Christian Smith’s new book, What is a Person? (University of Chicago Press, 2010), challenges sociologists to consider why and how we do the work that we do. Too often we neither contemplate nor admit the underlying assumptions about humanity that we bring to our studies, instead living with a “personal/scholarly schizophrenia that is neither appealing nor necessary” (p.384). What is a Person? pushes us to see our work as not wholly disconnected from our personal, moral, and political lives. Smith proposes that it is indeed possible (through “critical realist personalism”) to bridge our moral commitments and vision of the “good” with the empirically-based knowledge that sociology is uniquely equipped to offer. As such, our discipline can – and according to Smith, should – ultimately work in service of human dignity and the good.
I am thankful to have participated in some of the conversations that helped shape this book, as mentioned in Smith’s acknowledgments (p.x).