Abstract for my keynote at Public sociology and the role of the researcher: engagement, communication and academic activism
In the summer of 2011, David Cameron’s response to the English riots was to declare that “this is criminality pure and simple”. In the summer of 2013, then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proclaimed that “this is not a time to commit sociology” after high profile anti-terrorism arrests. Each of these statements was made within a specific political context but each also reflected a broader tendency: the narrowing of explanatory horizons within post-democratic political culture. Such a process has reached its apotheosis with the Presidency of Donald Trump, whose succesful hacking of the media system led him all the way to the Whitehouse where he now pursues a press strategy oriented around the twin poles of mendacity and Twitter.
In this talk I address the rapidly changing political context within which public sociology is pursued in order to ask: what does it mean to be a public sociologist in the era of @realDonaldTrump? Social media offers profound opportunities for public sociology, albeit in a way that should lead us to reflect critically upon established strategies and tactics. But social media poses equally profound challenges, both directly through the architecture of these privately owned platforms and indirectly through their implication in wider social regression. These issues are complicated further by the changes underway within the academy, as well as the issues they raise for those seeking to work as scholar-activists while retaining a concern for their employability. My claim is that a reflexive practice of public sociology can both help us negotiate these changes and work collectively towards fostering resistance to them.