Cheerleaders For Social Facts

When a cheerleading catalog recently showed up in our mailbox, we snickered a bit before owning up to our similar role at Contexts.

Like cheerleaders, our public outreach mission involves engaging an amorphous crowd of spectators in the play of the field. Like cheerleaders, we also find ourselves celebrating the “players” who produce sociological knowledge and understanding for the rest of us.

One area where sociology is underrated—by both fans and players alike—is in our clear and powerful presentation of basic social facts. Good training in sociology offers both the research skills to go get the evidence and the critical eye and trusted techniques to extract reliable and valid information from mountains of data. Better than any other discipline, sociology and sociologists systematically gather, analyze, and interpret trend data on social issues.

Where are fertility rates rising or plummeting? How have environmental policies affected energy consumption? Are more U.S. women finally being elected to public office? How has the connection between religion and politics changed in the past generation? Are we really overscheduling our kids? You might recognize these as some of the questions we’ve taken up in our Trends section, edited by Deborah Carr since 2004.

A first-rate family demographer, Deborah sets a high bar for data quality. As a skilled writer with a commercial publishing background, she insists on lively prose and cogent interpretation. This wins her fans among hardcore quantoids as well as readers whose eyes glaze over at charts and graphs. As just one marker of her broad appeal, the Utne Reader highlighted Deborah’s article on China’s one-child policy in its March-April issue.

While Deborah has written many of our Trends articles of late, we invite other sociologists to send us short pieces examining social patterns from a sociological perspective. Submissions should use high-quality, publicly available data sources to document the trends. And like all of Contexts, a Trends piece should be written without professional jargon and in a style that grabs and engages a non-sociologist reader with a compelling story from start to finish. (For more information on our submission and review process for other sections, see

We’d especially encourage Trends pieces that summarize and visually highlight new findings in the field or basic knowledge that challenges (or confirms) conventional wisdoms. Sometimes media and political figures know about our work but choose to ignore it. Often, however, they have no idea we have high quality trend data on the issues they’re debating—just sitting there in our major journals. That’s where Contexts can help spread the word. Although we won’t order any uniforms from that cheerleading catalog, we did send away for a couple megaphones.