There are hidden, latent, patterns to our social behavior and the way society functions. These latent patterns may be unintended or unconscious (per Robert Merton), but they may also be meant to be deliberately covert or furtive. So, which functions or patterns of society are unintended, unconscious and which ones are consciously hidden? For me, there are three main outlets that allow us to go behind the scenes, so to speak, to uncover the invisible patterns in our social lives and in society. You don’t have to be a sociologist or any kind of scientist for that matter to avail yourself of the information offered by these outlets.
The quarterly magazine, Contexts, created by the American Sociological Association, is the official channel for jargon-free information about “latest sociological ideas and research.”1 The magazine, perhaps modelled after Psychology Today, is meant to be nontechnical (you won’t find articles using confidence intervals or p values) and to “stimulate fresh thinking, and disseminate important information produced by the discipline.”2
After shepherding Contexts for several years, the editors left the magazine to create The Society Pages, which is an online only platform that “brings social science to broader public visibility and influence.”3 This online sociology ‘project’, as the proprietors call it, is perhaps the most familiar space for staging what has become public sociology, or sociology that is not confined to the closeted world of sociologists.
The other outlet for publicly disseminating information about sociology is Hidden Brain, which uses science and storytelling to reveal the “unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”4 To be sure, this award-winning weekly series of reports broadcasted on National Public Radio covers more than just sociology; it brings together research from all the social sciences and links them to neurobiology. On my daily commutes, I have often heard revelations or disclosures about certain unknown patterns of our social lives, such as the fact that the rate of mortality declined during the Great Recession (2007-2012).
Together, these three outlets provide, for me, sociological information that is credible, accessible and available to me as a public consumer. And all three of them offer different takes on the functions and patterns of especially our latent social lives. It is already easy to see what is manifest, so we need decoders to help us unpack the latent.
In terms of bringing technical social science knowledge to the public, I am convinced that Psychology Today has done an exemplary job – by reaching out to the public more than 50 years ago with a publication that made the stuff of the mind and human behavior easy for all non-psychologists to understand.
While pop psychology may be derisively used to describe oversimplified concepts, the fact that psychology is on the public stage makes it strikingly more accessible to everyone who wants to be informed about things that do not always seem evident about ourselves, our lives.
There is nothing in the public theatre that resembles anything close to Psychology Today for sociology and the challenge remains to let the public in on what sociologists know and talk about. The challenge for any hub outlet for sociology meant for the public is that our information technology eco system places at our disposal thousands of online outlets for information; it is the bane and blessing of our world. And although there is considerable consolidation and contraction in print media, Psychology Today seems to be thriving after 50 years. What is their secret sauce?
For four years now, the editorial team at The Sociologist has wrestled with how our magazine will become like Psychology Today; we want to define ourselves as caterers not custodians of sociology. It may seem we arrived at this public square a tad late, showing up at a time when the stage is crowded with a garden variety of online information outlets, fake news, memes, tweets, blogs, face news (as in Facebook).
When our regional sociology society was founded more than 80 years ago, it was one of the first regional organizations of sociologists to be formed in the U.S. and so it is now the challenge for our magazine to be novel in our engagement in the public square where we want to be. When we transformed our newsletter into a magazine for public sociology, we wanted this space to be a meeting place where all sociologists and non-sociologists can gather through an interest in sharing insights about ourselves. The goal remains the same, and the destination is distinct, but the path is not yet clear to us. We want to be like Psychology Today by providing insights about your social life and also by becoming a resource to get help with your social life.
We hope that the feature section “Ask a Sociologist” will become a go-to resource for all who want nontechnical answers to life’s vicissitudes, social conundrums and latent challenges about living. So send us your questions and your queries. And we also hope that the new “Resources” section will provide a supply of informed people and agencies that can provide help on a range of manifest and latent patterns in life. We also want to bring you perspectives from the Washington D.C. area; this regional aspect of our magazine is how we stay anchored in a physical, actual, space. We are more than a virtual community.
Our rendezvous becomes an occasion for curiosity about our world. Everyone has a story to tell, and we want you to send us your insights for publication – and you don’t have to be a scientist. What we ask of you is that you are earnest and honest in what you write and what you share. It is how we avoid malnourishment in a time of abundance.