heterodox: the blog
Centrism and Sociology
Editor’s note: This post was previously published on orgtheory with reader comments. It has been edited since its original publication.
Conservativism doesn’t seem to be a unipolar thing, according to much of the social psychological research on political attitudes. Rather, research by John Duckitt shows you can be conservative by being high in either social dominance orientation (SD) or right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). Of course, the two dimensions are moderately correlated but they’re not the same thing. High-SDO people dislike socially subordinate groups, and high RWA dislike socially deviant (or unconventional) groups. As a centrist, however, I’ve found that there’s a lack of research on the opposite poles of these scales even though there clearly seem to be a subset of liberals who like socially subordinate groups and a subset who like socially deviant groups. In fact, these liberals value them so much that they seem to favor preferential treatment for them, and show hostility toward groups that are even mildly apathetic toward them. From the perspective of centrists and libertarian liberals, this valorization is excessive.
This comes across in social psychological work on religious freedom. Early research showed that high-RWA people are more supportive of Christian than Muslim mandatory prayer, while low-RWA people oppose both types of prayer equally. However, research by Jarret Crawford shows if you change “mandatory” to “voluntary,” low-RWA people no longer disfavor both types. Rather, they more strongly favor Muslim than Christian school prayer space.
To some degree, I’ve found that sociology has become so ideologically homogenous that it’s now the disciplinary norm to avoid using “inequality” to describe preferential treatment of subordinate or deviant groups. In the race domain, in fact, centrists can get accused of supporting colorblind ideology or denying White privilege, even if they have a well-reasoned critique of preferential treatment. And in the gender/sexuality domain, the norm is for 50% of the research to focus on people who are deviant by traditional standards. But this skewness of focus isn’t termed inequality. My point isn’t about race or gender, though, but the large issue of whether there’s place for centrists in sociology—people who neither valorize nor condemn subordinate and deviant groups. Psychological social scientists have begun to address this issue—see Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim in particular who focus on how this political homogeneity harms science. Where does sociology stand?
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