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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. […]

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 […]

The Impact of Social Theory

The Sociological Review has just published a thought-provoking review of Doug Porpora’s Reconstructing Sociology: The Critical Realist Approach. It gives a lucid, though brief, overview of the book’s core arguments: seven myths which afflict American sociology and seven philosophical counter-points. But what caught my attention was the account of how theoretical […]

On Teaching Theory

This short exchange with Michael Burawoy offers some thought-provoking reflections on teaching social theory. He identifies the major traditions of teaching theory within American sociology, before outlining his own ethnographic approach: The Survey: surveying extracts from a comprehensive range of social theorists, each one treated as an instance of a broader category. Essentially disconnected and […]

the riddle of society 

From pg 165 of Margaret Archer’s Realist Social Theory: What is it that depends on human intentionality but never conforms to anyone’s intentions?  What is it that relies upon people’s concepts but which they never fully know?  What is it that depends upon human activity but never corresponds to the […]

the esoteric appeal of tony giddens

From How to become an internationally famous British social theorist by Stewart Clegg, 585-586: “Giddens’s later concerns with structure and agency allow him to tap into many prestigious intellectual products as resources, such as linguistics, analytical philosophy and the Heideggerian tradition. These connections allow for far great consumption in more […]

A new resource for teaching social theory

Along with Cheryl Brumley, I’ve been producing ‘virtual dayschools’ for the Centre for Social Ontology. They’re intended to provide accessible introductions to difficult topics by mixing up text, image and video. They’re intended as a preliminary to engaging with what is often difficult literature rather than as a replacement for […]

The unavoidability of sociological theory

There’s an important way in which sociological theory is unavoidable. I mean this in the sense in which Alexander describes the problems of action and order as non-optional: “every theory takes some position on both” (Alexander 1987: 12). This is an empirical statement about sociological practice as much as anything else. Against those […]

Notes for a Sociology of Thinking 1.4

In a recent paper Tero Piiroinen argued that the intellectual axis of contemporary sociological theory has shifted from a concern with individualism and holism to what he terms dualism and anti-dualism. I’m not convinced as to the accuracy of this as a claim about the state of the field given the […]

Notes on The Social Life of Theory 1.3

I approached this book with a certain degree of ambivalence, curious as to the hostility one of my favourite sociologists has seemingly provoked in many of its readers. As someone fascinated by the sociology of sociology, it was exciting to hear that Christian Smith had written a book of this sort, even […]

Notes on the Social Life of Theory 1.1

What is theory? Stefan Collini argues that “‘theory’ is what happens when common starting-points can no longer be taken for granted”. If there’s any truth to this suggestion, it points towards the irrevocably social nature of theory. The inclination to address a question in a theoretical way, the variability with which different parties will […]

Social Theory as Optometry

The notion of philosophical under labouring has been integral to the development of critical realism. It is, as Roy Bhaskar puts it, what critical realist philosophy most characteristically does. The metaphor comes from John Locke but it is deployed in a way that criticises Locke’s philosophical legacy, reframing it in terms of a much more […]