Letter to the Editor

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a letter in The American Sociologist 37(1):81-82, 2006. Also as pdf file.
It was also reprinted in Public Sociology: The Contemporary Debate, edited by Lawrence T. Nichols, pp. 314-315 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007).

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2006. Letter to the Editor. The American Sociologist 37(1):81-82.

In response to the article, “Why Sociology Does Not Need To Be Saved,” by Neil McLaughlin, Lisa Kowalchuk, and Kerry Turcotte, a few clarifications are in order —and not only because the title of the article is an apparent reference to my website campaign, “SaveSociology.org.” In the article, my activities against public sociology are referenced in a very distorted and misleading manner. The authors suggest that the tone of my campaign is “problematic and divisive.” I cannot see how my campaign can possibly be problematic —except perhaps for those who support public sociology— because it has garnered a lot of attention and fostered debate, to wit, for example, the article by McLaughlin et al. My campaign is also not divisive but instead is oriented at clarifying the contours and foundations of a debate that is important to our discipline and profession. The divisions that have been made (e.g., the very notion of a public sociology) are not mine.

I am faulted for presenting a “vision of a purely ‘scientific sociology’.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides wondering what a non-purely scientific sociology might mean, I merely argue, in response to the attempted politicization of sociology by the recent wave of public sociology, that sociology is a social science. There is no specific sociological perspective that I defend in my campaign against public sociology other than taking a stance on what sociology should not be. The authors write of “the ‘save sociology’ perspective” when such does not exist. Moreover, the sociological perspectives I do defend are articulated in my substantive contributions in sociology and are not at issue here.

McLaughlin et al. argue that the presentation of public sociology on my website is “fragmented and brief.” That is true inasmuch as my website merely seeks to expose the basic arguments I have against public sociology. But the website campaign does not comprise the whole of my concerns. Should the authors have relied on at least some of my numerous writings (all of which are linked from my website), they would have been able to entertain in an actual discussion of my ideas. But, most damaging to their article, they cite only one letter (Deflem 2004b) and none of my other, more important writings (Deflem 2005a, b, c, 2004a, c). On formal grounds alone, the allegations leveled against me are without merit. For instance, I am being critiqued for activities that verge on “red-baiting.” This is flat-out absurd, because my activities are oriented against any politicization of sociology, the specific form or direction of which does not interest me one bit, as I have argued explicitly elsewhere (Deflem 2004c).

Finally, I must take special exception to the authors’ contention that I would have launched into “personalized attack” in my relevant activities, specifically by attacking “the ASA staff.” I deny this charge unequivocally. Not on one single occasion have I been personalized in any of my work in this context. Any criticisms I have launched have always focused on professional and intellectual positions, never on personal dimensions. Besides, I do not even know most of my fellow sociologists in this debate on a personal level. My contacts within the ASA, also, have been very numerous and professional, especially as I have served in a multitude of service functions in and for the Association since I became a member in 1993. I would encourage McLaughlin et al. to be more thoughtful before they raise such a serious charge, especially when they do not even have one argument to support it.


Deflem, Mathieu. 2005a. “Southernizing Social Forces.” The Southern Sociologist, Newsletter of the Southern Sociological Society, Winter 2005, 36(3):12-15.

____. 2005b. “Sociologists, One More Effort! A Propos Goodwin.” Comparative & Historical Sociology, ASA Section newsletter, 16(2):4-6.

____. 2005c. “Comment” (on public sociology). Contemporary Sociology 34(1):92-93.

____. 2004a. “The War in Iraq and the Peace of San Francisco: Breaking the Code of Public Sociology.” Peace, War & Social Conflict, Newsletter of the ASA section, November issue, pp. 3-5.

____. 2004b. “There’s the ASA, But Where’s the Sociology?” Public Forum. Footnotes, ASA Newsletter, July/August 2004, 32(6):9.

____. 2004c. Letter to the Editor (“The Proper Role of Sociology in the World at Large”). The Chronicle Review, October 1, p. B17.

See related papers on academe.