Preface, etc. – Sorokin, “Social Mobility” (1927)

 

 

Preface, etc. – ‘Social Mobility’

 

 

See downloadable PDF file, above.

 

 

I have obtained a rare copy of Sorokin’s groundbreaking work Social Mobility (1927), which was later republished as  Social and Cultural Mobility.

The characteristic vigorous Sorokin style is already on display here.

I was struck by the following passage from Sorokin’s  preface:

 

Speculative sociology is passing over. An objective, factual, behavioristic, and quantitative sociology is successfully superseding it. This explains why I have tried to avoid basing my statements on the data of “speech reactions” only; why in the book there is not much of speculative psychologizing and philosophizing; why, wherever it has been possible to obtain reliable quantitative data, I have preferred to use them instead of purely qualitative description. For the same reason I have tried to avoid an “illustrative” method, consisting in confirmation of a statement by one or two illustrative facts. Still used extensively in sociology this “method” has been responsible for many fallacious theories it the field of social sciences. It is time to declare a real war on this “plague of sociology.” Trying to avoid it I have endeavored to support each of my principal statements by at least a brief survey of the whole field of the pertinent facts and by indicating at least the minimum of literature where further factual corroboration may be found. When I have not been sure that a certain relationship is general or firmly established, I have stressed its local or hypothetical character.

Another “plague” of sociological theories has been their permeation with “preaching or evaluating judgments” of what is good and what is bad, what is “useful” and what is “harmful.” Sociological literature is inundated with “preaching works,” 90 per cent of which are nothing but mere speculation, often quite ignorant, given in the name of science. As the primary task of any science is to face the facts as they really exist; and as such “preaching” only compromises the science itself, it must be avoided by all who care for and understand what science means. This explains why the book, with the exception of a very few casual remarks, is free from such “preaching.”

Trying to face the facts I naturally do not care at all whether my statements are found to be “reactionary” or “radical,” “optimistic” or “pessimistic.” Are they true or not-this is the only thing that is important in science. If disfiguring the facts of sociology in the interests of the upper classes is a crime against science, no less a crime is disfiguring the reality in the interests of the lower classes. Either of these crimes should be fought by scientific sociology.

 

 

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The emphasis on a scientific, statistical, quantitative approach to sociology — reflecting trends in Russian and European sociology by which Sorokin was influenced — is evident.

‘[I]n the book there is not much of speculative psychologizing and philosophizing … wherever it has been possible to obtain reliable quantitative data, I have preferred to use them instead of purely qualitative description,” Sorokin writes. He inveighs against the “plague” of sociological theories permeated with “preaching or evaluating judgments.”

Yet, it can be said — in fact, I think it is undeniable — that in Sorokin’s later works can be found just such characteristics (those he criticizes here), as he shifted from dry quantitative sociology to what might called sociology and social/historical philosophy in the grand manner.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2020