An interesting extract from Conflict In The Academy, by Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert. From loc 556-569:

As Wyn Grant has noted in reference to the history of the discipline of Political Science in the United Kingdom, ‘intellectual openness and tolerance of eclecticism has its merits, but if it is allowed to become too uncontrolled it can lead to a lack of rigour in the deployment of methodologies and techniques, which undermines the systematic comparison that the subject has to offer if it is to be distinguished from polemic or idle speculation’ (2010: 24). Similarly, English Studies appears to have been attempting to maintain this precarious balance between pluralism and innovation on the one hand, and coherence and continuity on the other. In reference to John Beer’s suggestion in the Senate House (SHD: 355) that five separate strands of scholarship had emerged in the Cambridge English Faculty (traditional, international, close reading, analysis of literature in social and cultural contexts and an alignment of the study of literature with more popular media), Bergonzi writes that In one sense such pluralism is admirable, a fine instance of the multiplicity of interests and the free play of minds which one expects in a great university. Yet not all approaches can easily coexist; choices may have to be made, and voices imply exclusions … What looks like desirable diversity from inside a subject can seem mere fragmentation and incoherence to those outside it, or not very securely within it. (1990: 16) Institutionalising and sustaining the coherence of disciplines within the humanities, which are by their very nature ‘fissiparous disciplines’ – inherently prone towards internal division, may involve far more selfconscious ‘disciplining’, in Leavis’s sense, than is necessary in the more commonly mono-paradigmatic sciences. Secondly, even though many of the theoretical

Does this adequately describe contemporary sociology? I think it does, at least in the UK. But the question that really interests me is how a changing infrastructure of scholarly communication, in which interventions happen across a variety of platforms with all the temporal multiplicity that entails, might change this picture. How does self-conscious disciplining happen? What are new ways for it to be enacted? What determines the efficacy of such attempts? These are all changing in ways which raise complex empirical and conceptual issues.

I just spotted New Philosopher for the first time, in an airport newsagents. I’ve occasionally bought or subscribed to Philosopher’s Magazine and Philosophy Now in the past. That makes three popular magazines about philosophy aimed at a general audience. Why such an abundance of philosophy magazines and yet no comparable sociology publications? Is it because the public appetite couldn’t support a sociology magazine? Or is it because sociologists haven’t tried since New Society folded? Is it time for Discover Society to launch a print edition? Or something else entirely?

I think this is come out really well. Get in touch if you’d like to contribute something further:

 

Re-orienting Sociological Thought?                               

Glamorgan Council Chamber, Glamorgan Building,

Cardiff University, School of Social Sciences

Cardiff University
2pm to 4pm, Wednesday, May 11th 2016

In recent years, we’ve seen the proliferation of calls to reorientate sociological thought around new concerns, methodologies and approaches that can ground the discipline in changing times. This symposium brings together advocates of prominent approaches with the hope of a dialogue concerning these calls. What do they have in common? How do they differ? Are their proliferation a sign of the discipline’s weakness or of its vitality? Do we need to throw our energies into one, embrace the multitude or somehow synthesise them into a broader project of disciplinary renewal? 

Mark Carrigan – Why Public Sociology is Becoming Digital Sociology (and vice versa)

Des Fitzgerald – Lively sociology and the sociology of life

William Housley – Disruptive Technologies and Socio-Digital Transformation

Emilie Whitaker – Between Thanatos and Natality: considering sociological reorientations through trans/post humanist understandings of death

Pre-booking is required by May 4th. Reserve a place via http://www.eventbrite.com/e/re orienting-sociological-thought-tickets-24594058491

Violent Abandonment: researching the Calais refugee camp

Dr Thom Davies (Sociology, University of Warwick), Dr Arshad Isakjee and Dr Surindar Dhesi (Geography, University of Birmingham)

Abstract: Surviving in informal refugee camps is fast becoming the lived reality for thousands of refugees and migrants who are entering Europe. Abandoned and neglected, these spaces have become the de facto solution to European political inertia. The Calais camp in northern France has become a significant point of transit for refugees and migrants during the ongoing ‘refugee crisis’, many of whom intend to travel onwards to the UK.  In April 2015, 1500 migrants living throughout Calais were forced to re-locate to a new single site known as ‘The New Jungle’. Set on the periphery of the town, on a polluted area previously used as an informal dumping ground, this Zone is now home to over 6000 men, women, and children. Unlike formalised refugee camps, the ad hoc nature of the ‘New Jungle’ and the limited role of the state present significant public health challenges and a unique case study in Europe. This presentation draws upon findings from two recent ESRC funded research visits to the New Jungle, the first during the birth of the camp in April 2015 and the second in July 2015 during the height of the “#CalaisCrisis”. We present novel inter-disciplinary, mixed-methods research documenting living conditions in the Calais refugee camp. Having conducted a comprehensive environmental health survey of the site including collecting air, water, and food samples, observations and interviews with refugees (Dhesi et al 2015), as well as innovative visual methods – we uncover the substantial threats to the wellbeing of residents living in informal settlements as a consequence of state policies of de facto abandonment. We conclude that the impact of European and national policy in Northern France amounts to nothing less than a public health crisis. We frame this in terms of a violent abandonment, drawing upon the work of Galtung (1969) and Nixon (2014) and their conceptualisations of violence.

You can see details of forthcoming speakers and download a poster here http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/news/seminarsandevents/seminarseries

BSA Sociology and Feminism Event
Wednesday 16 December 2015 4pm – 6pm
Kings Place, 90 York Way London, N1 9AG (near Kings Cross)

Gender Struggles? Feminism? Sociology?

This event provides a brief introduction and update on how analysing gender inequality in sociology contributes to challenging everyday sexism and gender troubles. It also provides an opportunity for you to raise your own experience and views.

This is a chance to participate in a two hour engagement with feminism and Sociology introduced by leading feminist researchers within sociology and chaired by Lynn Jamieson the President of the British Sociological Association. The event is for all – with or without prior knowledge – from school-pupil to retired academic. All you need is some stake in, interest in or desire to know more about feminism or sociology or to do something about gender inequality. Come and hear some brief contributions offering informed views on sociologists´ and feminists´ analysis of gender inequality and take the opportunity to question, challenge or tell your own stories.

Stevi Jackson, University of York, is a sociologist who has written extensively about sexuality, gender and personal life.

Finn MacKay, University of the West of England, researches feminism as a social movement and works to combine feminism, activist and doing sociology in her own life.

Admission:
BSA members and students in full time education – FREE
Others – £5
To book, please visit our website:
http://portal.britsoc.co.uk/public/event/eventBooking.aspx?id=
EVT10477
Venue:
Kings Place, 90 York Way London, N1 9AG Please direct
any enquires to: E: events@britsoc.org.uk

The Board of The Sociological Review are pleased to announce that the journal is sponsoring a single-themed Research Seminar Series (which may consist of three or more research seminars) as well as three One Day Symposia events.  The Board hopes to make this funding available on an annual basis.

Guidelines for Applicants

The proposed Research Seminar Series and each of the three Symposia should have clear goals, bring together established and new researchers in any area of sociology and focus upon producing imaginative cutting-edge work of sociological and social significance.  We seek proposals that involve collaborations across institutions and disciplines and welcome those that connect sociology to wider communities and the arts.

An important aim of the series and symposia, is to produce papers that will result in innovative publications of interest to the readership of SR (the journal and/or the Monograph series) as well as an on-line Special Issue, the journal would have first refusal on all papers.  Papers would need to go through the usual reviewing procedures and there is no guarantee of publication.

As part of The SR’s mission to serve and enhance the future sociological community, seminars and symposia should be open to members of sociological teaching  groups in colleges and schools.  For example, a number of places could either be made available to local colleges/6th forms. or sessions could be video recorded and offered to these audiences. 

Format:

Either:

a)    a single-themed Research Seminar Series (eg three seminars each with four – six speakers presenting papers).

One grant of up to £6000 is available.

Or:

b)   a single Symposia event lasting one day.

Three separate grants of up to £2000 each are available. 

It is expected that funding will provide for room and equipment hire, consumables, hospitality, travel and accommodation expenses for speakers. It is expected that delegates will not be charged a fee for attending.

NB The funding from The Sociological Review could be match funded with other sources. For instance funding from elsewhere might facilitate and enable connections  and scholarly exchange with artists and sociologists  working with and for communities  and/or  to  support the presentation  and development of new /ongoing research projects. 

How to apply

Further details and an application form are available from The Sociological Review. Contact Mark Carrigan at mark@markcarrigan.net

Deadline for applications: 

2015-6   Open 1st November, 2015 – Close 20th December, 2015

NOTES

(i)        Organizers would consist of the nominated grant-holder (Principal Organizer) plus two additional named participants (co-applicants).  The principal organizer will liaise with a named colleague from The Sociological Review.  The Principal Organizer will organize, promote and manage all aspects of the programme (organizing seminars, dealing with expense forms, submitting claims to the office of The Sociological Review, etc).

(ii)       Topics may include any area within the field of sociology, or topics that engage with key social/sociological issues either through other disciplines or through inter-disciplinary work.

(iii)      Reasonable travel and subsistence expenses for speakers are permitted but not for delegates. Secretarial costs, consumables, hire of room and presentation facilities may also be included.

Fees will not be paid to speakers.

Delegates will not be paid expenses, but there will be no charge for attendance.

NB – Value for money will be one of the criteria used to evaluate proposals.

(iv)      The events will be promoted by the grant-holder/core members through their research networks and through their own departments and institutions. All communications with participants and publicity of events will acknowledge sponsorship by The Sociological Review (eg The University of X in association with The Sociological Review) and the seminars will be promoted as The Sociological Review Seminar Series with the Programme and Abstracts circulated in advance. The help of Wiley-Blackwell will be sought in matters of ‘branding’. Events should be advertised on the websites of participating institutions. The Programme would also be advertised by The Sociological Review and Wiley Blackwell.

(v) Applications will be assessed by a Committee drawn from the Board of The Sociological Review.  The criteria for assessment will include:

1. Sociological innovation.

2. Relevance to The Sociological Review journal

3. Relevance as appropriate topics for Monographs

4. General contribution to sociological analysis.

The potential value and dangers of sociological blogging arise because of an environment in which the demands of audit culture incentivise the production of ‘unread’ and ‘unloved’ publications which are too often written to be counted rather than to be read. The risk is that sociological blogging gets drawn into the pernicious logic of these metrics perhaps with ‘impact’ being measured through the daily visitors a blog receives or the number of times an online article is shared on social media. The temptation arises in part because of the manner in which such analytics are designed into blogging platforms themselves, with all providing numerous ways to view statistics about a blog’s popularity and many third party utilities available which can extend these modes of measurement. Given a broader trend first towards ‘content factories’ and then ‘viral publishers’, as well as the domination of ‘click-bait’, we need to think seriously about the potential for the the logic of the ‘social web’ to act back upon digital scholarship in a way that leads to a slide towards banality. My own experience has been that these considerations can creep in almost surreptitiously, as a seamless extension of rather innocuous practical considerations. If one is investing time in a project that aims to provide a platform for sociological writing then a reliance upon the built in metrics for measuring the circulation of that writing is inevitable. The problems begin when a incipient awareness of the varying popularity of different kinds of writing begins to effect how they are valued.

For example, articles bemoaning the contemporary state of higher education are inevitably very popular (presumably because they both have a broader disciplinary remit then things which are explicitly sociological and appeal to something in the day-to-day professional lives of those reading them) but should this popularity mean that writing of this form becomes particularly valued for the blog itself? It probably should not but it is easy for this slide to happen, with a concern for the blog’s popularity and reach too easily giving rise to a concern for ‘content’ that contributes to these ends. We can see a similar issue with the titles which are chosen on blogs. With even the most casual assessment of the relative ‘performance’ (my unthinking use of this term and overwhelming need to place it in scare quotes reflects the underlying ambivalence I am attempting to convey) of blog posts, it soon becomes clear that the title chosen contributes to how widely ready they are, largely through the mediating factor of how pervasively they are shared on social media. To a certain extent this can be a positive thing, encouraging the choice of informative and evocative titles, as opposed to narrowly descriptive ones. However a recognition of the sheer difference that a title can make, particularly if this is grounded in an engagement with the available data about how widely posts are shared on social media, can surely have a distorting effect. To use a recent example, I found that a post initially entitled “Gender, Reflexivity and Friendship” attracted little attention on social media but was shared extensively when given a new title “The Sociology of Friendship”. Soon after, I found myself rejecting the potential title “Performance, Awkwardness and Sociability” for a similar post (a couple of thousands of words of social theory, too unstructured for an academic article but nonetheless trying to make a serious, albeit meandering, sociological point) in favour of “The Sociology of Awkwardness”. Predictably enough this proved extremely popular and acted as encouragement to pursue similar naming conventions in future. The risk here is that a tendency within online publishing more broadly, in which often quite obnoxious headlines are generated quasi-algorithmically because of their demonstrable impact on the ‘virality’ of a post, creep into online scholarship as a proclivity for data analysis and an investment in the success of a project outweigh the high minded dismissal of these trends.

Perhaps this points towards the emerging need for online editorship to be taken seriously as a form of academic service. It is only in the last two years, partly as a result of editing the LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog as a full time job, that I’ve begun to feel comfortable describing myself as such. Previously, I felt there was a degree of affectation about it, as if describing oneself as an ‘editor’ in relation to a blog was a pretence at seriousness about an inherently unserious activity, something which was occasionally reflected in judgements I received from other people (though inevitably my own insecurity led me to give more weight to their judgement that they probably intended). But given the likely continued expansion of sociological activity online then the role of the blog editor is likely to grow in importance over time, as a gatekeeper to opportunities for professional visibility but also as a mediating factor shaping the emergence of online norms.

While some normative standards are beginning to emerge concerning matters such as attribution, style and format, these are inevitably fragmented and partial. The more seriously we take the role of blog editor then the more reflexively such questions are likely to be approached by those performing this function. This is important given that such individuals are amongst the few actually able to enforce standards online, albeit in a truncated domain, with the solidification of such norms otherwise being largely a matter of mimesis, as individuals observe others in their networks (or beyond them) in order to inform their own emerging practice. If we take editorship in this sense seriously as a form of academic service then we help mitigate against the tendency for such questions to be responded to pragmatically, instead creating the possibility of a ‘third space’ between academic research and journalism occupied by those who are concerned to translate academic knowledge. Either in the sense of being writers themselves who work to popularise academic knowledge by writing about it in a form amenable to a wider readership or by working with academics, whether directly on particular pieces of writing or indirectly through creating structures that incentivise certain forms of communication. My contention is that such a function is not straightforwardly academic but nor is it journalistic. Given the much remarked upon overproduction of PhD graduates, with too few academic jobs available for those awarded doctorates to pursue academic careers, it is intriguing to speculate about the likely implications of a potential funded expansion of group blogging for academic career trajectories.

I am personally within the first cohort for whom this is a viable occupational opportunity, albeit still in a very limited way, with blogging having contributed in an important way to sustaining myself financially through six years of a part-PhD (through working full time as an editor for some time but also through more ad hoc work such as running workshops and managing social media accounts). There is obviously a sense in which I have a vested interest in the expansion of this sphere, given I enjoy this work and, if possible, want to pursue a career path which mixes my own research and social media to the greatest extent possible. It is precisely the existence of such vested interests, as well as the significance of broader institutional trends for academic blogging and vice versa, which makes it imperative that we expand discussions of online writing, as well as other forms of social media engagement, beyond the scope of the merely technical. The communicative opportunities afforded by blogging invite us to consider the purposes of such communication. My suggestion has been that they pose tacit questions of great importance which it is valuable for the discipline as a whole to recover: what is sociology for? How do sociologists communicate? How could they communicate? How should they communicate? Many of the risks which have been discussed reflect a failure to address such questions adequately, with immediacy and novelty potentially squeezing out disciplinary craft rather than acting as an invitation to rethink that craft in light of these changing opportunities.

Earlier this week, NatCen Social Research hosted a meeting between myself, Chris Gilson (USApp), Cristina Costa and Mark Murphy (Social Theory Applied), Donna Peach (PhD Forum) and Kelsey Beninger (NSMNSS) to discuss possible collaborations between social science bloggers in the UK and share experiences about developing and sustaining social science blogs over time. We didn’t do as much of the latter as I expected, though I personally found it valuable simply to voice a few concerns I’d had in mind about the direction of academic blogging that I’d heretofore been keeping to myself for a variety of reasons. The manner in which the audience for Sociological Imagination seems to have stopped growing over the last couple of years (unless I make an effort to tweet more links to posts in the archives) had left me wondering why I’d been operating under the assumption that the audience for a blog should be growing. I realise that I’d been working on the premise that an audience is either growing or it’s shrinking which, once I articulated it, came to seem obviously inaccurate to me. Considering this also raised questions about overarching purposes which I was keen to get other people’s perspectives on: what was the website for? To be honest I’m not entirely sure. After four years, it’s largely become both habit and hobby. It’s an enjoyable diversion. It’s a justification for spending vast quantities of time reading other sociology blogs. I’m invested in it as a cumulative project, such that even if I stopped enjoying it, I’d probably feel motivated to continue. I’m still preoccupied by how genuinely global it has become, something which feels valuable in and of itself. I’ve also had enough positive feedback at this point (I never know quite how to respond when people send ‘thank you’ e-mails but they’re immensely appreciated!) that all these other factors, essentially constituting its value for me, find themselves reflected in a sense that it’s clearly valuable for (some) other people as well.

Much of the early discussion at the meeting was about the limitations of metrics. It’s sometimes hard to know what to do with quantitative metrics of the sort that are so abundantly supplied by social media. What do they actually mean? Other people have seemingly had the same experience I’ve had of being provoked by these stats to wonder about what isn’t being measured e.g. if x number of people visit a post then how many people read the whole thing, let alone derive some value from it? We discussed the possibility of qualitative feedback, which is essentially what the aforementioned ‘thanks’ e-mails constitute, as something potentially more meaningful but difficult to elicit. Are there ways to pursue qualitative feedback from the audience of a blog? Cristina and Mark described their current project aiming to use an online questionnaire to get information about how Social Theory Applied is seen by readers and how the material is being used. Are there others ways to get this kind of feedback? Perhaps I should just ask on the @soc_imagination twitter feed? I guess the thing that makes me uncomfortable is the risk of slipping into a publisher/consumer orientation, given this is a relation so well established in contemporary society – I don’t see the people reading the site as consumers and I don’t see myself as a publisher. In fact I’ve found it immensely frustrating on a few occasions when I’ve felt people adopt the mentality of a consumer with me e.g. leaving a comment that “there’s no excuse for posting a podcast with such low audio quality” or “why haven’t you fixed the broken link on this [old] post?”. While I’d like to get qualitative feedback on Sociological Imagination, particularly more of a sense of how people use material on the site if it’s for anything other than momentary distraction, I basically have no intention of doing anything other than what I want with it, as well as leaving the Idle Ethnographer as my co-editor to do the same.

We also discussed a range of potential collaborations which we could pursue in future. One of my concerns about the general direction of social science blogging in the UK is that the LSE blogs and the Conversation might gradually swallow up single-author blogs – in the case of the former, the fact they often repost from individual blogs mitigates against this but I think there’s still a risk that single author blogging becomes a very rare pursuit over time, simply because it’s difficult to sustain it and build an audience while subject to many other demands on your time. I think the likelihood of this happening is currently obscured by academic blogging becoming, at least in some areas, slightly modish, in a way that distracts from the question of whether new bloggers are likely to sustain their blogging in a climate where their likely expectations are unlikely to be met by the activity itself. I like the idea of finding ways to share traffic and I suggested that we could experiment with aggregation systems of various sorts: perhaps framed as a social science blogging directory which people apply to join, at which point their RSS feed is plugged into a twitter feed that automatically aggregates all the other blogs on the list. Another possibility would be to use RebelMouse to create what could effectively be a homepage for the UK social science blogosphere (in the process perhaps bringing this blogosphere into being, as opposed to it simply being an abstraction at present). Chris Gilson suggested the possibility of creating a shared newsletter in which participating sites included their top post each week or month, in order to create a communal mailing which profiled the best of social science blogging in the UK. Despite being initially antipathetic towards it, this idea grew on me as I pondered it on the way home – not least of all because it could be a way to connect with audiences who are unlikely to read blogs on a regular basis. However while it would be easy to create prototypes of any of these to test the concept, it’s less obvious how they would work on an ongoing basis. The latter two would require a small amount of funding and/or someone willing to take on an unpaid task. Perhaps more worryingly from my point of view as someone who goes out of my way to avoid formal meetings in general and those concerned with elaborating procedures in particular, it seems obvious to me that some filtering criteria would be required (e.g. should blogs have to be continued past a certain point to join the aggregator? should there be quality criteria and, if so, who would assess them?) to ‘add value’ but I have no idea what these would be nor do I see how they could be fairly elaborated without a long sequence of face-to-face meetings that would likely prove tedious for all concerned. Perhaps I’m being overly negative, particularly since two of the ideas were my own, but I don’t see the point of writing a ‘reflection’ post like this and not being upfront about where I’m coming from.

We also discussed the possibility of longer term collaborations. Would social science blogging in the UK benefit from something like The Society Pages and, if so, how do we go about setting it up? I cautioned against overestimating the possible benefits of the umbrella identity TSP provides but I really have no idea. We discussed whether we should talk to the editors of the site in order to learn more about their experiences. I can certainly see the value in pursuing something like this and, as with the aggregators, it has the virtue of facilitating collaboration while retaining the individual identities of the participating sites – for both principled and practical reasons, I don’t want to collaborate in a way that dilutes the identity of the Sociological Imagination. Plus, even if I did, I’d have to ask the Idle Ethnographer and I suspect she feels even more strongly about this than I do. This discussion segued quite naturally into a broader question of how to fund academic blogging in the UK – framed in these terms, my initial ambivalence about pursuing funding melted away because I’d like nothing more than to find a way to fund blogging as an activity. My experiences at the LSE suggest this might be harder than it seems but we discussed this in terms of winning money to buy out people’s time to participate in these activities. I’ve always been an enthusiast for the LSE model of research-led editorship (as opposed to the journalist-led editorship of the Conversation, which I think leads to an often sterile product in spite of the faultless copy) so I’d like it if this possibility, as a distinctive occupational role in itself, doesn’t slip out of the conversation but it’s difficult for all sorts of reasons. I think it would also be beneficial to find ways of employing PhD students on a part-time basis, either for ad hoc assignments or work on an ongoing basis, given the retrenchment of funding and the congruence between the demands of a PhD and paid work of this sort. My one worry here is that the pursuit of funding undermines what I would see as the more valuable outcome of establishing blog editorship on an equivalent footing with journal editorship – given the latter does not, as far as I’m aware, factor into workload allocations anywhere, advocating that time for blog editing should be bought out risks preventing an equivalence between these two roles which I suspect would otherwise be likely to emerge organically over time.

My sense of the key issues facing the UK social science blogosphere:  

  • How to share experiences, allow practical advice to circulate and facilitate the establishment of best practice
  • Finding qualitative metrics to supplement the quantitative metrics provided by blogging platforms
  • Making it easier for new bloggers to build audiences and promote their writing
  • Experimenting with aggregation projects to help consolidate the blogosphere and share traffic
  • Finding ways to fund social science blogging (for students, doctoral researchers and academics)
  • Increasing the recognition of social science blogging as a valuable academic activity
  • Ensuring that social science blogging remains a researcher-led activity and doesn’t get subsumed into institutionalised public engagement schemes
  • Encouraging the development of group blogs as a type distinct from single-author blogs and multi-author blogs with designated editors

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 degree of sophistication which can be seen in some of the work analytical sociologists are doing. However I think it’s useful as an expression of a core distinction between those theorists who see ‘structure and agency’ as a dualism to be transcended and those who see it as reflecting the ontological reality of two relatively autonomous aspects of the social world. I also really like how he sets this up because it helps me locate both my PhD research on personal morphogenesis and my post-PhD research on the sociology of thinking in terms of wider trends within sociological theory:

This leads us to what I think is the main battleground between dualists and antidualists, the mind of the individual. The question is: how social is it?

ON THE (SOCIAL) NATURE OF INDIVIDUALS

No one could question that there are singular organisms we call members of the biological species Homo sapiens, but the antidualists wish to remind you that these are not distinctly human individuals, not to mention social scientifically interesting agents, until they are in sociocultural relations with other people and thus components in sociocultural wholes that contribute enormously to their being the kinds of individuals that they are (see e.g., Bourdieu 1977; Dewey [1920] 1988:187–94, [1922] 1983, [1927] 1988:351–53; Elias 1978; Fuchs 2001; Giddens 1984; King 2004; Mead 1934; also Kivinen and Piiroinen 2013). As John Dewey put it a hundred years ago:

The real difficulty is that the individual is regarded as something given, something already there. . . . [For, actually,] social arrangements, laws, institutions . . . are means of creating individuals. Only in the physical sense of physical bodies that to the senses are separate is individuality an original datum. Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out. (Dewey [1920] 1988:190–91)

For central conflationist antidualists like myself, indeed, the “micro” focus is not the individual so much as specific encounters and other small-scale situations involving specific kinds of people-in-relations and their interactions (see Collins 2004:3). In effect, “the stuff of the social is made of relations, not individuals” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:179). But Archer, in contrast, needs to keep individuals free from their social relations in order to pull those relations away from agency and turn them into the essence of structures. So relations and thus structures must be external to individuals and their beliefs and concepts, according to Archer, and relational roles, institutions, concepts, and ideas cannot be allowed to “invade” or “determine” individuals’ identities and decision-making processes. Basically Archer is saying that we must not stuff too much of the sociocultural world into people’s heads

(Piiroinen 2014:84-85)

I think he’s misunderstood Archer’s specific point slightly but he’s certainly correct about the general intention here. My PhD research on personal morphogenesis was intended to flesh out how people change in relation to social and cultural influences in a way that sustains the distinction between the personal changes and the social influences. We become ‘the kinds of individuals’ that we are in relation to others but if we cleave self and others too closely together, we obscure the variability in how these changes unfold. In essence I’ve argued that we understand relationships in terms of intersecting biographies and the changes brought about by them. So I’d insist on maintaining individual biography as a unit of analysis, with this representing a ‘chunk’ of one person’s biography in which we they undergo a change:

However we can’t understand the changes without analysing the intersection of biographies, as any number of other persons (Px) contribute to the unfolding of P1’s biography over this period of time. The interaction between P1 and Px contributes to the reproduction or transformation of the relations themselves but also the persons party to them:

I would accept that we are only “distinctly human individuals” when we are “in sociocultural relations with other people”: I just want to be specific about which sociocultural relations contribute to which aspects of our individuality and when they do so. I think this is important because actual biographies are messy. My empirical case study concerned undergraduate students. For instance I’m interested in understanding how interactions between a person and their new university friends can transform how they relate to their ‘home friends’. The personal changes emergent from one set of sociocultural relations can have a huge impact on another set of sociocultural relations and I think the central conflationists can’t (consistently) account for this because they have no concept of ‘outputs’ from relations. In other words: relations change people but people change relations and these processes are not concurrent. We are enmeshed within socio-cultural relations from birth but, as Laing once put it, while “our relatedness to others is an essential part of our being … any particular person is not a necessary part of our being”.

So when we ask how social is the mind it connects us to a much wider network of questions, as Piiroinen adroitly illustrates. I see my project on the sociology of thinking as having an outward facing component (in the sense of what a sociological perspective can contribute to the study of thinking from other approaches) but also an inward facing one, in the sense that understanding thinking – as an activity but also the contents of thought – is integral to clarifying the dualisms upon which so much of sociological theory has tended to pivot: individual/relations, individual/society, agency/structure, micro/macro. I would like to critique what I see as a tendency towards disciplinary imperialism in how sociologists treat thinking and to critically engage with work in other fields with the intention of (cautiously) applying their insights to the clarification of these questions of social theory.

I just came across a lovely point in Harmut Rosa’s book about the relationship between social change and musical innovation. Certain forms of music come to be seen as emblematic of the age but, as that age changes so too does the sensibility which is brought to bear upon that music:

today certain forms of jazz music that, at the time of their emergence in the first half of the twentieth century, were experienced as breathless, hectic, exceedingly fast, machine-like, and stupefyingly chaotic – and thus as fitting reflections of their era – are touted as “music for tranquil hours” or “jazz for peaceful afternoon.”

Harmut Rosa, Social Acceleration, p. 82

If I’m in the right mood, I love music that is “stupefyingly chaotic”. I wonder if digital hardcore, gabba and breakcore will come to see quaintly relaxing in future years? Or are there inherent limits upon musical innovation which entail an upper limit on elaboration of this very particular sort?

This open and web based project aims to contribute to a rethinking of the sociological canon and debates about the past and future of the discipline. Would you like to contribute to An Alternative History of Sociology? There’s more information here about the project and its aims. Though it’s still in an early stage, we’d be interested in receiving:

  1. Biographical accounts of historical figures
  2. Narrative summaries of historical figures and their work
  3. Narrative summaries of contemporary figures and their work
  4. Personal accounts of the constraints of the sociological canon and the broadening of intellectual horizons
  5. Analysis of the broader methodological and historical questions entailed by the project

There is no deadline for submissions. The idea is to create a living resource which grows over time, highlighting sociologists who haven’t received the recognition you believe they deserve and encouraging debate about the history of the discipline and what it means to have made a contribution to it.

All submissions should be 1000-3000 words and include a suggested image that is licensed for reuse. References should be included at the end of each post in a briefly annotated form, with the intention of sign posting an interested reader keen to navigate a body of work they had previously been unfamiliar with. Please include a 100 word first-person personal biography with submissions.

E-mail mark@markcarrigan.net to contribute an article or discuss a potential contribution.

All articles will be licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. This permits attributed reproduction for non-commercial purposes but precludes modification.

In this lovely dialogue hosted on the Goldsmiths website, thanks to Dave Beer for flagging it up, Bev Skeggs discusses the contemporary sociological imagination with Les Back. To begin they discuss discomfort and dislocation as an integral aspect of the sociological imagination, engendering an inability to take the familiarity of things for granted, instead prompting a search for the patterns underlying it:

Les: It can be about discomfort. I think sometimes often people come to sociology with an incredible sense of discomfort or dislocation. I have something within myself, you know, a discomfort, a disquiet sense of not quite fitting in place or being out of place, or even being confined or suffocated by the place in the world that one occupies, you know.

Bev: So it’s about a complete lack of ontological security?

Les: It can be–, sometimes students are absolutely suffocated by that lack of ontology. Of a sense of, you know, ‘I just don’t fit in this world’…

Bev: Or know how to? On a tangent, this is very interesting in terms of Bourdieu’s habitus, because he had the model of subjectivity, which is about fitting dispositions to positions, and I’ve always thought it was highly problematic because I think most people just do not fit the fields into which they are positioned. It’s a theory of adaption that does not work for me.

Les: And in a sense he was betrayed in his own biography. It is a sense of being displaced; being displaced not only from the world he enters in the Ecole Normale and all that whole world that he described in Homo Academicus, but he also doesn’t fit in the world in which he identifies so strongly

I found the critique of Bourdieu here particularly interesting. As Bev Skeggs puts it, “he is trying to understand that lack of fit, but then he comes to a theory of fit.” This prompts a lovely exchange about ‘crampedness’ and its relationship to the sociological imagination.

Bev: And you’re saying that you think the politics–, and let’s be clear, it’s the politics of the sociological imagination, is understanding the lack of fit?

Les: A lack of fit or I think a sense of kind of suffocation often people feel in their place in the world.

Bev: Crampedness?

Les: Crampedness, being hemmed in, there’s something very powerful in Mills’ formulation when he says–, although I’m not sure it holds true now, but he  says, people experience themselves as if they’re spectators in their own lives.

You know, and I think there’s something about that that is very powerful as a formulation, as an invitation. And I suppose what the politics of the sociological imagination and I’ll just put to one side the question of what you do with sociological imagination as a practice, but part of the politics I think is to have an enlarged sense of an understanding of one’s place in the world.

The whole thing can and should be read in full here. There’s one additional section I can’t resist quoting (and not only because it offers such an eloquent formulation of why the Wire is sociologically fascinating):

Bev: So you’re saying what’s happened is that the technologies of sociology, say, the methods of empirical understanding, be it measurement or ethnography, are detached from a very particular form of sociological attention, a detachment from critical political understandings of power relations, and it’s that detachment that has enabled the spread of the sociological imagination but only in its limited technical forms

Les: I think sometimes it’s reduced to those bare technical forms and other times it’s really fantastically alive, at its most imaginative. And that’s part of the–, of the difficulty in summing up exactly that thing about where sociological imagination has moved to, because partly, you know, I think in some ways the
sociological imagination is much more alive in The Wire than it is in most seminars about urban ethnography.

Bev: And that I would want to argue, is because The Wire pays attention to big explanations whilst locating those big explanations, which are institutional, they’re economic, in characters. So it comes back to what you were saying about how the characters’ crampedness carries the precarious conditions of the global in which they creatively struggle to survive. So it’s not about positioning them as passive or victims, it’s about looking at how people are struggling within those incredibly cramped conditions, paying attention to that intensity of struggle and the reasons for it.