This week represents the end of the fifth year of the UnderstandingSociety blog. Writing the blog continues to be a source of great intellectual growth for me, not least because it has led me to read and discuss books and articles I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. Readers have often suggested sources I hadn’t previously known about, and the result is often a new perspective on a new problem for me. For example, this week I’ve been directed to Francis Haskell’s History and Its Images: Art and the Interpretation of the Past and John Dittmer’s Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. New topics for me in the past year include polarization of the electorate, strategic action fields, neighborhood effects in cities, the market for ethnicity, the sociology of ideas, and identity economics.
The blog has now grown to almost 750 posts on a range of topics about social knowledge and the social world. (That amounts to about 750,000 words.) The range of topics has a certain amount of internal consistency over time; topics like Chinese history, microfoundations, historiography, meso-level causation, and the American civil rights movement recur over time, so it is possible to follow one set of ideas through a number of posts. At the same time, some topics that were extensively discussed in earlier years are no longer on the radar — heterogeneity and plasticity of the social world, for example.
Each year the distribution of topics seems to change significantly. For a while there were a great many posts on the philosophy of history; then there were a number of posts on Rawls and political theory. Philosophy of social science topics have always been a frequent part of the blog, but other topics rise and fall in frequency. In the past year the largest group of posts have been on various aspects of sociology and sociological theory (18%), followed by social critique of inequalities and racism (15%), philosophy of social science (10%), philosophy of history (6%), and China (6%). The labels and categories help readers to find related posts on subjects of interest to them. And the search function helps to locate earlier discussions of a given point or author.
Readership has continued to expand — thanks, readers! — with about 2,800 subscribers and 2,600 followers on Twitter and Facebook. There are about 80,000-100,000 page views per month, or about one million page views per year. And the readership continues to be pretty international, with visits from over 160 countries in the past year. Readers from the US represent 60% of visits, UK (12%), Canada (7%), Australia (4%), India (4%), Philippines (3%), Germany (3%), France (2%), and the Netherlands (1.4%).
So thanks for reading, and please continue to comment occasionally and suggest other points of view and other sources that you think valuable! If I have one specific goal for the coming year, it is to find some ways of increasing the amount of engagement with readers that takes place on the blog and in the Twitter and Facebook streams. Facebook in particular is a good environment for creating some exchanges about ideas, applications, and examples of social phenomena from other places (link). It would be very interesting, for example, for readers in Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, France, and Japan to offer their own descriptions of the systems of race and ethnicity that are at work in creating inequalities across social groups in those countries. This is what I tried to do in an entry on the racial system of Jim Crow in the United States (link); are there similar systems in other countries?