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A renewed engagement with the past could be a powerful means through which the critical tradition in British sociology could fortify itself for a difficult future

In his magisterial A Secular Age, Charles Taylor introduces the notion of ‘subtraction stories’ to describe our dominant narratives of secularisation. This narrative structure is crucial to teleological thought, explaining our current situation in terms which preclude any backwards movement. As he explains on pg 22, Concisely put, I mean by […]

In defence of the individual

The individual is an unpopular category within contemporary social thought. To be concerned with the individual is taken to imply individualism, something which falls outside the range of acceptability for the cultural politics prevalent within British sociology. This is amplified by an intellectual impulse to transcend the individual as a […]

The fox’s way of being-in-the-world

A line amongst fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus says ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing‘. This was the inspiration for Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay on the hedgehog and the fox. Berlin takes these words figuratively to illustrate a divide between two styles of […]

Erving Goffman: the rag-and-bone man of Sociology

There’s a wonderful essay by the playwright Alan Bennet in the London Review of Books, written 35+ years ago, reflecting on his fascination with Erving Goffman’s micro-sociology. His preoccupation was with the minutiae of everyday conduct, identified and described so astutely in Goffman’s work. Sociological observations in this register highlight our commonality, helping […]

The acceleration of social theory

There’s a section in this 1997 chapter by Roger Burrows which my thoughts have been intermittently turning to since reading it last week. On pg 235 he writes: It is not just technology which appears to be accelerating towards meltdown, so are our cultural and sociological understandings of the world. […]

What Happened? The end of modernisation

In the last few days, I’ve been reading Hilary Clinton’s What Happened and reflecting on it as an expression of a political centrism which I suspect is coming to an end. These self-defined ‘modernisers’ sought to adapt their respective political parties to what they saw as a new reality, necessitating […]

Mechanisms of normative change 

Why is it that some social norms are unexpectedly stable up to a tipping point, like homophobia in football, but change rapidly once they start to do so? And what stabilizes revenge norms even after effective legal orders have been established? Apparently, social and legal norms are not made for […]

The aestheticised mode of social theorising

One of the targets in Kieran Healy’s Fuck Nuance paper is connoisseurship in social theory, the tendency to “call for the contemplation of complexity almost for its own sake” and “remind everyone that things are more subtle than they seem”. As he astutely observes, this tendency sits uneasily with abstraction as a […]

Five thoughts on abstraction

Abstraction is active. It is something one does, in a fully embodied way, within a context. It is undertaken for reasons and structured by dispositions which are inevitably prior to the situation in which one is abstracting. Abstraction is relational. One always abstracts from an object, stepping back from its particularity in order to foreground […]

Some thoughts on the ontology of games 

What is a game? A standard definition is “a form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules” and this has been the working conception when I’ve encountered theoretical engagements with the notion of a game. But a recent symposium on eSports left me reflecting on how much more […]

Archer and Harman on modes of reduction

Reading Immaterialism by Graham Harman, I’m struck by the overlap between his account of ‘duomining’ and Margaret Archer’s critique of conflation. As he writes on pg 27-28, “If we reduce an object downward to its pieces, we cannot explain emergence; if we reduce it upwards to its effects, we cannot […]