Wrapping Up

This last post is supposed to serve as a summary of my research findings. In all honesty, I already had difficulty summarizing five full-time weeks of research into a nineteen-page paper over these past few weeks, so I’m pretty overwhelmed by the task of summarizing my findings into a single post for my blog readers. I have decided to take this post to summarize the argument in my paper for you all as briefly as possible.

Thesis: A pedagogical focus on patience, humility, and charity would make possible both an individual disposition and a community through which students of sociology would be better prepared to strive practically towards alleviating brokenness in societies.

I began my paper by explaining how we have arrived in the current state of modernity. In order to do this, I drew on Hannah Arendt’s explanation of how we have arrived in this era of Cartesian objectivity. I also explained Charles Taylor’s argument that three modern social forms (the economy as objectified reality, the public sphere, and popular sovereignty) have brought humans to a point at which they value freedom and equality as “natural” or “human” rights – as the chief goods of modern society.

I then moved on to a discussion of why sociology in modernity does not capture reality well. First, I discussed Hannah Arendt’s explanation of forgiveness as a necessary characteristic of the kind of action that allows humans to distinguish who they are as individuals from what they are collectively. I used this explanation to argue that forgiveness is even present in the action that allows humans to understand the “objective” processes through which they try to overcome action, for apart from their ability to start processes of their own through action, humans could not understand the processes present in nature and history.

Second, I turned to Hilary Putnam to argue that the fact/value dichotomy is a false dichotomy, and that pure scientific objectivity does not really exist. Humans always bring their own baggage and subjectivities into descriptions; their descriptions are always loaded. It is just a matter of how well they are loaded.

Third, I discussed John Milbank’s accusation that sociologists have dissolved into relativism through their social constructionism. If there are no objects that exist in and of themselves, apart from human construction, to what do sociologists refer as their theoretical basis when they critique objects? How can they call something out as a justifying ideology or a social construct if everything is relative?

Fourth, I turned to Jürgen Habermas’s critique of dramaturgical theory and explanation of communicative action theory. Through discourse in a community of individuals who are making judgments on each others’ deepest reasonings, some measure of objectivity can be reached that is truer to reality than either Cartesian objectivity or relativism.

After explaining why sociology in modernity does not capture reality well and discussing an alternative paradigm that better accounts for the reality humans encounter daily, I turned to a discussion of what I think sociological pedagogy ought to look like as I actually began to argue for my thesis. First, I used the work of Mike Higton to discuss how every academic discipline is laden with a system of virtues, and each discipline works to teach its students to become virtuous apprehenders of that discipline. Additionally, as students develop the willingness to judge and to be judged that is necessary for true learning to take place in the modern academy, they develop general academic virtues such as integrity, humility, attentiveness and patience. If the discipline of sociology itself is already laden with assumptions about what kind of virtues a student must cultivate in order to become a virtuous apprehender, it is no less objective for professors of sociology to explicitly teach students the importance of patience, humility, and love as they not only teach students to recognize what is wrong with society, but also prepare students to be changemakers in society.

Synthesizing Higton’s argument with Habermas’s communicative action theory, I discussed how in order to become virtuous apprehenders in the academy, in order to make judgments of their own, students must feel allowed to make their deepest reasonings known. This way, professors and students will be able to recognize that they each come with an interpretation of their tradition and to learn how each individual’s interpretation affects the subject matter at hand. Even Western secular modernity is a culturally ingrained pre-understanding, and involves assumptions that must be made explicit if professors of sociology seek to display a willingness to be judged and to invite students to make judgments.

I then turned to Charles Taylor to discuss how, even though sociologists appear to be treating equality and freedom as the chief goods, they are frightened by those operate according to modernities different from their own. They have come to a place where they view their conception of modernity as their understanding of their own goodness, and feel threatened by those who do not operate according to that same standard of goodness. I argue that perhaps if, as part of becoming virtuous apprehenders of their discipline, sociologists learned to respond to nonwestern cultures with humility, patience, and love, they would not need to feel threatened by concepts of goodness that are different from their own.

Last, and arguably most importantly, I turn to the work of Stanley Hauerwas to argue that the university produces people who, at best, graduate with a desire to “do something for the poor,” but have not been taught to see the poor as beautiful people. Sociologists can become so focused on eliminating the poor whose existence in society threatens their conception of goodness that they lose sight of what it means truly to love the poor. In order to build relationships, to love the poor well rather than trying to eliminate them, sociologists need to focus on cultivating and teaching students to cultivate the virtues of patience, humility, and charity. First, patience is required in order to build true relationships with the poor and in order to learn what it is that the poor actually need. Instead of patiently building real relationships with the poor and learning what it is that they truly need, sociologists often prefer to try to build relationships quickly merely as a means to intervening to bring their society to a more equal, free state. Second, humility is required for sociologists to recognize that their modernity is not necessarily inherently good or pure; just because Western nations have assumed equality and freedom as the chief goods does not mean that their modernity can or should be stamped on other cultures like a blueprint. Humility is also required for sociologists to learn to accept forgiveness for their actions when their interventions to help the poor have unintended consequences. Third, charity is necessary in order for sociologists to treat their interventions as acts of love, rather than treating them as interventions to eliminate that which threatens the goodness of their own modernity. Ultimately, helping the poor is about cultivating and acting with the patience, humility, and love required to build real relationships, relationships without which meaningful change would be much less likely to occur.

In conclusion, professors of sociology should seek to structure their pedagogy to cultivate these virtues in their students. By teaching students patience, humility, and love as they are taught a willingness to judge the deepest reasonings of others and to have their own deepest reasonings judged, students will begin to cultivate these virtues as academic virtues within the community of their academic discipline. Then, as sociologists properly teach students what it means to love the poor rather than simply to eliminate them, professors of sociology can seek to show students how they ought to apply these virtues in how they act to bring about a better society. It is time for sociologists to stop using Western, secular modernity as a curtain to hide their deepest assumptions and reasonings, and instead to be courageous enough to declare who they are and what they value through their speech and actions in the classroom.

Since this is my last blog post, I would like to show my appreciation to all of my blog readers for your willingness to stick with me through what I assume is a pretty new assortment of vocabulary and concepts to you all. I say this not because I doubt your intelligence or knowledge, but because my research explored a pretty specialized topic that not many individuals have had the time or resources to explore. Writing these posts really helped me reflect on and learn from the content of my research, and without your devotion to my posts and positive feedback I would not have been motivated to take the time to continue writing them –so thank you. I would also like to thank Dr. Goodson for his devotion to helping me build this research proposal, and for his even greater devotion to challenging me and assisting me during this research. Lastly, I would like to thank the Charles Center for providing me with the resources to explore this topic that is extremely important to me. This summer research has been such a growth experience for me personally and academically, and I will always be grateful to have had this opportunity.

Comments

  1. I know I’ve said this already, but I’ll say it again: brilliant. I look forward to reading the paper.

    I wonder, though: why the exclusive focus on sociology rather than the broader (but still plausible) claim that patience, humility, and charity should be guiding virtues of any academic discipline?