The chief charge against the sociology offered at Harvard is that it teaches a lot of crackpot theory which can never serve any possible practical purpose. The attackers claim that it should give students a change to work with tangible problems, such a letting them collaborate on community projects, instead of memorizing a multitude of personal theory which has been cooked up by individual professors. Who cares if we are living in a "super-sensate culture"? That is just another way of describing the Machine Age, and the fact is certainly nothing new or startling. Sociology courses should set up certain agreed-on hypotheses, and then proceed to feed them to students in the form of practical problems. If the theories can be applies, the student will digest them; if not, they're not worth digesting anyway.
This criticism sounds reasonable at first, but it is not a wholly valid one. To begin with, it is absolutely necessary to teach a lot of theory. Sociology is complex; it cannot be boiled down to a few hypotheses; it cannot be simplified. Harvard does not intend to train its students to go into social work as a vocation, but to give them a background which can be used in teaching, politics, business, or any other occupation. Surely there is nothing more practical than this. The usual, supposition is that theory is entirely impractical, and herein lies the flaw in the anti-theory argument. The guts of physics are the Newtonian principles, and yet nothing can beat physics for practically. Cook books could never have been written without the principles of theoretical chemistry. Two plus two equals four: this is most practical, and yet highly theoretical. The practicality of sociology is that it reaches the essential properties of society, and the causes of repeated phenomena--theoretical material which is essential to any step towards reconstruction in society.
Increased field work would be of doubtful value. The Sociology Department does have field work in one or two specialized courses which are small enough in scope to make it profitable, but it would be detrimental to take the general emphasis off of theory. Students would get speckled bits of incoherent information about a few things. They would begin to think they were authorities on matters they knew nothing about. There are too many quacks who are saving and reconstructing the world when they don't even know their ABC's. If the student wants to get first-hand experience, he must put himself under first-hand conditions and remain there for some time. No, one can claim to know anything about labor conditions simply because he visited a factory on a sociology field trip.
But the fact still remains that students cry for something more practical. The trouble with the Sociology Department is not that it is putting undue emphasis on theory, but that its professors fail to convince a great number of their students that the theory they teach is practical.