Discipline Biography

I'm currently doing further research into the history of American sociology for a chapter I'm writing. In addition to more standard histories of the field or more theoretical treatments of the history of sociology, I've come across a book (Fifty Years in the Sociological Enterprise) written by one sociologist, Charles H. Page, tracking his career trajectory across affiliated institutions, such as City College, Smith, and Princeton. Page was hardly a central figure in 20th century sociology, but his book is interesting precisely in its typicality, including solid programs that fall outside the typical Chicago-Harvard-Columbia-Wisconsin programs usually dominating such histories. More to the point, Page is not writing an auto-biography exactly but is approaching the history of the discipline through personal history.

I toss this post out because I'm curious about how we tell the history of the discipline. Autobiography certainly has its drawbacks as an approach; it can for instance exacerbate the "noise" of cliques, it can be unrepresentative, or it can be less efficient as an exposition. But while disciplines are abstract, aggregate terrains, they only work as embodied in its practitioners. As the plenary roundtable at the last SCMS conference showed, practitioner history can be illuminating. It leaves me wondering whose disciplinary biography I would most want to read.


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