recipient of the Fellowship ofnSouthern Writers Poetry Award.nHenry Taylor’s most recent book isnThe Flying Change, which won thenPulitzer Prize for poetry in 1986. Henis a professor of English at AmericannUniversity.nTHE ACADEMYnSociology andnCommon Sensenby Steven GoldbergnThe “Common-Sense SociologynTest” made its first appearance innthe mid-1960’s. The test is now anfamiliar fixture in introductory sociologyncourses and textbooks, but in thenbeginning its exciting novelty instantlyncaptured the hearts and minds of graduatenstudents and young professors facingntheir first lecture halls — lecture hallsnfilled with a student skepticism that isnnow only a memory. It is not difficult tonsee why the test was so popular anteaching device.nThe purpose of the test is to demonstratento the introductory student thenmisconceptions that allegedly derivenfrom everyday observation and commonnsense, misconceptions that can bencorrected only by an infusion of sociologicalnknowledge. What more couldnone ask for when encountering studentsnwhose naivete cannot preclude theirnbelieving that “sociology is just commonnsense”?nBy forcing the student to realize thenfallibility of his intuitions and observa­ntions of social life, the test is meant tonmake the student realize that he hasnfound sociology just in time to enablenhim to avoid a life of misconception. Itsnpedagogical virtues are so obvious thatnno one seems to have noticed whatneveryone should have noticed immediately.nThe test does not merely fail tonmake its point, but succeeds in demonstratingnthat precisely the opposite pointnis true: the beliefs of the student, basednon his observations and common sense,nare basically correct.nThe actual effect of nearly everynquestion and answer is to engender anfeeling on the part of the student thatnhe has been given no reason to doubtnhis long-held belief or the intuition andnobservation on which it is based. Thenstudent feels (or should feel) that thenwording of the questions and answersnclaimed correct by the test rests onnstatements that are dubious, misleading,nor outright false; at best, the answersnonly seem to refute the importantnbeliefs held by the student, but, in fact,nrefute unimportant beliefs that the studentndoes not hold.nIn other words, to the extent thatnthis test represents what sociology does,nit indicates that sociology is worse thanna restatement of common sense; it is andenial of common sense. Fortunately,nsociology at its best is much more ablenthan this, as we shall see.nThe problem is not that this is anpoor test that fails where a good testnwould succeed. The problem is muchndeeper: the test is based on the falsenpremise that the sociologist’s primaryncontribution is an observational eye farnkeener than that of the average person.nI would suggest that, save for thosensociologists gifted with the novelist’sneye (who can be counted on the onenfinger deserved by Erving Goffman),nsociologists only rarely make observationsnnot made with far greater frequency,nand with as much accuracynand subtlety, by other people. Then”average person” has a far greaternobservational ability than he is usuallyncredited with, and any test that attemptsnto demonstrate an inadequacynin the average person’s observationalnpowers is doomed to either direct failuren(students answer the questions correctly)nor failure that only seems tonsucceed by using misleading wordingnand giving incorrect answers (the testnexamined here).nnnWhile his observation of group behavioralnrealities is astonishingly accurate,nthe “average person’s” explanationnof the behavior he observes isnoften woefully contradictory and inaccurate.nA clear example of this is the stereotype.nAs observations stereotypes arennearly always accurate (remembering,nof course, that a stereotype is a statisticalnclaim about observed group behavior,nnot a description of any givennindividual). It is the average person’snexplanation of the behavior he observesnthat is so often hopelessly inadequate.nIt is by providing correct explanationsnof accurate observations {i.e.,nexplaining why the members of thengroup tend to exhibit the characteristicsnor behavior that is observed), not bynpretending that the observations areninaccurate, that we sociologists cannjustify our existence.nThe variety of human behavior, thenlimits our physiology sets on socialnpossibility, the social structure thatnserves to organize human interactionnand provide a template for culture, andnthe culture that binds and separatesnhuman beings — these all justify thenstudy of social reality. This is selfevidentnfrom the fact that there is ansocial reality, and that it can no morenbe understood atomistically than cannthe nature of the “team” be understoodnby studying only individual players.nIt is not the observation but rathernthe discovery of the causal connectionsnexplaining that which is observed, thatnis worthy of calling upon the genius ofna Vico or a Weber or a Durkheim. It isnonly through such explanations that wenare justified in denying the widely heldnview that “sociology is just commonnsense.”nThe Common-Sense SociologicalnTest follows. The entire test and thencomplete questions (“Q “) and answersn(“A”) are given; however, the order ofnthe questions has been altered to obviatenrepetition in the “comments” Inhave added. According to the test, allnquestions are “true/false” and the correctnanswer to every question is “false.”nQ. Revolutions are more likely tonoccur when conditions are very badnthan when previously bad conditionsnare rapidly improving?nA. Revolutions are actually morenMARCH 1991/55n