In November, the Florida Board of Governors voted to remove the “Principles of Sociology” from the state’s list of approved general-education courses for public-college students. Sociology professors across the state and in the American Sociological Association (ASA) have argued that the decision will prevent Florida students from learning about social structures and their effects on human behavior. Those critics are wrong. Sadly, academic sociology has devolved into a field of ideologues and activists promoting critical race theory and radical gender ideology. Florida should not include it among its general-education requirements.
Today’s sociologists claim to be the heirs of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons. They aren’t. Sociology before the 1960s was a more rigorous discipline, and often sought to explain the function and utility of social norms. Durkheim, for example, showed how strict divorce laws were a bulwark against anomie. Weber demonstrated the Protestant work ethic’s role in the formation of modern markets. Some of the most influential intellectual studies of the 1950s were rooted in sociology: The Lonely Crowd, The Power Elite, The Affluent Society, and more.
Scholar-activists in the 1960s, however, corrupted the field. They did not want to understand social institutions as much as transform and replace them. Critics have impugned the discipline’s excessive partisanship at least since the publication of “The Sociologist as Partisan” in the 1960s, when American sociology’s commitment to the social construction of all identities became entrenched. Sociology became synonymous with soft, “root causes” approaches to criminal and otherwise disordered conduct. Ronald Reagan famously complained of “sociology majors on the [judicial] bench” explaining away individuals’ responsibility for crime.
Today, academic sociology is almost hegemonically left-wing. The numbers are astonishing. The professoriate generally has gone from leaning left (two self-identified liberals for every conservative in 1969), to leaning further left (five-to-one in 1999), to leaping left (eight-to-one in 2006 and 11.5-to-one by 2016). Sociology is much more partisan than the professoriate as a whole. A 1999 study found zero Republicans among more than 60 randomly selected sociologists. A Brookings Institution survey in 2001 found 47 liberal sociologists for every conservative. One in five social scientists identified as Marxists in 2006; among sociologists, the number was one in four.
The conservatives who remain in the discipline often hide their ideological orientation. In 2016, the researchers Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn tellingly used “snowball sampling”—a technique used to identify hidden populations like prostitutes or drug addicts, where known subjects help identify additional subjects—to find a grand total of 12 conservative sociologists out of the 6,000 in the country.
This partisan imbalance has made sociology’s professional standards synonymous with the tenets of left-wing ideology. Christian Smith, sociologist at Notre Dame, exposed the discipline’s groupthink in his The Sacred Project of American Sociology, in which he surveys a sample of major books reviewed in Contemporary Sociology, the ASA’s book-review periodical; an issue of the American Sociological Review, the ASA’s flagship journal; the ASA’s meeting themes; and other sources. Smith concludes that American sociologists have adopted a “visionary project of realizing the emancipation, equality, and moral affirmation of all human beings as autonomous, self-directing, individual agents (who should be) out to live their lives . . . by constructing their own favored identities.” And what most threatens people’s ability to live autonomously and “affirmed” is oppressive gender and racial power structures, sociologists argue. “Exposing” those structures as the source of human misery and promising emancipation from them is sociology’s “sacred” project.
Evidence of the discipline’s ideological rot abounds. The 2024 ASA Annual Meeting’s theme is “Intersectional Solidarities: Building Communities of Hope, Justice, and Joy.” Past annual meetings have had similar themes. The first issue of the 2021 American Sociological Review contained six articles, five conforming to the sacred project: “‘Willing to do Anything for My Kids’: Inventive Mothering, Diapers, and Inequalities of Carework”; “Hiring and Intra-occupational Gender Segregation in Software Engineering”; “Statistical Discrimination and the Rationalization of Stereotypes”; and “Who Controls Criminal Law? Racial Threat and the Adoption of State Sentencing Law.” Each seeks to expose the supposedly corrupt structures oppressing people based on race and sex.
When a discipline grows so committed to a specific ideological program, its members often find political imperatives more important than scientific integrity. Sociologists’ commitments to social justice have eroded their fealty to academic norms of scientific method and peer review. As their colleagues demand conformity, sociologists have increasingly judged research, teaching, and curricula on compliance with a political agenda, not on intellectual rigor. This culture prompts censorship, self-censorship, and declining standards. Prominent scholars questioning the sacred project are exiled, struggle to publish their work, and find themselves subjects of investigation.
The Board of Governors’ decision to cut Principles of Sociology from Florida’s list of approved general-education courses reflects the reality that sociology is among the most politicized disciplines on modern American campuses. And while Florida doubtless is home to some nonideological sociologists, those scholars are not representative of their discipline. Academic sociology in its current form is unfit for general education, which is intended to teach students foundational ideas and methods, not propaganda. Florida students deserve better than left-wing agitprop.
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