The Difference Between Us

Sunday, February 15, 2009
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?