Preface for the Turkish Edition of "37 Moral Imperatives for Aspiring Sociologists"

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By Gary T. Marx

I am very pleased that these observations written for beginning students of society are now available in Turkish. In these remarks and elsewhere (Marx 1990, 2000, 2002) I note the importance of travel in honing one’s sociological eye and the advantages of being both an outsider and an insider for knowledge. I hope in your studies you can benefit from both literal as well as virtual travel. Among my best memories of a year spent traveling around the world in 1964 was the time in Turkey. Your country’s history and archaeology and its rich mixture of Eastern and Western culture symbolized for me by the bridge across the shimmering Bhosphorous are an enduring and inspirational memory. Turkey offers a superb example of processes of social change and of how culture’s evolve “Where Peoples Meet” (the title of an insightful book about ethnic groups written by American Sociologists Everett and Helen Hughes a half century ago).

You may well ask what is the relevance of this article a decade later in a society with a history, culture and social organization different from that of the United States. The answer in the broadest terms is that there are likely certain broad universals associated with being human and living in a complex society, as we add to this a modern democratic or democratizing society and the profession of the student of society, the commonalties become even more pronounced. Beyond any functional (or dysfunctional) universals there is also the spread of the industrial-information based modern society. Commonalties across cultures may appear out of necessity (as self-defense and to effectively compete) or out of political domination.

Societal similarities may also appear as a result of an often related cultural and economic imperialism. The fact that you are likely to know many of the popular culture examples referred to in the article such as the film The Maltese Falcon or music by Sting illustrates this. 1 The quite varied consequences of this cultural export and the role more generally of mass or popular culture (either universal or filtered and generated through the uniqueness of a given society) should be a topic of great importance for social researchers. We need not only to understand what the media say about our societies, but what is left unsaid and unseen when we rely so heavily on the media for our sense of social reality.

But even if this article based on the context in the United States does not apply to Turkey, it may offer data for comparative research. Noting differences between societies extends knowledge. As I note, the analysis of variation is a central component for the advancement of knowledge, whether in the natural or social sciences. Partly the issue turns on the level of abstraction. Thus we can speak of Turkey as a country with certain distinctive social and cultural characteristics, but any broad statement must fade as we compare life in the modern city with that in a rural village, this is even truer as we consider the differences between local persons in the same family from each other or across generations. As we move back and forth on the ladder of abstraction, using what is common and distinct (and their correlates) to help our understanding, we are at the core of social inquiry.

As I reread the 37 imperatives in the article I am struck yet again by how challenging personal and professional issues are in our complex and rapidly changing worlds. There is no simple and rigid formula for success (either in the professions or in life) other than an over-arching awareness of the issues and context. Yet if we lack a detailed map, we none-the-less have a variety of other navigational tools. A central theme is the spirit of inquiry associated with the rise of modernization. This requires both initial skepticism and the positive belief that the world is knowable through empirical inquiry and agreed upon procedures subjected to the review of others. It must begin with identifying the questions. The scholar worthy of the name requires humility and being a good listener, but also the courage to stick to unpopular views if that is where the analysis leads. It requires good manners and healthy doses of diplomacy and civility, but also honesty in disagreeing with others when that seems appropriate, while always making one’s case with logic and data rather than simply asserting that something is true as the fundamentalist does. As the German sociologist George Simmel noted within bounds such “principled” conflict is central to the good society.

Related to the above is awareness of the multiple dialectics found in the effort to be a good scholar, good professional and a good person. Among others these involve the need to consider and weigh (although not necessarily to balance as in a sometimes wishy-washy equivalence) both structure and process, the macro and the micro, the historical and the contemporary, respect for traditional work and openness to new ways of thinking, one’s own and other societies, the insider and the outsider, the generalist and the specialist, the disciplinarian and the inter-disciplinarian, the quantitative and the qualitative, the factual and the value, the social scientist and the social critic, the objective and the subjective, the point of view of the actor and the observer, the narrative and the visual, the professional and the popular audience, the theoretical and the applied and work and family. 2

The answer, to the extent that there is one, involves awareness of the tension between opposites and an attitude of care and balance, as we continually struggle to let in the light and heat without being blinded or burned. Finally as I note in the conclusion, I hope that in your efforts to understand society that you will be committed to freedom of inquiry, the ideals of universalism and civility. The moral power of ideas and the advantages of the scholar’s position come with a mandate to use them responsibly. We need both knowledge and wisdom and the two are, in the best of all worlds, deeply interwoven. Social research can make a difference.


Hughes, E.H. and H. 1952. Where Peoples Meet. Glencoe, Ill: Free Press.

Marx, G. 1990. “Reflections on Academic Success and Failure: Making It Forsaking, Reshaping It” in B. Berger, Authors of Their Own Lives. Berkeley: University of California Press.


  1. One that may not be known: “Jack Webb-Badge 714” refers to a television show with that name (earlier called Dragnet) about a Los Angeles detective. It refers to a black and white, non-effusive, no-nonsense, clipped, direct presumably factual style. That the “facts” themselves depend to a degree on the linguistic concepts we bring to them and the centrality of matters of interpretation for human, as against instinctual meanings and behavior was lost on the rather uncomplex, unsentimental detective Webb. This style is also seen in the film L.A. Confidential.

  2. In Marx (2002) I discuss 12 related professional issues in greater depth.

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