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The Crude and the Refined: Sociology, Obscurity, Language, and Oil

  • Freudenburg, Wm R
Publication Date
Mar 01, 1997
eScholarship - University of California
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Sociology is too obscure -- both in terms of its linguistic clarity and in terms of its societal influence. The reasons for the linguistic obscurity are numerous, but they can be boiled down to two sets of factors. The first involves the fact that clear writing requires hard work. Bad writing, however, can also require hard work -- and hard work doesn't necessarily prevent clear writing in other disciplines. The second and more specific set of factors can best be understook in terms of fear -- the fear of being dismissed as "obvious." Yet, far from being obvious or widely understood, "socio-logical" insights are often the opposite of widespread, individualistic assumptions. One way to lessen the risk of merely stating the obvious, accordingly, may be to spend more time questioning the obvious -- particularly those assumptions that also happen to provide convenient justifications for unequal power. This could create other risks, specifically including risks of being the focus for the kinds of attacks that seldom afflict those who remain truly obscure. Where sociological insights truly are relevant to societal debates, however, the proper response may be to increase the amount of effort that is devoted to stating the evidence responsibly, not incomprehensibly. After spelling out this argument in the paper, I take the brave step of trying to illustrate it with a simple example, involving some of my own work with Bob Gramling, which deals with the onshore battles that now rage over offshore oil.

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