Four years of UnderstandingSociety

Today marks the fourth anniversary of UnderstandingSociety. This is the 613th posting since I began in November 2007 and the 135th in the past year.  I continue to find this medium a good way of pushing forward my own learning and thinking about a swirl of topics around the central thrust, making sense of the social realm in which we live. I’ve been drawn into lines of thought in the past year that I wouldn’t have encountered without the intellectual effort involved in writing the blog.  And, of course, it is a good way of meeting a reading public all around the world.  

Several topics came in for special focus in the past year.  First, there is a fair amount of new material on the philosophy of history. Since finishing New Contributions to the Philosophy of History last fall (2010) I’ve continued to think about history and historiography, and I’ve found some new issues that I need to think about more fully. There is more to come on this.

Second, I’ve been thinking about John Rawls’s work more in the past year. I first read Rawls as an undergraduate in the late sixties. Then I read A Theory of Justice when it appeared in 1971 as I was beginning to take courses from Rawls as a graduate student. Truthfully, I like the work better today than I did then, 40 years ago. And I’m finding that it provides support for a much deeper critique of our society than I thought then. One part of this rethinking is contained in a piece on  “Property-owning democracy”. Another is a reflection on Rawls’s later thoughts about the deficiencies of an excessively consumerist culture in his correspondence with Philippe van Parijs.

Third, I’ve written quite a bit in the past twelve months that is directed at issues in analytical sociology. The key premises of the AS approach are very consistent with my own understanding of the social world (microfoundations, methodological localism, causal mechanisms). But the new rash of books and conferences on the issues AS raises have been very stimulating to me, and I’m finding that there are good reasons to support the idea of meso-level social causation.  (See the “analytical sociology” thread for these postings.) I expect to do more on this topic in the coming year, including perhaps some more thinking about the issues raised by agent-based modeling.

And finally, there are more posts than in previous years on the issues of inequality and power that are creating more and more difficulty in our country. I think that is a reflection of real changes our society is experiencing: more inequality, more divisive rhetoric, and more racism.  The number 1 post (in terms of direct visits) reflected this theme, “Inequalities and the ascendant right.”  (Interestingly, the number 1 post for subscribers this year was “Rawls on the EU,” which represents the more philosophical side of these current issues.)

A fairly general but perhaps unexpected observation is that I’ve found myself looking back to classics in the social sciences over the past fifty years, and have found new things in these works that didn’t catch my attention the first time I read them.  This is true, actually, of the rereading I’ve done of Rawls. But posts on Chalmers Johnson, Herbert Simon, Steven Lukes, and Fritz Stern led me to think more fully about their ideas, and to see new insights that were probably there all along but not for me.

Readers come to the blog through two channels.  Slightly more than half the visits to the blog are in the form of direct visits to the Blogger site itself, through searches, referrals, and direct links.  And the remainder take the form of readers who use a blog reader or RSS feed to follow or subscribe to the blog.  These views don’t show up in the first measure. The first “channel” represents a broad population of occasional readers interested in a particular topic.  The second represents a group of readers who have deliberately chosen to follow the blog.

The readership of UnderstandingSociety has continued to rise.  There were 220,474 visits recorded directly to the site, and another 193,971 views through the RSS feed. About 50% of visits are from the United States, and the other half come from 194 countries and territories. There are about 2,000 readers who follow the blog automatically through an RSS feed, and there are over 1,600 people who follow on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks everyone!

The top ten posts written during this past year were:

Direct visits to the blog:

1 Inequalities and the ascendant right (2,501)
2 The math of social networks (2,451)
3 A jobless future? (2,051)
4 Diagrams and economic thought (1,992)
5 The history of economic thought and the present (1,850)
6 Rawls on political liberalism (1,788)
7 Quiet politics (1,747)
8 Violent rhetoric and violent behavior (1,734)
9 Income inequalities and social ills (1,417)
10 Bourdieu’s field (1,414)

Views and clicks through the RSS feed (subscribers):

1 Rawls on the EU (2,313)
2 The math of social networks (2,170)
3 Democracy and contentious politics (2,152)
4 Hume as historian (2,150)
5 Quiet politics (2,076)
6 Herbert Simon’s satisficing life (2,075)
7 Possessive individualism (2,074)
8 Education a leveler? (2,057)
9 Income inequalities and social ills (2,050)
10 Hate as a social demographic (2,041)

Interestingly, there are only three overlaps on the two lists – “The math of social networks,” “Quiet politics,” and “Income inequalities and social ills”.

To the right is a link to a bookmarked PDF of the blog through July 2011. There will be an update after the beginning of January.  I’ve spent some time on this part of the project because it gives expression to the “virtual book” part of my goal in the blog.  By using the bookmarks organized into threads it is possible for the reader to look at all the postings on a certain general topic at once.

Thanks for reading, following, and sometimes commenting!


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