What does public sociology have to say about sociologists who are ‘merchants of doubt’? This is the question I’m slightly obsessing over after discovering that Peter Berger, famous for his work on social construction and the sociology of religion, worked as a consultant for the tobacco industry. As Source Watch details, he was tasked with establishing that “anti-smoking activists have a special agenda which serves their own purposes, but not necessarily the majority of nonsmokers”:

He served as a Tobacco Institute consultant. While at Boston College, Berger, (as quoted in tobacco industry newsletter “The Tobacco Observer,”) described tobacco control proponents as “fanatical.”[1] Berger attended Philip Morris executive meetings [2] and participated in the multinational tobacco industry’s Social Costs/Social Values Project, created to refute the social costs theory of smoking and to help reverse declining social acceptability of smoking. He was a contributing author to the industry-financed book Smoking and Society, edited by another tobacco industry consultant, Robert Tollison.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Peter_L._Berger

This is critical sociology deployed on behalf of the powerful: pulling back the veil on a group pursuing an ideational agenda and claiming they act out of sectional interests. What other examples are there of prominent sociologists acting in this capacity? How should these cases inform our conception of public sociology?

Very pleased to be keynoting this fantastic BSA PhD conference in a couple of months:

What is the role of the researcher outside the academy? This event invites Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers to innovate and critically reflect on three related areas of public sociology: academic activism, public engagement, and participation and co-production. It encourages researchers to articulate and address diverse challenges, such as neutrality, networking, and whether activism can be considered a form of public engagement.

This event includes a keynote lecture from distinguished speaker Dr Mark Carrigan, Digital Fellow, The Sociological Review, presentations by invited speakers, a film created using participatory methods, a participatory session, and the chance to network and discuss work with fellow researchers. The aim is to provide an environment in which participants have the space to be questioning, to have a lively exchange of ideas, and to be inspired to explore the potential of these ideas in their own research.

Call for Abstracts and Posters

We would like to invite Postgraduates to take part in a five-minute PechaKucha presentation and/or a poster presentation: the call for abstracts is now open. Given the brevity of the presentations, abstract submissions should be no longer than 200 words. Abstracts for presentations are due on 24 February 2017 and poster confirmation is needed by 1 March 2017. There are small prizes for the best poster and the best presentation.

Oral presentations and posters may cover any aspect of Public Sociology, including, but not limited to:

  • dissemination of knowledge beyond academia;
  • participatory research methods and challenges;
  • positionality of the researcher and relationships of power;
  • approaches and practice in the co-production of knowledge;
  • academic activism.

Competitions

Participants are encouraged to submit a poster for a poster competition, which will be judged by the conference organisers. All posters will be accepted. Please contact the organiser for details.

There will also be a small prize for the best PechaKucha/Standup presentation, selected by a ballot of the conference participants.

Some thoughts after yesterday’s public sociology day in Manchester:

  • The meaning of ‘public sociology’ is not always self-evident and the enthusiasm of the impulse expressed through the term can cloud its meaning yet further. We need to be clear about what we are doing and why.
  • This clarity can help us negotiate the ambivalent spaces for public sociology created within institutions that speak the language of ‘impact’, ‘public engagement’, ‘knowledge exchange’, ‘enterprise’ and ‘outreach’. There are opportunities for public sociology here but also dangers.
  • The competitive individualism of the academy risks being reproduced in a discourse of ‘public sociology’ dominated by white, male professorial public sociologists. We need to celebrate the practice of public sociology, rather than the academic brands of the most prominent public sociologists. [thanks to the res-sisters and Lambros Fatsis for making this point so clearly, in slightly different ways]
  • Our prevailing systems of scholarly communication risk canalising the impulse towards ‘public sociology’ into abstract reflection upon what should ultimately be a practical activity. Sustaining employment in the academy necessitates ‘outputs’ of a certain restricted kind but we must avoid letting these define what we take public sociology to be.
  • We can take these limitations of existing systems as an inspiration to build new systems. How do we create platforms for public sociology that facilitate and encourage it as a collective endeavour, rather than the lone pursuit of isolated individuals within an accelerated academy? 

Notes for The Practice of Public Sociology

It can seem obvious that there’s some relationship between social media and public sociology. After all, these are platforms which offer free, instantaneous and immediate access to audiences ranging from the tens of millions to the billions. However unpacking the relationship between social media and public sociology requires we be careful about exactly what we see social media as allowing us to do. Social media platforms allow us to publish in a way that bypasses traditional intermediaries. It facilitates new forms of multimedia engagement. It allows us to do this with an immediacy which couldn’t be further removed from the time-consuming process of traditional scholarly publishing.

However this isn’t necessarily doing public sociology. Communicating sociological ideas doesn’t entail that anyone hear or responds to them. We can publish work without necessarily making it public. Being clear about the sense in which we’re trying to do public sociology is crucial if we’re going to take advantages of the opportunities it offers us. In our current climate, universities are expecting academics to embrace social media to indicate their capacity for impact, creating a risk that we embrace these platforms without any clear purpose in mind. Without serious thought, there’s a real possibility that, as Bourdieu once put it, we confuse “verbal sparring at conferences for ‘interventions’ in the affairs of the polis”.

An obvious question then: for what sort of purposes might we use social media as public sociologists?

  • As an extension of traditional public sociology: using social media to try and enter into public conversations, increase the influence of sociological ideas and ensuring sociological findings are prominent within public debates. I paraphrased John Holmwood’s keynote at the BSA a few years ago as advocating that we “occupy debate and make inequality matter”. This has traditionally been through writing books for a wider audience, opinion columns in newspapers and making appearances on national media. Social media can support this activity by making sociologists more easily discoverable by journalists and producers. It’s also extending the range of online outlets, with newspapers and magazines having large digital sections and new online-only publications opening up which specialise in academic content. But it creates new opportunities for narrow-casting rather than broadcasting, connecting with specific audiences who might previously have been marginalised within mainstream media. For this reason, writing for specialised blogs and engaging with niche social media forums can be an effective form of traditional public sociology if the publics you want to engage with are pre-constituted and specific.
  • As an extension of organic public sociology: working in a scholar-activist capacity with groups, organisations, campaigns and movements. Social media offers new ways of identifying and beginning to engage with groups, it offers new ways of supporting groups (albeit ones that might often blur into the category of traditional public sociology) and it offers new ways of making this activity visible within the academy in a way that might draw others into their remit. Social media is changing how such groups can come together, particularly in their initial stages, by offering new opportunities and challenges for assembling similarly-concerned people in time and space. But the very fact of these changes also transforms the relationality of how digital public sociologists engage with them over time. Though we should of course be wary of overstating the point, with the risk that we license a lapse into slacktavism.

There are important new challenges public sociologists face in both cases. Traditional public sociology may be easier than ever but it creates the problem of being heard above the noise. How do we ensure that our attempted interventions have an effect? Existing academic platforms like The Conversation, The Sociological Review, Discover Society and the LSE Blogs serve a purpose here by pre-assembling a public and mediating engagements with them. It can be difficult to assemble your own audience, unless you invest a lot of time and energy in regularly engaging on social media, have a pre-existing reputation to leverage or are seeking to communicate with a very specialised public. Learning about platforms like these helps you identify which, if any, seem right for your purposes. They all offer clear guidelines about how to submit material and are edited by people who are used to working with academics in this capacity.

Organic public sociology may be more visible but with this too comes hazards. When it is informed by our own research, the gap between researcher and researched narrows precipitously. For instance, my own experience of researching asexuality was that I very readily got drawn into doing media and campaigning work as an ally. But this also meant that many people in the asexual community were reading and engaging with material I was sharing online, as well as sometimes criticising it. In one case, this was a really informative critique that changed my mind on a specific issue. In another, it was a quote taken out of context which got circulated widely on Tumblr. These are examples of new challenges which we’re not trained for and we need to consider carefully

There’s a risk that the style of communication we’ve all been traded in proves utterly ineffective for digital public sociology. One of my favourite passages by C Wright Mills concerns the tendency of academics to “slip so readily into unintelligibility”. An “elaborate vocabulary” and “involved manner of speaking and writing” become props for a professional self-image which defines itself, in part, through the inaccessibility of the work being produced. If that work is now accessible then it holds this writing up to scrutiny. It may seem absurd, it may provoke offence but it’s perhaps much more likely to simply fail to gain any purchase and leave us talking amongst ourselves.

We also need to be careful about the climate within which we’re trying to do digital public sociology because it’s so dominated by a competitive individualism in which people are seeking to win attention for their work. The problem is that winning attention for your work doesn’t take place in a vacuum. As the digital anthropologist Melissa Gregg puts it, “even uniqueness starts to sound the same when everyone is trying to perform”. If everyone is seeking to build an audience and stand out from the crowd then the challenge of achieving these aims spirals ever upwards, excluding ever more people from the process in gendered and classed ways while this subordination is masked by the powerful rhetoric of openness.

To give one example of trend, George Veletsianos found in a study of educational tweeters that “the top 1 percent of scholars have an average follower base nearly 700 times that of scholars in the bottom 50 percent and nearly 100 times that of scholars in the other 99 percent” (loc 1162-1708). Rather than undermining old hierarchies, social media supplements new ones, with complex emergent effects: sometimes allowing the already celebrated to quickly amass a social media following or to allow those with a big social media following to translate this into academic capital. This is part of the reason why I think community-orientated platforms such as The Sociological Review and Discover Society are likely to prove so important in mitigating the ‘celebrity’-generating effects of social media.

But hopefully if we focus our discussion of digital public sociology on specific aspirations, projects and publics then we can negotiate these institutional difficulties. There are real opportunities here but also profound challenges.

We’ve recently had some cancellations for the forthcoming event, The Practice of Public Sociology: Sociological Review Early Career Event. 

If you would like one of these places, please registered here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-practice-of-public-sociology-sociological-review-early-career-event-tickets-28652394082 
The Practice of Public Sociology

Manchester Digital Laboratory, November 24th, Manchester

For over a decade public sociology has been a mainstream topic of discussion within the discipline. While practiced prior to the 2004 address by Michael Burawoy to the American Sociological Association, its identification and elaboration on an intellectual level was crucial to its popularisation. But is it possible that the voluminous literature that emerged in the years following has left us with a public sociology that is overly-discursive? While undoubtedly important, is there a risk that theorising about public sociology gets in the way of its practice? This event organised by The Sociological Review’s Early Career Forum takes as its starting point David Mellor’s 2011 argument that “we don’t need to debate public sociology anymore; we need to get good at it“. We invite early career researchers who share this aim to join us for a day of workshops, discussion and debate about how we can collectively improve our practice of public sociology. 

Speakers

Maddie Breeze, Queen Margaret University

Mark Carrigan, The Sociological Review

Ipek Demir, University of Leicester

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Ruth Pearce, University of Warwick

Workshops

Working With Community Groups Dan Silver, Social Action & Research Foundation and Alex Albert, University of Manchester

Theorising Public Sociology, Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Social Media and Public Sociology, Mark Carrigan, The Sociological Review

Teaching Public Sociology, Maddie Breeze and Karl Johnson, Queen Margaret University

Writing Clearly for a Public Audience Simon Makin, Science Journalist

Working with Photo Archives, Ben Kyneswood, Photo Mining

Resistance in Higher Education, Res-Sisters

In my talk at the Digital Sociology conference in New York in February 2015 (available online here) I explained my enthusiasm for the new possibilities afforded by social media for doing research in real time with communities. These are the two examples I’m familiar with but I’d like to know about any others that exist.

  1. Every minute of every day was an experiment in ‘real time ethnography’ undertaken by Les Back and others at Goldsmiths. You can read about it here. Unfortunately the project’s website is no longer online because it was hosted on Posterous website. This is sad and highlights some of the risks involved in relying upon commercial problems.
  2. The Barrio Ed Project is a “digital, participatory research project on Comunidades Latinos & EdReform”. You can read more about it here.

One potential constraint upon these projects is the absence of a pre-existing audience. In some cases this won’t be a problem but in others I expect it will be and interesting work will be done that would benefit from a much wider audience. The life cycle of any project makes it difficult to gather an audience purely for that project. Obviously an audience doesn’t constitute a public but in many cases the project might benefit from a public and an audience.

Given that the original idea for SociologicalImagination.org was a platform for public sociology, I’d love to open it up for use by research projects if it would be helpful. The twitter feed has almost 17,400 followers and the blog gets 1000-3000 page views per day so there’s a significant audience already in place. I’m not sure exactly how this would work in practice but if you’d like to discuss it further then please do get in touch. My e-mail address is mark AT markcarrigan.net.

This is a deliberately provocative title. But an interesting post by patter reminded me of a theme that has been on my mind for a couple of years. Pat’s post concerns the implications of the increased ‘findability’ of qualitative researchers for their practice:

Once you know where someone works, a lot more detail comes within reach. Because of this ‘findability’ it’s almost impossible these days for someone who is a practitioner researcher or auto-ethnographer to completely disguise their location and their participants because they themselves are locatable. Teacher-researchers for instance all work at a school which can be found simply via tracking them. Schools generally have websites which often have the names of all staff as well as pictures of students doing things. They put their newsletters on line. It’s not too hard then for someone who is so-minded to pick up a teacher-practitioner thesis, get to the name of the school, identify some of the people involved in the research and possibly even find pictures and names of the staff and students who feature in the thesis as anonymised persona.

I was recently in a viva where one of the examiners did just this online detective work, as a way of raising with the practitioner–researcher the dilemma of whether it was actually possible to promise anonymity. It had taken less than five minutes for this examiner to track down the exact location of the research site and find out the identities of some of the people involved in the research. Now the examiner wasn’t doing this to be nasty or invasive, but to raise the question of how, in the kind of data-dense world in which we now live, it is actually feasible to guarantee anonymity in the way we once did.

The question of identification of course goes beyond practitioner research. We are wrestling with anonymity in one of my current research projects. Because of the specificity of what particular sites offer it won’t be too difficult to work out who some of them are.

http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/anonymity-in-research-how-now/

These are issues that have really troubled me in the past six months or so, as I finally handed in my PhD which involved a two year longitudinal study. I’ve deliberately decided not to blog about this and I’m not going to start now. But I sometimes wonder if the full significance of this transformation of the field of research is understood by qualitative researchers. I completely agree with patter’s claim that “these tricky issues are not going away” and that “they will become more and more tricky the more we amass digital footprints and interlocking and enormous data bases”.

From a more positive standpoint, my experience with conducting asexuality research (as well as being involved as an ally in asexual visibility activism) has left me with a sense of the actually rather positive implications of the same process for public sociology. It’s much easier to sustain relationships with communities you research* and, more so, it’s possible to do so in a way which is helpful to those communities, as well as to yourself as a researcher.

But it does necessitate a very different form of engagement. I’ve written more about this here. The field of research is changing and qualitative researchers need to expand the repertoire of strategies through which they sustain relationships with their participants. If we can do so then there’s a real possibility for a more publicly orientated qualitative research, grounded in ongoing relationships and shared commitments, embodying a more equal relationship between researchers and those they research. But I think real problems will emerge if we can’t do this. In fact, as Patter points out, they’re already emerging.

*Note I’m not saying this didn’t happen prior to the emergence of social media. Clearly it did and on a large scale. I’m saying that the environment will increasingly demand it, as opposed to it being solely a function of the personal commitments of researchers.

Michael Burawoy on public sociology and sociological science:

I have always insisted on a division of labor between professional and public sociology. The division of labor implies contradiction as well as interdependence but sociology is of little use if it cannot give some guidance to labor as to the tendencies of capitalism, a theorization that pays attention to history and geography, it is of little use to labor if it fixes the data so that labor appears stronger than it is, or if it ignores the data and declares an imminent upsurge on the grounds that we can never know when the next upsurge will arrive. It is the responsibility of professional and public sociologists alike to combat arguments and claims that have neither concrete nor theoretical foundation. Public sociology cannot be the name for bad sociology, it cannot be vanguardist or populist, but must aim for a dialogue with labor on the basis of what we know as sociologists. Equally, professional sociology cannot be self-referential, we have to defend theoretical frameworks that cast light on the limits and possibilities of the labor movement. And that too is a political struggle, but one conducted on the terrain of the academy, and in accordance with its rules.

[…]

In writing of politics Max Weber endorsed the pursuit of the impossible in order to achieve the possible, but he always distinguished politics from science. Precisely because they feed each other, we should not confuse science and politics. Science should be a corrective to politics, challenging assumptions, asking uncomfortable questions, projecting longer time horizons. If it is to formulate utopias these must be real utopias, rooted in lived experience, and we have to be extra vigilant in examining their conditions of existence, their internal contradictions, and their possible dissemination. In all cases science loses its raison d’etre when it loses its autonomy, its critical pessimism.

This is the second in a series of posts about the public sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. I wrote yesterday about his arguments concerning globalisation and social movements. This provides the political context in relation to which he saw a scholarship with commitment as important. In this post I’m going to discuss what he saw this as entailing in intellectual, ethical and practical terms. As with yesterday’s post, all the material I’m discussing is from Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market.

The Responsibilities of Intellectuals

In an argument redolent of C Wright Mills, Bourdieu maintains that “those who have the good fortune to be able to devote their lives to the study of the social world cannot stand aside, neutral and indifferent, from the struggles in which the future of the world is at stake” (pg 11). However this engagement inevitably poses challenges, as seen in the personal tensions Bourdieu recognises in his own position, 

I have often warned against the prophetic temptation and the pretension of social scientists to announce, so as to denounce them, present and future ills. But I find myself led by the logic of my work to exceed the limits I had set for myself in the name of a conception of objectivity that has gradually appeared to me as a form of censorship. (pg 66)

But what does he mean by ‘censorship’? His target is the notion of ‘axiological neutrality’ which, he argues, represents a “scientifically unimpeachable form of escapism” rather than a necessary condition for social science. Bourdieu calls for a scholarship with commitment, in opposition to a dominant tendency which sees scholarship and commitment as antipathetic. This is a point I found inspiring when I first read it and it has stuck with me since. It’s an important corrective to a tendency Burawoy describes for the original commitments which lead people towards sociology to be marginalised by the pressures of completing a PhD and pursuing a career: 

The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials. Progress becomes a battery of disciplinary techniques—standardized courses, validated reading lists, bureaucratic ranking intensive examinations, literature reviews, tailored dissertations, refereed publications, the all-mighty CV, the job search, the tenure file, and then policing one’s colleagues and successors to make sure we all march in step. Still, despite the normalizing pressures of careers, the originating moral impetus is rarely vanquished, the sociological spirit cannot be extinguished so easily.

http://burawoy.berkeley.edu/PS/ASA%20Presidential%20Address.pdf

However with these engagements come responsibilities. Bourdieu argues that the intellectual world “must engage in a permanent critique of all the abuses of power or authority committed in the name of intellectual authority”. It must also resist the temptation to “mistake revolutions in the order of words or texts for revolutions in the order of things, verbal sparring at conferences for ‘interventions’ in the affairs of the polis” (pg 19-20).

Resisting the Rise of Think Tanks 

The role of think tanks is too often overlooked or their study marginalised as a specialism. Whereas the case can be made that think tanks were integral to the consolidation of late capitalism, as well as to the neoliberal counter-revolution that began in the 1970s. This is certainly Bourdieu’s view and he calls for resistance to the “paradoxical doxa” produced through the intellectual activity of think tanks:

In order to break with the tradition of the welfare state, the ‘think tanks’ from which have emerged the political programs of Reagan and Thatcher, and, after them, of Clinton, Blair, Schröder, and Jospin, have had to effect a veritable symbolic counterrevolution and to produce a paradoxical doxa. This doxa is conservative but presents itself as progressive; it seeks the restoration of the past order in some of its most archaic aspects (especially as regards economic relations), yet it passes regressions, reversals and surrenders off as forward looking reforms or revolutions leading to a whole new age of abundance and liberty. (pg 22)

As I’ve written elsewhere, the influence of think tanks has expanded rather than contracted in an age of austerity. We should also be aware of the direct and indirect ways in which think tanks are participating in an the project of ‘reforming’ higher education. But how can it be resisted? The first step is to “break out of the academic microcosm and enter resolutely into sustained exchange with the outside world (that is, especially with unions, grassroots organisations, and issue-orientated activist groups) instead of being content with waging the ‘political’ battles, at once intimate and ultimate, and always a bit unreal, of the scholastic university” (pg 24).

This renewed engagement cannot be the work of a “master thinker endowed with the sole resources of his singular thought” but through collective work seeking to “create the social conditions for the collective production of realist utopias” and “joint research on novel forms of political action, on new manners of mobilizing and of making mobilized people work together, on new ways of elaborating projects and bringing them to fruition together” (pg 21). There is also a negative function, involving work “to produce and disseminate instruments of defence against symbolic domination that relies increasingly on the authority of science (real or faked) (pg 20). This would involve critique of neoliberal thought, it rhetoric and mode of reasoning, as well as sociological analysis aimed at uncovering the social determinants shaping its production.

One of the ideas I like most in Bourdieu’s public sociology is the call for giving “symbolic force, by way of artistic form, to critical ideas and analyses”. By this I think he means social scientists collaborating with artists, drawing on other ways of telling about society (as Becker would put it) in order to disseminate critical analysis of the operations of power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s particular attuned to the role of cultural works in potentially resisting the seemingly irrevocable marketisation of cultural production:

If I recall now that the possibility of stopping this infernal machine in its tracks lies with all those who, having some power over cultural, artistic, and literary matters, can, each in their own place and their own fashion, and to however small an extent, throw their grain of sand into the well-oiled machinery of resigned complicities. (pg 65)

The accumulation of ‘grains of sand’ is not a particularly inspiring theory of change but I suspect it’s an accurate one. We need to disrupt the ‘machinery of resigned complicities’ to open up space for collective action orientated towards loftier purposes. As well as alliances with cultural producers, Bourdieu explores the potential role that social scientists can play in alliance with social movements. He suggests that social scientists could play the role of “organizational advisors to the social movements” as they pursue integration at the international level by “helping the various groups to overcome their disagreements” (pg 43). I think Bourdieu’s vision here has three aspects: scholarship working towards the elaboration of real utopias, constituting a sort of ‘applied research division’ of international social movements and acting as critical voices in public debates in alliance with the agendas of social movements.

I came across this interesting project by Michael Burawoy earlier. He conceives of a whole series of imagined ‘meetings’ between Bourdieu and leading political thinkers, elaborating his own understanding of Bourdieu’s work by considering its relationship with important intellectual trends. I’ve only looked through the Mills one so far but these do look very interesting and worth a thorough read:

Prefaces

1. Sociology as a Combat Sport: Bourdieu Meets Bourdieu

Bourdieu in South Africa: order meets disorder

  1.  Theory and Pracrtice: Marx Meets Bourdieu

Resurrecting the subaltern: bodies of defiance

3. Cultural Domination: Gramsci Meets Bourdieu

Subaltern crowds challenge authority

4. Colonialism and Revolution: Fanon Meets Bourdieu

The state and the people, symbolic violence and physical violence

5.Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Freire Meets Bourdieu

Discipline, the canon and the ‘imperialism of reason”

6.The Antinomies of Feminism: Beauvoir Meets Bourdieu

Gentle violence, brutal violence and the struggle to empower women

7.Intellectuals and Their Publics: Mills Meets Bourdieu

The ‘Realpolitik of reason’ meets the symbolic world of politics

8.Homo Ludens vs. Homo Habitus: Burawoy Meets Bourdieu

Bourdieu, symbolic order and the ‘margin of freedom’: four sketches for a theory of change

Epilogue

The thing I like most about Bourdieu is his conception of public sociology. It seems clear to me that Bourdieu was a public sociologist, though others are less certain about this and I suspect it’s not a term he would have chosen to use himself. For a whole host of reasons, I’ve never been massively interested in much of Bourdieu’s work, though am far from antipathetic towards it. However his talks on public sociology had a great impact on me when I read them during the first year of my PhD and I’m rereading them for the public sociology book proposal I’m writing. It might also be a good prompt for me to delve slightly deeper into Bourdieu’s body of work than I ever have in the past (Weight of the World has been sitting unfinished on my shelf for years).

There are a few key themes in these talks pertaining to public sociology. I’ve engaged with the political issues first because, as I understand the ethos underlying his arguments, it would be deeply misleading to abstract his statements about what public role sociology can and should play from the political challenges which define the context that sociologists inhabit. In this first post I’ll discuss his account of globalisation and advocacy of internationalism as a precursor to another post discussing his direct arguments about the need to challenge think tanks, the public role of social science and the personal challenges of academic activism. Bourdieu sees think tanks as deeply implicated in bringing about ‘globalisation’. He sees this as consisting of “hired thinkers and mercenary researchers … brought together with journalists and public relations experts” (pg 77) and this critique, which I largely share, brings something important to how we think about ‘public sociology’.

The book of talks I’m basing these posts on is here. If anyone has suggestions for further work by Bourdieu that leads on directly from these themes, particularly the ones I’ll discuss in the second post, they’d be much appreciated. It’s not a big part of my planned project by any means but I would definitely like to read a bit further before I move on to some of the other people I’ll be engaging with.

The Challenge of ‘Globalisation’ 

The politics of these talks are rooted in the anti-globalisation movement of the late 90s and early 00s. As such, Bourdieu’s attentiveness to the political rhetoric of ‘globalisation’ is not a surprise. He draws attention to the double meaning of ‘globalisation’: the descriptive sense of a unification of the economic field and the normative sense of the desirability that these changes are supported through economic policy. The slight of hand arises because the former is often used to disguise the latter i.e. economic ‘reality’ is invoked to justify the pursuit of policies which are themselves responsible for the putative ‘reality’. The global market is a political creation, much as national markets had been, arising from “policy implemented by a set of agents and institutions, and the result of the application of rules deliberately created for specific ends, namely trade liberalisation (that is, the elimination of all national regulations restricting companies and their investments)” (pg 84). Bourdieu argues that ‘globalisation’ is a ‘pseudo-concept’, at once descriptive and prescriptive, which has replaced ‘modernization’ as the intellectualised trappings for the ideology of late capitalism.

However something real and momentous is taking place. Bourdieu is concerned with the capacity of international institutions to “invisibly govern” national governments, which are preoccupied by the management of “secondary matters” and form a “political smoke screen that effectively masks the true sites of decision-making” (pg 91). He describes a “veritable invisible world government” constituted from “the big multinational firms, and their international boards, the great international institutions, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank, with their many subsidiary bodies, designated by complicated and often unpronounceable acronyms, and all the corresponding commissions and committees of unelected technocrats little known to the wider world (pg 78). This is a state of affairs that national governments have been wilfully complicit in bringing about, most strikingly those of a putatively social democratic inclination, the conduct of whom has “by extending or adopting the policy of conservative governments” made “this policy appear as the only possible one” giving “regulation measures complicit with business demands the appearance of invaluable achievements of a genuine social policy” (pg 58).

The Internationalisation of Social Movements 

It is because of the depoliticisation which accompanies ‘globalisation’, as the arena of decision-making moves ever further from the demos, that social movements must develop the capacity to act at a European level. In making this case, Bourdieu is rejecting what he sees as a manipulative dichotomy drawn between being pro-Europe and anti-Europe, instead rejecting the deployment of the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism in defence of the neoliberal project in Europe. His concern is to develop a capacity to pursue agendas at the european level in order to avoid the tendency to get dragged down by particularistic disputes, given that national governments often act as a ‘smoke screen’ for processes of change which have their origins at an international level. He sees great hope in the multiplication of social movements but great challenges involved in the integration necessary to constitute them as collective actors on the international stage. He offers a lot of interesting suggestions about the practical organisational forms coordination of this sort could take, with the necessity being to “establish a coordination of demands and actions while excluding attempts of any kind to take these movements over” (pg 42). I find his argument here most compelling when he discusses cultural production by social movements:

There are currently many connections between movements and many shared undertakings, but these remain extremely dispersed within each country and even more so between countries. For example, there exist a great many critical newspapers, weeklies, or magazines in each country, not to mention internet sites, that are full of analyses, suggestions and proposals for the future of Europe and the world, but all this work is fragmented and no one reads it all. Those who produce these works are often in competition with one another; they criticise each other when their contributions are complementary and can be cumulated. (pg 43)

If you consider the number of radical presses currently operating, with their varying degrees of size and political engagement, it’s hard not to see his point here. The advent of multi-author blogging has intensified this existing process, as the reduction of entry costs to near zero has led to a proliferation of websites which are, individually, a natural response to the question of ‘what to do?’ faced by those hoping to promulgate a counter-hegemonic politics but, collectively, this perhaps serves to fragment the very cultural terrain upon which it is hoped that an alternative ‘common sense’ will begin to take root.

I’ve spent the last couple of hours compiling a reading list for the book project about public sociology I’m planning. I’ve been using Albert Tzeng’s invaluable resource on Sociological Imagination as a starting point, extending it through google scholar and supplemented by the notes I’ve been intermittently taking over the last year. It’s astonishing quite how much of this literature I’m unable to access. Obviously this just reflects the broader landscape of scholarly publishing but there’s still something which seems off about this given the subject matter.

Or so I find myself writing, indignantly and righteously, seemingly oblivious to the fact that if and when the book I’m proposing sees the light of day, it too will be inaccessible to many. Perhaps I should write it and release it on my website? But as much as I’m loathe to admit it, I both need and (more unsettlingly) want the credentialization this planned monograph would confer. Some variation upon this dilemma probably explains much of the placement of these pieces behind paywalls. So who am I to criticise? Instead, I’ll record these anxieties and move on, acquiescing to and arguably entrenching the very structures which my planned book both directly and indirectly critiques. Sociology helps me understand this ‘trap’, as Mills would put it, but it doesn’t help me negotiate it or even to live with it. It does however give me a lead in to an awesomely naval gazing introduction to the book if the proposal gets accepted.


It’s also striking quite how voluminous this literature has become. It’s hard not to see this as symptomatic of pretty much everything that’s wrong with contemporary sociology. I say while nonetheless continuing to plan my own contribution to this literature. Hmm.


One final thought: how long will it be until one of the publishers sues google over scholar automatically offering PDF links where these are available? This hasn’t been very helpful for the public sociology literature up until 2008 on Albert’s bibliography but a substantial quantity of the papers I wanted to read but couldn’t get access to have been offered to me by google scholar. Thanks google.

With the 2014 Volume, the Berkeley Journal of Sociology will focus its efforts on writing a “history of the present.”  The journal will no longer publish academic research articles. Instead, we seek compelling essays, insightful commentaries, critical analyses, and topical symposiums on the most pressing political and cultural issues of the day. Our aim is to provide critical perspectives from the social sciences on public debates and current events with an orientation toward social and political engagement. We seek to transform our longstanding graduate-run academic journal into a print and online magazine sourced by a global graduate community with wider relevance. The BJS is re-imagining the purpose of a publication that emerges from within the academy, but which does not take the discipline of professional sociology as its aim. We seek new audiences across new platforms to firmly root sociological knowledge within society, for society.

We believe there is a need for creative translation and wider circulation of the knowledge we are producing as graduate students of the social sciences on politics and culture today. We seek to broaden the interpretive range, imaginative scope, and prospective application of our research to ongoing political struggles, emerging cultural trends, and possibilities of alternative futures.  We are not content to be relegated to the sidelines. The point, after all, is to change the world. The task before us is to arm our critiques with power. This is a call to join a proper conspiracy whose aim is not only to critique, but to intervene; not only to intervene, but also to shift the terrain beyond the internal debates of the academic field.

The BJS seeks to open up a space to re-compose social research into a range of written forms, unobstructed by technical jargon and unconstrained by formalistic rigidity. Through its online-first approach the journal seeks to redistribute its material across sources and publications, in the alternative and popular press. Toward that end, BJS is accepting the following kinds of submissions on topical issues or debates:

  • research essays: open to interpretation.

  • commentary: social scientific assessments of events, journalistic reportage and public discourse; critiques of recent reports by state agencies, think-tanks, NGOs, foundations, polling agencies, etc.

  • conversations: interviews with traditional or organic intellectuals on topical subjects and debates.

  • field memos: ethnographic dispatches from graduate researchers; elaborations of experiences in the field as they relate to contemporary social struggles, crises, cultural or political debates.

  • photo essays: from a site of research; sociological critiques of art or visual culture.

  • book reviews (joint or solo): social scientific assessments of recently released trade books; reviews of academic books relating to contemporary events or debates.

  • debates:  The journal will be running video and transcripts from UC Berkeley’s Public Sociology Initiative. We invite similar debates or symposia on contemporary politics and culture, in the flesh or virtual.

Submissions are due by June 1st and may be sent as email attachments to submissions@berkeleyjournal.org and will be subject to a review among Berkeley graduate students in the social sciences. We also invite proposals for forums comprised of a number of contributions around a single topic. Proposals for forums should include a brief description of the project and information about the authors, including contact info, and should be submitted by April 1st to submissions@berkeleyjournal.org. All journal content will be published under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

The Berkeley Journal of Sociology is a graduate student-­run journal that has been in publication since 1955. Archived articles can be found on JSTOR.

Announcing a new monthly online magazine of social research, policy analysis and commentary

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS

DISCOVER SOCIETY

Measured-Factual-Critical

http://discoversociety.org

We publish short (1500 word) research-based articles on social topics. We also publish: ‘Viewpoints’ (on current social issues); ‘Policy Briefings’; ‘On the Frontline’, and a longer, ‘Focus’ article in each issue

We welcome contributions that are research-based and meet our guidance for contributors (available online: http://bit.ly/18LEZMg)

Potential contributions can be discussed in advance with the editors via a short ‘pitch’ sent to: discoversociety@outlook.com

Managing Editors: John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) and Sue Scott (University of York)

Editorial Board: Kehinde Andrews (Newman University); Lorenza Antonucci (University of West of Scotland); Les Back (Goldsmiths); Ben Baumberg (University of Kent); Gurminder K. Bhambra (University of Warwick); Mark Carrigan (University of Warwick); Emma Uprichard (University of Warwick); David Mellor (University of Oxford); Katherine Smith (University of Edinburgh).

Twitter: @discoversoc (https://twitter.com/DiscoverSoc)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/discoversociety

Email: discoversociety@outlook.com

Announcing a new monthly online magazine of social research, policy analysis and commentary

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS

DISCOVER SOCIETY

Measured-Factual-Critical

http://discoversociety.org

We publish short (1500 word) research-based articles on social topics. We also publish: ‘Viewpoints’ (on current social issues); ‘Policy Briefings’; ‘On the Frontline’, and a longer, ‘Focus’ article in each issue

We welcome contributions that are research-based and meet our guidance for contributors (available online: http://bit.ly/18LEZMg)

Potential contributions can be discussed in advance with the editors via a short ‘pitch’ sent to: discoversociety@outlook.com

Managing Editors: John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) and Sue Scott (University of York)

Editorial Board: Kehinde Andrews (Newman University); Lorenza Antonucci (University of West of Scotland); Les Back (Goldsmiths); Ben Baumberg (University of Kent); Gurminder K. Bhambra (University of Warwick); Mark Carrigan (University of Warwick); Emma Uprichard (University of Warwick); David Mellor (University of Oxford); Katherine Smith (University of Edinburgh).

Twitter: @discoversoc (https://twitter.com/DiscoverSoc)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/discoversociety

Email: discoversociety@outlook.com