By: guest contributor Augustus Wachbrit
One of the many things that unites great literature and great social science: the tendency to provoke. While many of us know that great literature is all-too-often the subject of censorship, we may not know the extent of it. Believe it or not, a whopping 483 books were banned or challenged in 2018 alone, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Laid end to end, that’s about a football field of books and a new book every 18 hours. If we go as far back as 1982, when Banned Books Week was launched, 11,300 book bans and challenges would mean over 25 football fields of books laid end-to-end. 11,300 books would also span the diameter of Arizona’s Meteor Crater nearly twice over.
There is also a long (and recent!) history behind the government-sanctioned censorship of research and the sciences, too — especially when it comes to controversial topics (you know… those that threaten status quos). We might automatically remember Galileo, the man put on trial and subsequent house arrest for his contributions to astronomy, or we might instead think of Socrates, put on trial for his demands for reasoning. But even modern-day researchers and scientists have faced backlash from strict traditions of suppression.
Sociology was denounced and subsequently banned in the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when Mao Zedong described it as a “bourgeoisie discipline.” Texts like From the Soil, an early work of Chinese sociology which sought to diagnose and understand both political systems and interpersonal relationships in Chinese society, were restricted. Although the text was written and published in 1947, it was still banned from mainland China for most of the latter half of the 20th century.
History, shmistory, we’ve evolved! you might think. But just last year, Poland announced the dissolution of ethnology and anthropology as independent disciplines, a recent turn in the long struggle between Polish politicians and the social sciences. Hungary similarly banned gender studies as an academic discipline in 2018.
In India, The Hindus: An Alternative History was withdrawn from the market in 2014. (though reinstated twenty months later). The religious studies text detailed narratives of Hinduism from the perspective of traditional religious outcasts.
Although the United States has a seemingly clean slate when it comes to the suppression of academic works (maybe not so much with literature), it was just a few years ago when Governor Rick Scott of Florida claimed that tax dollars ought not to be spent on those pursuing degrees in anthropology. And Arizona only overturned a state-sanctioned ban on ethnic studies two years ago.
When great literature is banned, a whole host of insights, narratives, and studies on the human subject are lost. When entire disciplines of social study are banned, there are similar consequences. Great literature and social scientific research overlap in that they often concern topics of interpersonal, political, or societal importance; when either were to be lost, human dignity surely suffers. Being vocally opposed to the censorship of the arts or the sciences is a necessity these days—one of the reasons why Banned Books Week is a fantastic initiative.
Augustus Wachbrit (or, if you’re intimidated by his three-syllable name, Gus) is the Social Science Communications Intern at SAGE Publishing. He assists in the creation, curation, and distribution of various forms of written content primarily for Social Science Space and Method Space. He is studying Philosophy and English at California Lutheran University, where he is a research fellow and department assistant. If you’re likely to find him anywhere, he’ll be studying from a textbook, writing (either academically or creatively), exercising, or defying all odds and doing all these things at once.
Proud champions for intellectual freedom, SAGE Publishing was founded by Sara Miller McCune in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1,000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne. www.sagepublishing.com