Mikhail M. Sokolov

European University at Saint Petersburg


The paper investigates the ritual aspects of sociological practice. It claims that innovations in sociology (such as new methods, genre conventions, or epistemological creeds) are widely adopted if and only if they are instrumental as sense-building devices. Their ability to provide something publicly recognized as «knowledge» is secondary to their ability to provide subjective sense or meaning of academic life of the users. This meaning arises from correspondence to the grand narrative of science with its promise of participation in cumulative progress and, thus, form of immortality. The notion of «sense-buliding » adds an important corrective to historical sociology of sociology›s (Abbott, Karady. Camic) insistence on the central role of strife for external legitimacy as a factor in sociology›s intellectual development. While it is true that sociology adopts statistical methods to affirm its status of «science», it is argued here that the true audience it attempts to persuade by this are sociologists themselves, not natural scientists or lay public. Counterfactual speculations are cited to support this claim. It is argued that have sociologists been primarily obsessed with proving their credibility to outsiders, they would probably adopt other explicit philosophy of science (e. g. implying benchmarking their discipline with biology, rather than physics), and develop other forms of writing (e. g. centered on visualization devices). The genre forms dominant today — the perspectivist textbook or syllabus presenting sociology as a set of «paradigmes» and the regression article are analyzed as similar to ritualistic and ecstatic religious practices in Weberian sociology of religion, which are to dispel internal doubts in the discipline›s being elected for the status of true science.

Keywords: history of sociology, sociology of science, sociology of sociology, microsociology, Erving Goffman