting topic for discussion on your programme. Any discipline that, as you explained this week, awards Ph.Ds for asking people questions about their mantelpieces clearly has some explaining to do.