Countercultural reading of sociology as applied science

Do you need a bit of a laugh today? Here’s an oldie but a goodie, still making me giggle. Hope it brings a little mirth into your day/night. The comic is by xkcd, Fields Arranged by Purity. I had a print out of this over my desk at my old job where I was one of a handful of sociologists in an organisation employing a couple of thousand natural scientists.

Image: xkcd
Image: xkcd

It shows a sociologist at one end of a continuum and a mathematician at the other end. In between the other scientists say:

Psychologists: “Sociology if just applied psychology”
Biologists: “Psychology is just applied biology”.
Chemists: “Biology is just applied chemistry”.
Physicists: “Which is just applied physics. It’s nice to be on top.
Mathematicians: “Oh hey, I didn’t see you guys all the way over there”.

Rather than a scathing tongue-in-cheek slur on sociology’s scientific ‘purity’, I choose to read this as a comment about the individuality of sociologists, not caring about buying into a linear hierarchy of knowledge! Granted – sociology has its own internal divisions of which we might be all too aware of, largely between applied and academic sociological traditions. Then again, this comic (or rather my counter-hegemonic reading of it) nicely illustrates that one of sociology’s curses is also its strengths. Many people, including those from other sciences, might not understand what sociology is about, and this requires redress. Nevertheless, we do not hold up our science as a value judgement about a penultimate epistemological truth.

What’s your reading of this comic?