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What Makes Film Sociological?

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I’m belated in responding to this, but several months ago, sociologist Jeff Guhin raised an interesting question in relation to The Wire: what makes a novel or movie or television program sociological? As he notes, “the problem is that if sociology is the study of the social, then what show or movie or book isn’t sociological?” As the question implies, we’re torn between a strict definition of the sociological and a sense that sociology has particular attitudes in the study of the social.

But I thought this was a question I would be qualified to weigh in on, at least partly. My new book, Sociology on Film: Postwar Hollywood’s Prestige Commodity, explicitly takes up this question, and its publication now has made me think more about the questions Guhin raises. After all, my book circles around this problem without answering it outright. I am basically concerned with how Hollywood social problem films in the 1940s began popularizing academic sociology. And I argue that this change was n…