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Gary T. Marx
It is clear that the social sciences and especially sociology are undergoing important changes. In the present decade of ferment and realignment, traditional perspectives, methodologies, styles, assumptions and masters are being questioned. An early sign of this was the establishment of Transaction (now Society) magazine in 1963; the first issue stated, "The social scientist studying contemporary problems and the complex relationships among modern men knows that he can no longer discharge his social responsibilities by retreating from the world until more is known." A sociology at once more critical, and concerned with studying immediate human problems, reaching a wide audience and granting legitimacy to a wider range of methods, has come to partly displace the concern with technique and broad theory which has characterized American sociology in recent decades.
Unlike other volumes in the Transaction/Society series focusing on particular substantive areas, this volume is intended to illustrate a particular style of social science research. While the articles differ in terms of method and subject matter, they are sufficiently similar to illustrate an important type of contemporary social research, which I have identified as "muckraking" research. Such research at its best documents conditions that clash with basic values, fixes responsibility for them and is capable of generating moral outrage. Use of the term "muckraking" implies nothing invidious; it originated from "muckrake," an instrument used for gathering dung into a heap. Following the turn-of-the-century activities of inspired journalists such as Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair, muckraking came to be defined as "the searching out and public exposure of misconduct on the part of prominent individuals and the discovery of scandal an(l incriminating evidence." The type of social research represented by the articles included in this book is terribly incriminating and certainly deals with scandalous states of affairs. One of its main purposes is to document and publicize. In pointing out the gap between values and actual practices and in questioning established orthodoxies it serves as a vehicle for social criticism and, hopefully, social change. This is social criticism of a very focused nature; it can be differentiated from the broad essay with an explicit theoretical orientation which uses social science data to critique the entire social order and its major assumptions and values. Muckraking thus seems to be an appropriate description of the consequences, if not always the intent, of this new style of critical research.
Such research uses the tools of social science to document unintended (or officially unacknowledged) consequences of social action, inequality, poverty, racism, exploitation, opportunism, neglect, denial of dignity, hypocrisy, inconsistency, manipulation, wasted resources and the displacement of an organization's stated goals in favor of self-perpetuation. It may show how, and the extent to which, a dominant or more powerful class, race, group or stratum takes advantage of, misuses, mistreats or ignores a subordinate group, often in the face of an ideology that claims it does exactly the opposite. In pointing out a state of affairs that strikingly clashes with cherished values, muckraking research may have an expose, sacred cow-smashing, anti-establishment, counter-intuitive, even subversive quality, for it grows out of and helps sustain social upheaval and questioning. Although sociology like any other intellectual undertaking always has this potential it is not often realized.
Ironically, such research also can have a conservative aspect: it shows how far the society may be from fulfilling its own traditional values. As Gunnar Myrdal observes in An American Dilemma, "America is... conservative in fundamental principles.... But the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical." As with Myrdal such research is characteristically American in its optimistic belief that something can be done. The frequent discrepancy between a society's abstract values and its actual practices, when documented with ability, tact and luck by the social researcher, makes possible the legitimization of muckraking research in the eyes of many not normally given to a critical perspective of their own society. Transaction magazine has been an important impetus to such focused work, both as a means of dissemination and as role model for other journals and research. The magazine does not restrict itself only to this type of research, nor does all research on social problems fall within the framework considered here. Present-day sociology is far from being generally defined in such terms, whatever the media may report about its annual professional meetings.
Perhaps as a consequence of their insecurity or perceived powerlessness, or the nature of their profession, with its self and socially sensitizing concepts, and its lack of a widely agreed upon paradigm for ordering social facts and directing the discipline, many contemporary social analysts have spent a great amount of time analyzing their role. Much of their concern focuses on the responsibilities of the researcher, on the uses and misuses of research and even on how potentially helpful research can be (no matter to whom).
What roles are open to social researchers and in what ways can and should their work be relevant to social change? Should sociology be a disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons, or should it be committed to, and involved in, solving current problems? To what extent do our social problems stem from a lack of obtainable technical knowledge rather than simply from the way political power is used and resources allocated? To what extent is a science of man analogous to the physical sciences possible and desirable? Even if useful knowledge can be obtained, won't it always be of most use to those already in power, given their greater resources?
Without entering fully into the issues of how social science can and cannot make a difference, I wish to argue that an important and little acknowledged potential for change lies in the educative role it can play in raising public issues. Such data and analysis can give us a clearer picture of our world, stripped of protective verbiage and without the usual selective perceptions (and misperceptions). If this picture involves a striking contrast between values and practices, it can be politically useful to those seeking change. It can expose the fallacies in certain common-sense beliefs about social problems and can show how certain ideas rationalize an unsatisfactory status quo. Careful social science documentation of a problem may convey a certain legitimacy over and above the testimony of an anguished group. As Herbert Gans and Howard Becker have noted, social science can help articulate the value claims and suffering of ignored and powerless groups. There is an important role for some social researchers to play here --perhaps one far easier to carry out than discovering cause and effect knowledge that can be directly applied. As Robert Merton has written, "The function of social research, then is not simply to supply information useful in remedying problems already known, it serves to make the problems known." The social researcher can of course also be instrumental to change by studying sources of resistance and how advocates of change can be mobilized, by designing and helping implement new programs and conceptions of society and by evaluating the consequences of innovations. He can also help by analyzing "deviant cases" where desirable but uncommon social outcomes occur, and through conventional and unconventional political action.
Turn-of-the-century muckrakers tended to hold particular individuals (usually big businessmen) responsible for the social conditions which disturbed them and to ignore the role of social structure. Theological underpinnings or the rugged Individualism of the era often led them to adopt the "evil man" theory of injustice. The role of government tended to be seen as indirect, a consequence of default and failure to regulate.
In contrast, muckraking social science researchers, aware of the increased centralization and government responsibility in so many areas of life, have focused primarily on institutional responsibility. The particular institutions looked at are often agencies of government or at least theoretically subject to appreciable government regulation and control: schools, courts, welfare, police, prisons, hospitals, urban renewal and labor. For example, this volume includes articles on sexual assaults in prison vans and jails, the ways in which schools tail to meet the needs of Indian youth and how the tracking system in high schools may further the achievement gap between whites and blacks, rich and poor, how employment agencies may lower their clients self-esteem, the unanticipated consequences of an OEO job-training program, unemployment in Appalachia, and the invisibility and exploitation of migrant farm laborers.
Other articles include ways in which police occasionally cause riots rather than control them, how the courts treat women unequally, the federal role in creating segregation, the social costs of building a highway through a low-income community, the extent to which blacks are excluded from positions of power in government and industry, the gap between the official ideology of Selective Service boards and actual practices, the power of the amphetamine drug lobby to affect legislation, the hidden cost of commercial blood banks and the ways in which medicine fails the poor.
The criticism does not concern the idea of government involvement as such but rather the form of its involvement or the negative consequences of its noninvolvement. It is interesting that relatively less attention has been paid to the private sector. Much research attempts to link the actions of those at the top with the life conditions of those at the bottom, rather than simply studying one or the other. To be credible, muckraking research must respect the traditional canons of science and be judged by them, although it may not be inspired by the aesthetic contemplation of ideas for their own sake or the desire to advance an abstract body of knowledge. An additional criterion might be the extent to which such research creates shock and indignation and the belief that the situation must be changed. The articles included here strikingly satisfy these criteria, at least for those sharing humanistic values.
Unfortunately, space limitations precluded articles on abortion, material mistreatment of children, the evasion of fair-housing laws, problems of American foreign policy, consumer exploitation, problems faced by homosexuals and alcoholics as a result of society's response to them, and a wide range of other topics that can be seen to fall within the range of a critical and muckraking social science. Yet the book is representative of research being done within this framework.
No single method characterizes muckraking research, though observation and focused case studies seem to lend themselves better to instilling attitudes conducive to social change, at least among laymen, than do elaborate statistical analyses or abstract theoretical treatments. The audience to which such research is directed introduces constraints on how the data can be presented. Here we have aimed for diversity in method and subject matter. This book contains studies which employ a number of methodological approaches: participant observation, quantitative data, ethnographic accounts, a case study of one individual, and institutional analysis. The subject matter is, unfortunately, less diverse: most of the articles touch upon problems of race or class in one form or another. Along with sex, age (both the young and the very old) and region these are the major bases of inequality in American life and consequently they have attracted the most research attention. To be sure, action with unintended or unacknowledged consequences which clash with basic societal values and rationalizing myths is not the special property of the rich and the powerful --populist glorifications and the romanticization of suffering aside. Almost any aspect of social life might be covered here, though not to the same degree or with the same consequences. One might hazard the proposition that wherever there are social structure, norms and legitimation an underside of life can be observed. Hypothetically, one might well investigate blue-collar theft and sabotage on the job, prejudice among minorities, the damage that students do to teachers, the relatively high suicide and illness rates among police, and the occasional failure of some members of excluded groups to take full advantage of the limited opportunities that may be available. Another topic might be authoritarianism and manipulative behavior and oversimplified explanations on the part of protestors who espouse an ideology of democracy and participation and claim that their analysis is scientific.
Yet the social consequences of "underdog" groups' activities are considered appreciably less serious by most social scientists than the consequences of action by those in high status positions. Given the equalitarian and democratic values of many researchers, it may not be surprising that they generally focus on the consequences of the behavior (or neglect) of the powerful. There are doubtless other reasons why social scientists avoid certain kinds of critical research --such as that directed at major foundations and government agencies which offer them research support or the College administrators and trustees who hire them. Whose ox the researcher is to gore is clearly a political question, even if the goring partakes of the neutrality of science.
Such social research poses a number of important questions about social change, the sociology of sociology, methodology and the careers and identity of social scientists. In what time periods does a muckraking orientation appear? How is it linked to the history of American sociology? What kinds of people do such research and what difficulties do they face? What special methodological or ethical problems may be involved? What are the implications of strongly held value positions for one's research results? What implications does such research have for the development of social science? How significant is such research for social change?
Origins and Parallels
The present period of critically oriented research has important parallels to earlier periods of American social science. The twentieth century has witnessed cycles of social science involvement with what have traditionally been labeled as social problems (or what from some critical perspectives are seen as social symptoms --those with power being seen as the social problem) followed by the less dirty work of studying noncontroversial areas or developing techniques and general theories. Controversial work has been most frequent during the first two decades of this century and since the 1960s. Any intellectual pursuit is of course affected by the internal development of a body of thought, by conflicts between systems of thought, and by the diffusion of intellectually fashionable ideas. Yet critical research seems especially conditioned by external social events.
Karl Mannheim has written that systematic sociology develops only as a nation begins to be unsure of itself. As many observers have noted, to a great degree modern sociology developed out of the deep changes affecting nineteenth-century Europe. In the American context, social science became even more explicitly a means of reform. From its inception through the first decades of this century, American sociology took a critical stance and sought reform, albeit rather conservative reform by today's standards. The orientation of men such as Ward, Ross, Small, Park and Ogburn and their students was greatly influenced by social, political and economic changes. Industrialization, immigration, ethnic and racial violence war, depression and the social movements these spawned, led them to ask hard questions about their society and to be skeptical of its conventional wisdom. The agrarian background of these earlier researchers made them especially sensitive to the problems of cities undergoing rapid urbanization. Their religious concerns, noblesse oblige and social position contributed to a vicarious interest in experiencing and documenting the problems of those considered less fortunate: the rich ethnographic accounts they produced attest to their success.
While these researchers were initially outsiders to the problems they studied (unlike many contemporary social researchers) they were insiders with respect to the traditional prestige criteria of American society and held dominant positions within the profession. Influenced by empiricism and pragmatism, they used observation and limited interpretive frameworks to acquire useable knowledge. Their work generally did not identify much with the broad belief systems and sweeping categorical imperatives that characterized latter nineteenth century European social thought. While moral issues certainly concerned them, they saw the world as too complex to fit any single explanatory framework. The problems they selected for study thus tended to be microscopic rather than macroscopic, and as a consequence the approach was less radical. Their belief in the promise of American equality, liberty and democracy (whose failure inspired their critical research) prevented these researchers from searching for wholly new social systems and interpretive frameworks.
The optimism and apparent prosperity of the 1920s somewhat muted the critical orientation of many social analysts, though for some the shock of the depression years helped revive it. But sociology reflected the relative quietism in American society during the 1940s and 1950s and the inhospitable political climate by also turning inward; this was further strengthened by the great interest in psychoanalysis among many researchers during this time period. Problems for study were defined by business and government to an important extent. Concern with pressing social issues was thought unscientific. Yet this irrelevant, and to some, irreverent concern with method and concept eventually permitted more insightful treatment of social issues. As the pendulum swung back toward concern with socially meaningful problems sociology found it had gained new techniques, greater sophistication and resources, and increased respectability.
The critical work of men such as David Riesman, William H. Whyte and C. Wright Mills, which was affected by the spread of large-scale bureaucracies and the more visible presence of many aspects of a mass society also helped spread criticism to other areas. The present period of unfortunate involvement in Southeast Asia and the emergence of qualitatively new problems on a previously unimagined scale has led to a mood of doubt and self-questioning. The powerful role of the United States in world affairs and the diverse potentials of its technology are also relevant to the reemergence of critical research. As T. B. Bottomore has observed, "In a society of such wealth and power, capable of doing such immense good or harm to the whole world, the social critic can scarcely fail to acquire a sense of the seriousness and urgency of his task.... The actions and responsibilities of a great world power provoke a major undertaking of self-criticism."
The present decade illustrates the reciprocal relationship between critical social science and social movements. The civil rights, student power and antiwar movements were important to the reorientation of contemporary social research, just as the feminist and ecology movements are beginning to inspire research in the 1970s.
The present-day researcher may feel that his or her work is worthwhile to the extent that it contributes to existing protest movements and avoids writing only in the abstract. A group making demands may sensitize the sociologist to studying its problems, and his or her data and theories may offer reciprocal insight to the group and help it to further press its claims and mobilize potential members.
Unlike many of the earlier muckrakers who seemed to become radicalized in the process of doing their work, current researchers may come to social research after a period of not completely successful political activism. In entering graduate school many seek to deepen their understanding in order to more effectively work for change. They bring a critical and questioning perspective with them which may be accentuated by the skepticism produced by graduate training. As they grow older, fatigue, new family and career responsibilities, or coaptation, may lead muckraking social researchers to find they lack the energy for the sustained political involvement which may have initially spurred their research interests. Unlike Lenin they may come to find writing about revolution more to their taste than participating in it. In one of those divine coincidences which make it possible to rationalize preference as necessity, the kind of research represented by these articles can become an alternative to the political activism of one's youth, while incidentally building career and helping maintain one's feelings of relevance. It may be argued that a division of labor is needed between activism and research. Some may be better suited and able to make a greater contribution through research. One argument stresses the prior need to understand how society works ("the pragmatic social engineering argument") before it can be changed, another the need to carefully document problems in order to mobilize public opinion ("the truth will make men mad enough to change society,") and still another urges research if for no other reason than to counter the research of those whose politics and methods are disagreed with ("ascientitic Machiavellianism").
In addition to taking cues from social movements muckraking research has been anticipated and inspired by the writing of informed activists and journalists outside the university community such as Michael Harrington, Jessica Mitford, Charles Silberman and Ralph Nader. This also seems to be true of early twentieth-century researchers-Ward wrote a book surveying and going beyond the work of the muckrakers and Robert Park crane to sociology from journalism and saw as one of sociology's principal tasks "getting the big story." This effort to get at the facts and the real nitty-gritty of urban social lite owes much to journalists and activists who, more directly involved with everyday life, are quicker to sense problems and trends and are less locked into a given theoretical framework.
Currently muckraking research is disproportionately carried out by younger people, often those who are racial or ethnic outsiders, and less likely to be in positions of prestige and power. Because they are less committed to vested interests and traditional outlooks within the profession, they may be freer to innovate and offend. The earlier struggle for the respectability and scientific status of sociology is not a factor inhibiting them the way it may have inhibited some of their elders. Meanwhile, the number of sociologists and centers for graduate training has greatly increased, and the ability of a few powerful men and schools to shape entire disciplines has declined. Greater literacy, affluence and ease of media exposure have increased the audience for critical research, just as earlier muckrakers were aided by the emergence of inexpensive mass circulation magazines.
Maturing in a highly politicized age, coming from urban areas, personally touched by issues of the draft or racial and ethnic prejudice, and likely to have been harassed at some point as a result of their life style and politics, these younger social researchers are more likely than earlier researchers to root their questioning in their own experiences.
Some Potential Problems
If in broad outline the increased prominence of muckraking social research is a positive development and a necessary condition for social change, it also has limitations and presents difficulties. Both methodological and ethical problems may occur in the attempt to conduct such research. Precisely because the research deals with matters of some delicacy, obtaining entry to the data required may be difficult, particularly when this involves studying the actions and machinations of those in positions of power and those whose business it is to administer the lives of others. The more a group has to hide, the more protective it is likely to be. The price of entry may be providing those studied with the data, the right to prior censorship or guarantees to maintain the participants' anonymity. Such requirements are unlikely to be satisfactory if an important aim of the study is to publicize unsatisfactory conditions. One must either violate a trust in the interest of a personally defined broader social good, or pursue the research through a less convincing manner through secondhand sources or not at all. If the first option is taken it may become difficult for other social researchers to gain access. Persons in positions of public accountability may sometimes cooperate fully and openly with the researcher, accepting responsibility for their actions; or in some cases they may want a situation beyond their control documented and publicized; or they may not realize they are vulnerable and have something that should be protected. Though here the researcher may feel uneasy about publicly criticizing an organization which has extended friendship and trust and been generous with its time and information. It may also be possible to keep the analyzed unit anonymous while arguing that it is representative of similar institutions. While access to those lower in status and power may be technically easier, there are important questions regarding rights to privacy.
Then there are issues personally troublesome to some researchers. Particularly when it involves directly studying a deprived group, the researcher may worry that he is, in a sense, profiting from other people's misery. Clearly, if it were not for contemporary problems such as poverty and race relations, many social scientists would be out of work, or at least working elsewhere. As Robert Blauner has noted in writing about the problem of academic colonialism, minority communities increasingly resent outside researchers, who are seen to use people as subjects but offer them little in direct return. The benign motives which inspire research may be seen as paternalistic interferences. The tendency to obtain research support from those at the top to study those at the bottom or outside, and a tendency to oversell the potential of social science (while enhancing egos and budgets) makes the researcher vulnerable to charges of perpetuating the status quo by feeding research upward into the hands of the powerful.
The researcher may experience a tension between his personal values of egalitarianism, participation and anti-elitism and the "fact" of his technical superiority in many aspects of the research process. He may feel equally guilty or uncomfortable when he tries to reconcile his expressed belief in cultural relativism and tolerance of other people with his secret belief that he is really better than the people he is studying.
The researcher may also face overt attacks from aggrieved communities, which may argue that as an outsider he or she is unable to understand or adequately present the problems of the group. The possibility that social research may debunk some of the claims an oppressed group, as well as of more powerful groups, may also be seen as threatening.
The muckraking researcher might argue that almost everyone else in American society has some kind of a hustle and that the consequences of his, on balance, may be better than most. More detached and specially trained outside observers are often in a position to gain unique insights. The scientist's freedom of inquiry (which unfortunately sometimes results in intellectual anarchy and moral indifference) may also be used as a justification. It could also be argued that research on these problems is a better use of resources than marketing research or military research. If those holding egalitarian and democratic values and committed to as rational an analysis as possible do not study such problems they may not be studied at all, or treated in ways pleasing neither to one's science nor one's politics. While such rationalizations are readily available, the researcher involved in such work and presumably already sensitized to issues of injustice and exploitation may find them inadequate in the face of the personal attacks he may receive from representatives (it not always those representative) of an aggrieved community.
If viewed from the perspective of some interest group, almost any social research may be critical. However, as suggested, many current researchers, like earlier muckrakers self-consciously seek topics likely to yield critical conclusions. But muckraking social science research tends to be more systematic, controlled and generalizable in its documentation, since it is bound by the traditional canons of scientific inquiry. Journalistic license is not so acceptable, which usually makes for less dramatic, if more credible presentations.
The strain toward objectivity may not always be present, however and when it is, it may create inner conflict in the researcher who holds strong value positions. Whether an area chosen for research because it is thought likely to yield material for social criticism in general will be as accurately presented as one chosen out of intellectual curiosity is still a difficult question. Will the intensity of one's political commitment result in haste, in failure to master the more difficult social science techniques? More seriously, will it inhibit respect for the standards of scholarship that grant social science whatever legitimacy it has in the outside world?
Is social rhetoric presented as social research? As the world of social science becomes divided into the good guys and the bad guys, does civility decline and self-righteousness run rampant among those who should ideally be bound to each other by their respect for the truth, wherever they may be pursuing it? There are, of course, no sure answers to the above questions, but they do suggest some potential pitfalls of committed research. The needs of social science and of opinion mobilization may conflict. In a politically charged research milieu there may be undue pressures to forego work on nonsubstantive questions of technique and theory or nonrelevant substantive topics.
Without arguing that the needs of science should always have priority, the importance of a variety of approaches to the study of society should be acknowledged. Advances in sociological understanding of relevant questions may come from giving free play to the imagination and working on questions far removed from whatever issues have received public attention. It is possible that in some cases intense public pressures (and extensive resources) for quick data and solutions may interfere with understanding. The quality of descriptive documentation which characterizes much muckraking research may not contribute much to cumulative scientific knowledge (though for many of those involved in such research, the need for social change takes priority over building social science.) It might also be argued that less sophisticated methodology or theory may have a greater impact on public opinion. Nuance and subtlety may not be conducive to indignation over social policies, particularly on the part of laymen.
Of course it could also be argued that sophisticated techniques or theory will turn up better results and offer more convincing interpretations; though the increased understanding which may come from more specialized language and technique may make it difficult to communicate in plain English. While it is incumbent upon social analysts not to confuse profundity with incomprehensibility and to write as clearly as they can, there is also an important role here to be played by journalists trained in social science interpretation and translation.
The radical potential of social research lies in its cynical (if not always compassionate) stance toward men's rationalizations and ideologies. As outside observers social scientists may consider aspects of reality that men as actors are unaware of and would deny. However social science may also have a conservatizing effect on its practitioners (beyond the rewards that can serve to seduce and co-opt the appropriately pedigreed and licensed). It may make them overly aware of the complexity of the social world, of the many levels at which cause may be sought, and of the interdependence and tendency of many social phenomena to persist in time, in spite of well intentioned efforts to eliminate them. (However a radicalizing influence may result as one comes to reject limited changes in focused institutions in favor of transforming the entire social order). It may also be easier to document some of the brutal facts of poverty, inferior education and inadequate housing, than to assess clear responsibility for them. Sometimes it may even turn out that victims cooperate in their victimization and that there are secondary gains to those mistreated.
From the perspective inspired by Max Weber and George Herbert Mead social science understanding may require that one imaginatively try to project oneself into the position of another person or group. Certainly each social group has the right to be taken seriously by the researcher (though certainly not to be liked or admired) no matter how abhorrent they may seem to him. Yet to realize with Harry Stack Sullivan that "we are all more human than otherwise" can greatly dampen the moral fervor a researcher begins with. Empathizing with the group seen as responsible for a problem may cause the researcher to develop an appreciation of the group's problems and fears and even on occasion to accept its point of view. This can greatly dampen the moral fervor with which he or she may have started. There are more than a few cases of social researchers becoming somewhat sympathetic to the point of view of the police, the far right, hard hats and ghetto merchants as a result of studying them; just as there are cases of researchers who come to assume more than the observer's role they began with in criminal, drug and homosexual milieus.
Even with respect to documentation, careful research sometimes may reveal the situation to be far less grave than one initially imagined. Or research may reveal how little we actually know about many problems, our smattering of social science facts and ideological hunches and sympathies to the contrary. Does one report such gaps in knowledge, or report data in a highly selective or distorted fashion, or ignore the data and go on and do new research on a topic or in a manner which will hopefully reveal less ambiguous and more striking results? Whatever one decides in such situations a price must be paid, either to one's honesty as a scientist or by failure to help the political cause in question.
In graduate training and in the professional face presented to the public the norms of scientific honesty are stressed. Yet a serious sociological study of sociologists, rather than of others, would no doubt reveal the usual gap between principles and practices. This is not always as bad for mankind or public policy as for the advancement of science. Assuming, however, that the above difficulties have been avoided and the data has turned out the way one had hoped it is nevertheless easy to overemphasize the significance of such research. George Bernard Shaw reportedly once remarked, "I have solved practically all the pressing questions of our time, but . . . they go on being propounded as insoluble just as if I had never existed." The social researcher may experience similar feelings though he or she is more likely to have identified a problem than to have solved it. Many facts well capable of creating indignation have been carefully documented for generations without change occurring, such as the concentration of economic power, racism and the implications of social class for life chances.
Once the world stands naked, its ugliness exposed, what then? Are the facts which the researcher may find upsetting self-evident, and will they generate reform attitudes in others? What obligation does the researcher have to see that his findings are widely propagated and correctly interpreted and to make concrete policy suggestions and then to work toward their implementation?
Analysts may not be sure what to do with their incriminating data once they have it, particularly since social criticism research of the kind represented by these articles is often undertaken by the scholar acting as a free agent. While he is free from the constraints of sponsored research, he may also find that he has a revealing picture but lacks the resources to see anything come of it. Much has been written about the difficulties of getting social research used, even if it has been commissioned by an organization that would profit from its implementation. How much more difficult then to apply findings of research carried out with neither the support of a large organization nor a specific mandate other than the good of the society at large as defined by the researcher. Journals such as Transaction/Society play an important role in diffusion such information, even if many of those reached may already be convinced of the need for reform, Yet a broker is still needed to more closely link research with relevant political constituencies.
Research is perhaps best when the analyst can go beyond specifying an undesirable end result (showing how it conflicts with official ideology and commonsense assumptions, how it developed, what its main dimensions are, where it is located, and what its human costs are) to clearly indicate the basic causes, responsible agent(s) and the mechanisms by which this situation may be changed. Some analysts go even further and seek the power to bring about envisioned changes and perhaps even to participate in their implementation. As we move from documentation, to causal analysis, to policy suggestions, to actual policy implementation of a given piece of research there is probably a decline in the proportion of social scientists involved at each successive step. It is easier to document and describe than to explain, and to criticize existing institutions and policy failings than to suggest new ones. The greater difficulty of explanation stems from the crudity of our measures and the very complexity of behavior, affected as it is by culture and history and human consciousness. This should create some humility and help establish indignation over a given problem in ratio to one's ability (or that of others) to propose ways in which it might be improved. That criticism and debunking are rather inexpensive and emotionally pleasing should not lead to overindulgence in them without the possibility of concrete suggestions for reform. Without at least some effort in this direction muckraking research may run the danger of being little more than shocking exposes sometimes bordering on sensationalism, bathed in the self-congratulatory smugness of the analyst free from the manifest sins of those lesser mortals submitted to his or her analysis.
Until recently sociologists have been hesitant to involve themselves in questions of policy. Partly this stems from a mistaken belief about scientific purity, from hesitancy to say anything concrete in the face of data whose implications are usually at least somewhat equivocal, and from the difficulties of translating research into action. But social scientists are also generally trained and rewarded for taking the world as it is: little attention is given to the free play of the imagination and thinking about alternative social forms.
Some analysts may also recoil at policy-making's implicit manipulation of behavior and choosing for others. Particularly with respect to deviant and non-middle class groups, the researcher may be torn between recommending that the group be left alone so as to avoid the persecutions, stigmas and prejudices which so increase its problems, and recommending policies which will change the social conditions responsible for the group's distinctiveness. Unfortunately, the resolution is too often withdrawal no recommendations and simple contentment with having documented a problem. A division of labor here may be practical. Many social analysts lack the temperament and skills for community political struggles and policy implementation. To the extent that the average person tries to play all roles in a social change process, his or her contribution in any one case must necessarily be diluted. Aside from the question of whether he or she can be a multifaceted super-change agent, social researchers, to often encapsulated in a ghetto of like-minded people and perhaps overemphasizing the importance of their calling, may forget that facts which they found so compelling may not necessarily seem this way to others --even assuming that they can gain access to the media.
The consequences of such research are affected by factors such as the way it is presented and the audience reached, the degree of indignation and political awareness among the unprivileged, the relative power and extent of gains and losses of groups affected by the proposed changes, and the general political atmosphere at the time of publication. The message persons take from communication depends very much on what they bring it and the context in which they receive it, beyond the attributes of the message. A wide array of psychological defenses and institutional rationales, not to mention different value preferences, will often prevent others from coming to terms with information that may seem apparent and poignant to the social analyst in a liberal milieu. One person's indignation may be another's pleasure or boredom. In this volume the article by Lowi on the Federal role in creating segregation is not likely create indignation on the part of many racists (who are unlikely to read it in any event). The article by Martinez showing how employment agencies lower their clients' self-image may be seen as a smart business practice by those thoroughly imbued with the profit-making ethos. The article by Barron on the powerlessness of blacks in Chicago may be seen by some as proof of lack of ambition and ability. Much research in this tradition is more concerned with conveying the life conditions and the human misery of excluded, stigmatized and ignored lower status groups. This is needed and important. Yet, if not presented with an analysis of the institutions most directly responsible for producing such behavior (and even then) some readers will take the description offered as further proof of how inferior and alien the excluded group is and will interpret their condition in terms of personal pathology and failing of the individual or their community. A careful description and analysis may also be taken as proof that the situation could not be otherwise. Research which documents violations of the most widely held consensual standards-such as Davis' article on sexual assaults in Philadelphia prisons or research on extreme parental mistreatment of children --is more likely to create reform sentiment. Research which exposes a condition directly touching the receiver of the message (particularly if he or she is of high status) rather than that which calls for sympathy and compassion for the revealed plight of others is even more likely to create such an end.
As for the implicated institution or group, if they do not ignore a study altogether, shift responsibility to some other group or report that tile problem is "being studied," they may label the research "unscientific," "biased" and the view of an uninformed outside ax-wielder who does not appreciate their problems, dangers and responsibilities. They may attempt to discredit data as a result of its sponsor or the past political activities of the researcher. They may try to cut off research funds, restrict further research access or limit publication channels. If rich and sophisticated enough (and they are usually far richer if not always more sophisticated than their critics) they may produce their own experts and counter-science (e.g., cigarette company research casting doubt on the link between smoking and cancer, the "counter-riot commissions" that emerged in some cities to dispute the reports of liberal commissions, southern foundations encouraging research on "white superiority," and the use of social scientists to testify in favor of urban renewal or school segregation. Such defense may take the form of methodological critiques, presenting data from another source, drawing on the same body of data but selectively emphasizing a different aspect of it, or even offering a different explanation for the same body of facts. Even where there is agreement on facts and explanation, there may be disagreement on significance. Does one say that fully 5 percent of police contact with low income whites results in excessive police violence, or only 5 percent, that a majority of blacks live in conditions of poverty or that only one in three of the poor are black?
Institutions under fire may sidestep critical studies by insinuating they are utopian and romantic. They may insist that a "hard realistic look" at the data will show how much progress has been made and how much better things are for the group in question than for comparable groups elsewhere in the world, or in other states or cities. By introducing an historical or comparative perspective, the evaluational frame of reference is made relative rather than absolute and some of the sting may be taken from the critique. Even where the research has benign effects, it is still well to keep in mind the exceptional flexibility and adaptability of American society and its remarkable capacity for coaptation. Muckraking research may show various institutions where their failings are most visible and lead to window dressing (such as the symbolic black in the front office) without basic alterations in patterns. Praising the results of a study or initiating a commission of inquiry may simply be an inexpensive way of giving the impression that something is being done. Researchers may sometimes come to feel that the main consequence of their work is to clarity for themselves and professional colleagues what is happening in a world beyond their reach and control.
Although their efforts were significant, early journalistic muckrakers became disillusioned rather quickly and were active for only a short period of time. Cynics have noted that after they left the scene the nation settled back into business as usual. Though there were certainly some improvements and some blatantly devious practices disappeared, others came to be more carefully hidden and in time, the new regulatory agencies were captured by those they were set up to control. The research themes and political concerns of sociologists radicalized during the depression years have also become more moderate over time.
Perhaps the current trend toward muckraking research will also be reversed. Certainly coaptation, fatigue, cynicism and frustration may discourage socially relevant research. Intense political pressure from the right (repression, denial of resources) and the left (harassment, difficulties of research access), the increased ability of established interests to defuse threatening social science data, and intellectual cycles of involvement and retreat from social issues may also have an impact.
Social change is usually subtle, uneven and multifaceted. Analyzing the precise contribution of social scientists who wish to contribute to it is difficult and can be self-indulgent. Compared to other decades in American sociology and most other countries the amount of research informed by reform instincts is significant. Even it is far from making a major dent, change has been achieved on some fronts and on others perhaps things have been kept from greater deterioration. In spite of much recent social science attention, many of our problems are still with us-some worse than ever. However, research such as that represented by this collection has contributed to greater public awareness and more sophisticated and humane theories about social issues. Considering that until recently this was a rather smug, optimistic and in some ways self-deluded society, blind to many of its problems, this is not an insignificant factor.
Critics of Society by T.B. Bottomore (New York: Pantheon is, 1968).
Crusaders for American Liberalism by Louis Filler (Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch Press, 1961).
Sociology of Sociology by Robert W. Friedrichs (New York: Free Press, 1970) .
The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology by Alvin W. Gouldner (New York: Basic Books, 1970).
The Uses of Sociology by Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, William H. Sewell and Harold L. Welensky (New York: Basic Books 1967).
The Sociological Imagination (2nd ed.) by Charles Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967).
Radical Sociology by J. David Colfax and Jack L. Roach New York: BasicBooks, 1971).
"Ethical Dilemmas and Political Considerations in Social Research" by M. Useem and G. Marx in A Handbook of Social Science Methods, edited by R. Smith. (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1983).
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