The Difference Between Us

February 16, 2009 | Blog

The more time I spend with my good buddy Doug Harris (we spend a LOT of time together, for why see here) the more I wonder about the real differences between sociologists and economists. What distinguishes us, really?

Back in graduate school, I knew for sure. In the old ugly McNeil Bldg at Penn I spent all my time in Sociology, 2nd floor. From the atrium couches stained with styrofoam lunch remains, I could look up to the 3rd floor and see the Economists. Boys. All boys. Around me in Sociology, all girls. So the answer was clear: Sociology, female. Economics, male. They thought people were supposed to be rational, and we knew they simply were not.

Ah, to be young and naive. Also, to be in the throes of a flush economy.

These days I find myself frequently saying that people, programs, policies are inefficient, that if they are not cost-effective they are not worth doing, and that impacts needs to be assessed with true costs in mind. That said, I also mean something different by “costs”– I can’t stand that costs are measured by what’s spent instead of what needs to be spent in order to achieve a desired outcome.

But back and forth, back and forth, I also find myself very concerned about the broader implications of actions, the meanings we create just by doing, the non-monetary costs we constantly accrue. I can almost see Doug’s quizzical face asking me to clarify…

So tell me readers, in an “interdisciplinary” world where many academics are concerned with creating genuine social changes, where do the disciplinary boundaries still lie– and should they, will they, begin to lie down?


  1. Reply


    February 17, 2009

    I think about this regularly on campus. I am in the Business Administration discipline but I am continuously working with English, Math, and Reading disciplines developing programs to help our population. I don't think my department likes it but I feel its the right thing to do.

    I believe every aspect of Life is interdisciplinary. To stay within our "box" seems sheltered.

    Thanks for the awesome blog.

  2. Reply


    February 18, 2009

    I just asked the same question of a faculty candidate in my department (which considers itself interdisciplinary), and he sort of balked. But it's a valid question, right?

    My research in education draws from sociology, history, and a little psychology and economics, and I feel the boundaries most in the discourse and base assumptions of the disciplines' theories. There's also the the insta-clout that comes with the title of economist, of course. Prestige hierarchies within the social sciences don't help the boundaries lie down! That said, I'm headed to a disciplinary based conference this weekend....

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