This looks like it’s going to be a brilliant conference:

CALL FOR PAPERS (deadline: 22 April 2019)

The third culture? // Literature and Sociology

University of Warwick (Coventry) – 14 June 2019

In 1985 Wolf Lepenies argued that sociology should be considered a ‘third culture’ arising between science and literature. Contemporary discourses and research, however, show us that sociology and literature have a long history of peculiar relatedness.

In 19th century Europe, sociology was considered both a competitor to and counterpart of literary study since consensus held that the two disciplines were best placed to analyse and depict the emerging industrial society. Figures like Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Simmel hoped to merge literature and social science; while others (like Marx, Durkheim and Weber) drew inspiration from literary work in developing their early sociological masterpieces. Despite this history, the developing pan-European structure of knowledge with its prioritisation of empirical analysis prevented any extensive integration between the two fields (Longo 2015; Jacobsen, Drake et al. 2014; Wallerstein 2007).

This conference seeks to renew collaboration between sociology and literature by addressing their disciplinary intersections and coalescences.

From this starting point three inter-related dimensions emerge:

Firstly, that literature may serve as a heuristic tool for sociological analyses, providing, if not a simplistic ‘reflection’ of social reality, then at least a plausible description or anticipation of human actions and social contexts. In this way some fiction can be understood as social theory (as with Balzac, Dickens, Houellebecq and Saramago); while some sociological accounts can be understood as pieces of literature, with a ‘literary imagination’ underpinning many sociological works (as with Denzin and Richardson).

Secondly, in terms of cross-fertilisations, literary study has a long history of mining sociological theories and methodologies for the analysis of literary texts (as with Marxist literary studies and World Literature). More recently this has led to a rich sub-discipline that correlates literary forms and socio-economic processes via the work of Bourdieu and others. Literary theory, for its own part, has had a distinct impact on contemporary sociology, with the work of Said, Spivak and Jameson featuring prominently in sociology’s global or postcolonial turn.

And finally, literary works have historically worked as agents to foster reflection and political action on contemporary social issues (as with the work of Sinclair, Roy and El Saadawi). In this way, the intersection between sociology and literature can be used to focus and reflect on social issues like migration, racism and exploitation, serving activist projects and stimulating interventions into public life.

By reflecting on the productivity of these strands, we aim also to trace the difficulties and erasures which inhere as disciplinary objects are shifted and reconstituted, while bridging disciplinary parochialisms and reframing social and cultural issues beyond the confines of the university.

Thematic sessions and presentation topics for this conference may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Theories of the intersections between sociology and literature

  2. Historical perspectives on the intersections between sociology and literature
  3. Sociological fiction
  4. Marxism and literature: contemporary perspectives
  5. Bourdieusian approaches to literary analysis
  6. Uses of literature and sociology that stimulate interventions into public life.

Keynote speakers will be:

  • Professor Mariano Longo (Università del Salento – Italy)
  • Second keynote TBC

We welcome both proposals for individual papers (20 minutes) and panels (1 hour/ 3–4 papers) that encourage a reflection on these intersections. Please send either a 250-word abstract for an individual paper proposal or a panel proposal of 900 words and a short biography to thirdcultureconference@gmail.com by 22 April 2019. Panel proposals should contain a brief description of the topic of the panel as well as the 3–4 abstracts that constitute the panel. Individual abstracts will be allocated a panel after review. Applicants will be notified by 26 April 2019.

Delegates to the conference will be expected to fund their own travel and accommodation. Thanks to our sponsors – the ESRC-DTC (University of Warwick) and the Social Theory Centre (University of Warwick) – the registration to the conference is free.

More information on https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/esrcdtc/news/literaturesociology

I encountered the notion of the drabble through reading Rob Kitchin’s fiction blog. These short stories of exactly 100 words can have a strange power to them, as little shards of reality that can be thrown out into the world. This is how Wikipedia describes the origins of the drabble:

The concept is said to have originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the 100-word format was established by the Birmingham University SF Society, taking a term from Monty Python‘s 1971 Big Red Book.[1][4] In the book, “Drabble” was described as a word game where the first participant to write a novel was the winner. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice.

There are other forms of micro-fiction. One that interests me is the radical brevity required to represent a scene within the 140 character limit of a tweet. Even more than a drabble, this precludes narrative in a traditional sense and that’s precisely what’s so interesting about it for sociological fiction. It frees the fiction from the narrative demands which might otherwise conflict with sociological concerns, allowing little fragments to be produced which can have a life of their own.

This is one example I wrote earlier in the week, intended to illustrate a theoretical point without invoking theory, though I’m not convinced it does this particularly effectively:

His jaw clenched as he contemplated yet another all nighter.

It was difficult to remember when he’d last slept properly. But his work, the work, couldn’t wait.

Throughout each day, each and every hour, millions of communiques were issued from this control room. Each issuing was important, with potential geopolitical consequences. Not something one could rush. Yet there were always more issuings to come.

He wondered how life might have been if he’d turned down the Neoliberal Diktat Division. But who would do that? The system could not run itself.

He reached for an energy drink from the office fridge.

But I’m finding it really fun to experiment with this. If you’d like to join me, I’m guest-editing a special section of the So Fi zine presenting sociological drabbles. The deadline for submissions is September 30th.

I was fortunate to meet Tim Maughan at the Digital Sociology conference in New York last month. Along with Sava Saheli Singh, he’s been exploring how design fiction can be used to communicate sociological ideas. This is how Sava and Tim describe design fiction:

Design fiction is a term first coined by Julian Bleecker and popularized by SF author Bruce Sterling, who describes it as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” and that it “attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different.”

Design fiction isn’t science fiction, it’s not just a telling of stories in the future or trying to make predictions of the future, instead it is a way of trying to envision and interrogate possible futures based on research data, current trends, and/or technologies. Originally, primarily used by product designers as a cheap alternative to prototyping new products, it has found traction as a critical tool allowing us to see through the fog of hype and digital evangelism. 

I find this idea really exciting and I invited Tim to give a talk when he visits London. If you’d like to come then you can register here. It’s a free event that will take place at Goldsmiths on the afternoon of May 13th. I’ll be talking, as will Les Back, Keith Kahn-Harris and Sarah Burton.

Eventbrite - Design Fiction for Sociologists

In the meantime, here’s a great example of the work produced by Tim:

For a workshop on future London, five individuals — Arup, Social Life, Re.Work, Commonplace, Tim Maughan and Nesta—created 10 Future Londoners for the year 2023. This is a short fictional piece describing the working day of 19 year old Nicki, a zero hours retail contractor.

https://medium.com/@timmaughan/zero-hours-f68f17e8c12a

Here’s an example of what Sava and Tim have worked on together:

People talk about the future of technology in education as though it’s right around the corner, but most of us get to that corner and see it disappearing around the next. This innovation-obsessed cycle continues as we are endlessly dissatisfied with how little difference these promises make to the people implicated in these futures. These products and practices, cloaked in the latest buzzwords and jargon, often trickle down to non-western geographic regions after they’ve been tried and rejected, yet still adopted as the new and advanced “western” methodology that will solve the “problem” of education.

In an attempt to cut through the relentless TED Talk-like optimism of ed tech marketing, this year at the HASTAC conference in Peru we presented a series of fictional case studies. These four design fiction based personas aimed to illustrate the possible impact on society and education, in both positive and negative ways, of not just emerging technologies but also global social and economic trends. They give brief snapshots of the lives of individuals in imagined futures from different geographic, ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds, illustrating how each of them might interface and interact with the different technologies.

https://medium.com/futures-exchange/the-future-of-ed-tech-is-here-its-just-not-evenly-distributed-210778a423d7