Skip to main content

Moral Minefields

How Sociologists Debate Good Science


An analysis of the effects of moral debates on sociological research.

Few academic disciplines are as contentious as sociology. Sociologists routinely turn on their peers with fierce criticisms not only of their empirical rigor and theoretical clarity but of their character as well. Yet despite the controversy, scholars manage to engage in thorny debates without being censured. How?
In Moral Minefields, Shai M. Dromi and Samuel D. Stabler consider five recent controversial topics in sociology—race and genetics, secularization theory, methodological nationalism, the culture of poverty, and parenting practices—to reveal how moral debates affect the field. Sociologists, they show, tend to respond to moral criticism of scholarly work in one of three ways. While some accept and endorse the criticism, others work out new ways to address these topics that can transcend the criticism, while still others build on the debates to form new, more morally acceptable research.
Moral Minefields addresses one of the most prominent questions in contemporary sociological theory: how can sociology contribute to the development of a virtuous society? Rather than suggesting that sociologists adopt a clear paradigm that can guide their research toward neatly defined moral aims, Dromi and Stabler argue that sociologists already largely possess and employ the repertoires to address questions of moral virtue in their research. The conversation thus is moved away from attempts to theorize the moral goods sociologists should support and toward questions about how sociologists manage the plurality of moral positions that present themselves in their studies. Moral diversity within sociology, they show, fosters disciplinary progress. 


Moral Minefields offers an explosion of insight into how to approach the seemingly always politically charged project of conducting sociological research. Throughout its history, the discipline has stood between commitments to scientific inquiry and the pursuit of truth, and commitments to addressing social inequality, socio-economic disadvantage, and other moral concerns. Rather than try to resolve the push and pull emanating from both sides of this divide, readers are guided to think more critically and carefully about what constitutes the pursuit of good research that is indelibly tied to visions—either by the sociologists producing their work or the audiences receiving it—of morally sound research. Dromi and Stabler seek not to resolve the tension, but rather expose readers to sociology’s courageous embracing of it and, therefore, guide readers to think more effectively about how it can be managed going forward.”

Alford Young, Jr., University of Michigan

“Dromi and Stabler skillfully puncture a stalled debate between the value-free and deliberately activist camps of contemporary sociology, showing how scholars within our methodologically and substantively diverse field form judgments about what counts as ‘good research.’ Weaving together a range of powerful examples—from secularism to breastfeeding, cosmopolitanism, and racial inequality—their framework of moral repertoires shines new light on the field. Equally valuable to both the seasoned sociologist and the young researcher.”

Jenny Trinitapoli, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

Preface: Eternity in Cincinnati
Introduction: Rules of the Road
1: Navigating in a Minefield
Moral Repertoires and Sociological Research
2: Academic No-Go Zones
On Social-Gene Interactions, Cultures of Poverty, and Forbidden Knowledge Claims in Sociology
3: Moral Highways and Byways
Connecting New Critiques with Old Insights in the Study of Nationalism
4: Chartered Trips
Remapping Controversy and the Renewal of Research on the Family
Conclusion: On Moral Grounds
Afterword: Researching the Good in Research Justifications

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press