In the past 8 years, I’ve given over 80 speeches to various audiences about racial disparities and have attended some or all of dozens of conferences, as well as participated in over a hundred meetings of various groups, boards, and commissions. These range from lawyer-dominated professional groups to white church groups to student groups to mixed-race community groups. Although I am a good public speaker and articulate and forceful in manner, I’m also by nature an introvert and by avocation an academic who is quite happy spending hours in front of a computer or otherwise minding my own business. So being at all these conferences and meetings has opened me to a lot of experiences I would not otherwise have had. I’m interested in what people talk about and how they talk. Last week, I spent two days at a racial disparities conference organized by university people in a rural area I’ll call FarmTown. I took detailed notes on what happened and my reactions and thought I’d write some of this up as a blog, as a reflection on what this “public sociology” stuff is really like out there in the trenches. I told some of the organizers of the conference that I was going to do this, and they were ok with it, agreeing with me about not using real names. It was a complex event, and my impressions are more about the juxtaposition of many different themes and kinds of experiences than about drawing any single conclusion or point. I’m going to follow the wise lead of some other bloggers (especially Bradley Wright who does this so well) and break this up into a series of small posts, rather than one long one. In so doing, I’ll lose the kaleidoscopic impact of the event as a whole, but avoid producing one big block of indigestible prose. My point, to the extent that there is one, is to counter what I see as a common one-sided romantic or patronizing view of “public sociology” as a sociologist bringing revealed truth to the uneducated masses or the national elites, and to stress the extent to which I learn things I did not know when I get out of my office and go spend time with people in different social locations.
Next: Farmtown #2: The Set Up