Sociology as a Population Science: Reading Goldthorpe
course: Sociology as a Population Science: Reading Goldthorpe
time: Fridays from 10am to 12am
instructor: Dr. Kay Junge, PD
office hours: Tuesdays from 4pm to 5pm
In his small booklet from 2016 that gave its title to this seminar John H. Goldthorpe offers us a sketch of how sociology should be done and is already done by many researchers. Starting from the observation that the people studied by sociology are much more heterogeneous than our normatively biased notion of society should make us expect, he argues that sociology should aim for less, than traditionally assumed, but be more specific in its search. It should be on the lookout for statistical regularities across populations and come up with micro-level mechanisms that might possibly explain these regularities, allowing plenty of space for other determinants on our behaviors, that we will always take into account, when observing single acts. Goldthorpe argues that (mostly multivariate) statistics offers the appropriate tools and methods of data collection and analysis and that some realistically down-sized rational actor model will usually serve best to explain these regularities. Of course, this does not sound very original, but Goldthorpe integrates both methods and theory in an unusually clear cut and neat way, that even to those not agreeing with him will give orientation. However, should all sociologists follow his suggestions this will obviously reduce the scope of our discipline, though making it much more specific. The pros and cons of this proposal will here be put on center stage.
After the death of Bourdieu, Luhmann, and Coleman Goldthorpe might be counted as one of the very few widely known no-nonsense researchers famous both for their empirical inquiries (mostly in the area of social mobility and inequality) and analytical sophistication and theoretical reflections. In this seminar we will first discuss Goldthorpe´s book chapter by chapter and in parts by close reading. In the second half of the semester we will focus on the question of how sociology should and perhaps will relate to some of its subfields and other nearby academic areas in the future, should it embrace Goldthorpe´s perspective and recommendations. With reference to demography, the study of health or the evolution of family structures, there seems to be a nice match between his proposals and what is happening anyway. However, with reference to the analysis of conversations (certainly not a population science), the sociology of law, or with reference to comparative historical inquiries or experimental research as done by economists and psychologists there seems to be no common denominator and his proposals make him appear to be on the lookout for trouble. But hopefully, perhaps all involved can profit from these polemics, as they might inspire us to get a more clear cut view on where we stand and where we want sociology to go. At least this is what this seminar aims for.
I would like students to attend regularly and actively participate in the discussion in class. However, if you don´t, you should know that you still have quite a good chance for getting the looked for credits and grades. In order to get a Studienleistung you will be required to give two short presentations in class, the first one concentrating on one of the books chapters, the second one reflecting on how his proposals relate to other areas and types of research inside or outside sociology; for a Prüfungsleistung you will have to give only one presentation, but will have to write a term-paper of about 15 pages, the topic of which should be discussed with the instructor beforehand.
Goldthorpe´s book will be made available.