Raymond and Elsie Gipson DeBurgh Chair in the Social Sciences
Ten years ago, ... cutting edge?
Sociology by its very focus on what is modern in society follows new developments in human knowledge and practices. Years ago, sociology, like many academic fields in the social sciences, was turned inward and focused on developing its own separate approach to problems. That has all changed in the last 25-30 years. What was “cutting edge” back then – interdisciplinary research, openness to new models of investigation, and openness to different voices – has now become standard practice. I think sociology has always taken what is best from other areas of knowledge and incorporated it into its own understanding of society. But some of the new directions have been very exciting and productive.
At the end of 1999, what do you remember thinking, hoping, would happen in your field?
I think sociology in the last 10 years had made considerable strides in understanding the intersections of race, gender, class, and globalization. But as we realize the complexity of these connections, we also see how much research and conceptual clarification remains to be done.
– Bill Bogard
We are in the midst of some of the most incredible and important changes in human history. We are just beginning to critically reflect on new ways we communicate, construct knowledge, and share power in the age of digital networks. My hope is that sociology will be able to contribute constructively to this research on the basis of its long familiarity with these questions. Sociology has always been dismissed as a soft science, but I think its insights into the historical shifts that are happening right now will be judged quite important to the ways we use and adapt to these technologies.
Your dream department or research project?
I’m already in a dream department at Whitman. I don’t think it’s a matter of unlimited resources, but of having supportive and interesting colleagues. Still, if I had the money and time, I would like to set up an ongoing workshop dedicated to studying the social and subjective effects of digital communication. That could occupy me for many years.
The Raymond and Elsie Gipson DeBurgh Chair in the Social Sciences was established with the proceeds of a unitrust created by the DeBurghs in 1979, which matured in 2002.