Sociology - Farrington

Farrington Keith Farrington enjoys listening to and playing music (the latter with his two local groups, Vintage and Orange Fight), and “ruminating about politics and the state of the world.” He also enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife, Nancy Tavelli, associate dean of students, campus life, residence life and housing; and their daughters, Jane and Katharine.

 
Keith Farrington
Laura and Carl Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences

I realize that this may run somewhat against the grain of the overall feature to which I am contributing, but it is, of course, important that I be engaged with reporting rather than inventing reality. The sad truth – at least from the perspective of an essay like this – is that the discipline of sociology was (and, to my way of thinking, has continued to be) in a fairly stable place during the last several decades. It has not always been this way, of course. Indeed, the second half of the 20th century saw sociology molded, shaped and “rocked” by such paradigm shifts and intellectual challenges as feminism, postmodernism, sociobiology, the growing emphasis in some circles upon applied and public sociology, fundamental challenges to quantitative research and positivism more generally, increased fragmentation resulting from the exploding diversification of topics brought under the sociological umbrella, and even some unfortunate political challenges in which sociology departments at some of our nation’s colleges and universities were eliminated, or at least became involved in, the fights of their professional lives against that threat.

By the time that the new millennium of 2000 rolled around, the discipline seems to me to have been breathing something of a collective sigh of relief, and was still very much involved in absorbing and integrating all of the intellectual (and in some cases ideological) disruptions and challenges that it had experienced in previous decades. Consistent with this basic operating premise, whereas I can think of a number of landmark “defining” texts written at a number of different points in the 20th century – texts that effectively defined and took stock of the era and/or set sociology off on a new and different path – I have difficulty thinking of any such cutting edge or seminal work that did the same for my discipline in or around 2000. And given all of the earlier unrest and ferment within the field of sociology that I have described above, I’m not sure that this “holding pattern” has necessarily been a bad thing. There has continued to be a good deal of truly excellent sociological work being done in a number of substantive areas, effectively applying all of the advances of the previous 50 years.

For somewhat similar reasons, I also have some difficulty predicting what the next major trend or “breakthrough” will be within my discipline. Certainly, there seems to be a good deal more attention being paid by sociologists to issues of globalization and the interconnected nature of our world than used to be the case, and there continues to be a good deal of focus upon the various “isms” – i.e., racism, sexism, ageism, GLBTQism, and the like – that have always driven a good deal of the best sociological work. It is clear that sociological work on environmental issues has become very important in recent years (as reflected, I might add, in the excellent work of our own Kari Norgaard, assistant professor of sociology and environmental studies). I, personally, would like to see more sociological attention devoted to the renewed “culture wars” – a state of affairs which has become, at least as I see the world, completely antithetical to the possibility of meaningful civil discourse in our nation.

“By the time that the new millennium of 2000 rolled around, the discipline seems to me to have been breathing something of a collective sigh of relief.”
– Keith Farrington

As far as my “dream department” goes, in many ways, I already live in it. Professors Bill Bogard, Michelle Janning, Kari Norgaard, Helen Kim and Gilbert Mireles represent the discipline exceedingly well, blending the traditional and the “new” developments of the last 40-50 years in virtually seamless fashion, and doing a somewhat incredible job of representing as many of the core substantive areas within our discipline as is possible with a total of only six (actually five and a half) faculty positions. Similarly, I think that we have accomplished (and will continue to promote) an effective bridging of many of the “dualisms” that characterize our discipline – e.g., theory “vs.” research, macrosocial “vs.” microsocial approaches, formalized “vs.” postmodern theorization, academic “vs.” public sociology. And, although resources are certainly not without limits here, it really is true that we are provided with virtually everything that we really need to be the best teachers and professional sociologists that we can be – generous support for our own research and writing projects, great opportunities for students to learn both in and outside of the classroom, and the flexibility and support to experiment with new exciting course offerings from time to time. This sounds like pretty much a “dream situation” to me.

The Laura and Carl Peterson Chair of Social Sciences was established in 1997 with a bequest from the Carl Peterson estate. Laura Crump Peterson ’36 devoted many hours to the Delta Gamma active chapter and joined her husband in financial support of the college.