A large college lecture hall, with some seats brightly lit and others covered in an ominous shadow. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels under Pexels license.

On November 9th, 2023 the Florida Board of Governors voted to remove “Principles of Sociology” from the list of required courses at all public colleges. Manny Diaz Jr, the state’s education commissioner, wrote on social media that “sociology has been hijacked by left-wing activists.” In response, the president of the American Sociological Association, Joya Misra, released a statement defending the importance of sociology in higher education. The decision in Florida has jolted the sociology community into an identity crisis and led to a broad, far-ranging debate about and defense of the value of the discipline. 

The Value of Sociology

Although the first department of sociology was established in the late 19th century, the discipline remains difficult to define. For those outside of the field, Sociology is often confused with social work or even socialism. But even among sociologists, there have been lasting debates about what constitutes and defines the discipline, its object(s) of study, and its unique way of viewing the world. Even its status as a science is a perennial question: should sociological observations be considered objective facts as in the natural sciences, or will social realities always be subjective and biased? The recent policy changes in Florida’s higher education curriculum have caused sociology insiders and outsiders alike to ask if it’s a science and what sort of utility it has in the real world. 


Though the attacks on sociology by politicians and policymakers have made headlines recently, lambasting higher education is nothing new in American politics. Since the late 1960s, sociologists and other scholars have been studying anti-intellectualism – holding distrustful and disparaging attitudes towards experts and respected scientists – in the United States. Acclaimed historian Dr. Richard Hoffstadter famously published Anti-Intellectualism in American Life in 1963, which in part argued that the construction of intellectuals as ‘elite’ members of society diminishes their reputation as trustworthy amongst the general public. This framing makes them a target for politicians who claim to ‘represent the people,’ and can transform generally accepted scientific theories into potent political wedge issues. 

The internet’s inception has significantly impacted the form and salience of anti-intellectualism in American society. The racial, social, and economic inequalities that continue to afflict the country have become exceedingly visible through online media. The internet has also provided a platform for creating false and misleading content and its widespread distribution and dissemination. The convoluted flurry of articles, figures, and ‘facts’ uploaded to social media and news websites has given anti-intellectualism a contemporary twist that researchers from all scholarly fields must confront if they haven’t already.

Sociology’s Contributions

Sociology often forces us to confront uncomfortable or inconvenient truths about social life. This makes the social sciences a target for politicians seeking an academic scapegoat or those embroiled in the anti-intellectualism movement. Despite these efforts, sociology remains a discipline of deep theoretical foundations and valuable scholarship in the search for knowledge, shared realities, and truth. One of the major subdisciplines in the field is the Sociology of Knowledge which is concerned with knowledge production in society and how we collectively construct our societies.

While attacks on the discipline have been motivated mainly by political conservatives in the United States, it’s important to note that no one political ideology is promoted by sociology. For example, Ronald Reagan and Michelle Obama were sociology majors. Rather than forcing a specific set of moral or idealistic values on those who study it, sociology empowers people across a range of political persuasions to study, critique, and act upon our complex surroundings.