You are on page 1of 4

What I Don't Know about My Field but Wish I Did

Author(s): Douglas S. Massey
Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 26 (2000), pp. 699-701
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 16/09/2014 12:07
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


Annual Reviews is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Annual Review of

This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Sep 2014 12:07:31 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Although I eventually completeda psychology majorandtook most of the coursesneeded for a master's degree. Like most of my contemporaries. complex theoreticalmodels. Earninga decent living was the last thing on my mind.where professors made no pretenseof offeringcumulativeknowledge. If all judgments were culturallyrelative. University of Pennsylvania. and all cultures were equally valid.who were generallyself-serving. Massey Department of Sociology. I began in psychology.00 This content downloaded from 132. having come of age duringthe 1960s.and arrogant.Who wantsto be like that? AlthoughI had alreadycompleteda chemistryminor. Sociol. runningrats throughmazes in a laboratorylost its allureand I once again began looking for somethingmore "relevant." My search led me then to anthropology.competitive. I became intriguedby the concept of culturalrelativismand eagerlyreadethnographyafterethnographyof nonwestern cultures. I was determined to do something "relevant"with my life.204.Annu. chemistry. and rigorous statisticalanalyses. The searchfor moralfulfillmentbroughtme firstto medicine. I had always been attractedto academiabut.Eventually. but still having no clear idea of who I was or what I wantedto do in life. 2000. At this moment. then the possibility of knowing anything at all seemed to disappearbefore my eyes as a solipsism.As a premedstudentI took a full load of coursesin math.however. Suddenly I found myself in my fourth year of undergraduatestudies having completed three majors and a chemistry minor. 16 Sep 2014 12:07:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 699 . I was very indecisive. All rightsreserved WHAT I DON'T KNOWABOUTMY FIELD BUTWISH I DID Douglas S.My duty was to find a higher calling.After an early fascinationwith physical anthropologyand hominid evolution.I assumed that a good job with a high salarywas a birthright. I retreatedback into the study of Spanish literature. Pennsylvania 19104 As a young college studentin the early 1970s.biology.243.At least I could indulge my love of the language by readingmy way throughthe new genre of magical realism that was then takingLatinAmericaby storm. Philadelphia.254 on Tue.I gave up the idea of helping people throughmedicine and turneddecisively away from the naturalsciences. to which I was attractedby its elegant experimentaldesigns.I stumbledupon demography. 26:699-701 Copyright? 2000 by AnnualReviews. But I reallyhatedpremedstudents. My search for relevance brought me next to the social sciences.the most obvious of "relevant"professions. I suffered anothercrisis of faith. anatomy.which to my mind combinedthe rigor of psychology with the relevanceof 0360-0572/00/0815-0699$14.andphysics. Rev.

and technology. a fact thathauntsme now as I tryto comprehendthe signal event thathas occurredin my own fields of migrationand humanecology: the urbanizationof the humanpopulation. Small bands This content downloaded from 132. In adaptingto this niche.The social world to which we have adapted over millions of years will recede into memory and cease to exist.EventuallyI stayedon for two extraquartersto bone up on theoryand methods. Thus. Humans emerged from the savannahsof East Africa 7 million years ago. It is clear.All demographicprojectionsshow thatfor the first time in history a majorityof the world's human beings will soon live in cities. 16 Sep 2014 12:07:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Althoughwe don't like to admit it. The rest. This is a long-windedway of coming to whatI don't know aboutmy field but wish that I did. our experiencein urbansettings has occurredin the blink of an eye. that early in the next centurythe humanpopulationwill finallyanddecisively urbanize. In steel myself for what I imaginedto be my dim prospectsfor success in graduateschool.I have come to the reluctantconclusion that sociologists have gone too far in privilegingthe social over the biological. we are primateswho share 99% of our genetic endowmentwith chimpanzees.tool-using hominids who survived throughcollective strategiesimplementedby small groups.204.I nonethelessfindmyself wishing I had a bettergrasp of humanbeings as biological organisms.I thus resolved to become a demographer.9% of human experience has nonetheless transpiredin the huntingand gatheringstate.243.while offering some hope of intellectualadvance. and increasinglyin large ones at that.These innovationsultimatelyled to largerand more complex forms of social organization. It was only aboutsix thousandyears ago thatwe settleddown as a species and began farming. is history: I went on to finish a PhD in sociology at Princeton. must be orientedtowardthe needs of small group survival. The expansionof brainsize enabledthe perfectionof collective strategiesof survival involving language. andit was only in the last century that our capabilitiesmaturedto the point where a majorityof us can now live in cities. Indeed.700 MASSEY anthropology. however.but 99. without considering human beings as organismswith biological traitsandpredispositions. the delicate balance between the rationaland emotionalbrain. we evolved as upright.The urbanindustrialism in the nineteenthcenturylulled sociologists into the false belief that society could be understoodby studying social structuresalone.which largely defines us as humanbeings. where I was trained in classical demographicmethods but actually worked in the heterodoxfields (for Princeton)of migrationand human ecology.It was only aboutthreethousandyears ago that our technology advancedsufficientlyto allow some of these settlementsto become cities. Although my various intellectualjourneys have given me a relatively broadintellectualformation. the reptilianbraingoverningour instinctualand emotional responses was supplementedwith a newer and thickermass of cerebralcortex.culture.thus enabling the first semi-permanenthumanhabitations.254 on Tue. as they say.and towardthatend began takingevery sociology course I could find. Over the course of millions of years.

and small semi-independenttowns-all will ultimately This content downloaded from 132.andthe biological bases of behavior. Visit the Annual Reviews home page at www. A centralquestion is how we. isolated ruralvillages. We need to educate ourselves in the exciting work now being done on brain functioning.the modal humanexperiencewill be one of intense concentrationsof people. and I have begun readingto catch up.I really wish I knew more abouthumanbeings as biological ratherthan social organisms.204. have inheritedcertainpredispositions to thoughtandbehaviorthatinfluenceandconstrainthe social structures thatwe unconsciouslyevolve andrationallyselect. as humanbeings.largernomadic tribes.In the next century. with all theirvices and virtues. cognition.We need to give up our historicalresistence to the idea that social behaviorhas biological roots and accept the fact that we. as a biological species adaptedto life in small groups.The beginningpoint in coming to terms with our situationmust be the realizationthatwe are indeedbiological organisms. 16 Sep 2014 12:07:31 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .243.FUTUREOFDEMOGRAPHY 701 of huntersand gatherers.the regulationof emotion. At this point. I and othersociologists thus need to understandbetterthe fundamentalsof human physiology and psychology at both the systemic and molecularlevels.will fare in this new environment. therefore.254 on Tue.