My notes on Betta, M., & Swedberg, R. (2018). Heuristics and Theorizing as Work on the Self. Sociologica, 12(1), 21-25.

Heuristics are commonly seen as either rules of thumb, simple tricks used under conditions of uncertainty, or tools for discovery, practical steps facilitating knowledge about what was previously concealed. However in this short paper, Betta and Swedberg suggest a third meaning, connected to the increasingly apparent area of theorising. From pg 22:

During the last ten or so years a new field of knowledge has slowly begun to open up; and the knowledge of tricks, moves and advice is part of this field. This new field of knowledge is theorizing. Theorizing is about sociologists becoming aware of what they are actually doing when they work with theory, and also being aware of how they can use this knowledge to shape their work.

The concern of social scientists with their own practice has led to the development of the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of sociology and the sociology of ideas. However they argue that these have been prone to blunt and oversocialised generalisations about the objective determinants of ideas. Furthermore, they are unable to inform an account of how to improve that practice.  There are books which aim do this explicitly, providing guidance about the practical steps involved in common intellectual activities. But these, argue Betta and Swedberg mainly focus on justification and say little about discovery. The focus on theorising aims to correct this deficit, as they explain on pg 22-23:

Theorizing represents an attempt to portray how things are actually done, and how theory is actually used in research. The search light is directed straight at what the social scientist does for two reasons. First, by proceeding in this way, social scientists will become aware of what they are currently doing; and second, they will also learn what they should be doing.

This involves relating to the self as an object of knowledge, in a way analogous to moral action which seeks to ensure more than mere conformity to external rules.  Heuristics should be seen alongside metaphors, induction, deduction, explanation and generalizations as part of theory work. But if I understand them correctly, their point is that beginning to talk about theorising in these terms helps constitute oneself as a theorising subject, relating reflexively to activities which would once have been (largely) tacit in a way guided by these concepts. In doing so, it contributes to constituting theorising as an area of knowledge with a direct connection to practice.

Interestingly, they relate this to the progress of methods and the consequent impoverishment of theory in (American, though they don’t qualify it as such) sociology. They also suggest that the findings of the cognitive sciences could be brought in to help inform the theory and practice of theorising. They conclude by linking this to Kant’s “project of the thinking self, which can be described as persons who act on themselves by teaching themselves how to think” (pg 24): if I understand them correctly, ‘owning’ theorising in the way they suggest involves having the courage to use your own understanding in the Kantian sense.

My notes on Latz, A. B. (2015). Gillian Rose and Social Theory. Telos, 173, 37-54. and Fuller, B. W. (2018). Back to Hegel? On Gillian Rose’s critique of sociological reason. The British journal of sociology, 69(2), 265-285

The figure of Gillian Rose was a continual presence in the Sociology department at Warwick in the time I was there, from 2007 to 2014, with the main seminar room named after her and many staff members who had been close to her. However I’d never really engaged with her work until now so I’m pleased I’m finally got round to reading these two papers. The first by Andrew Brower Latz explores her relationship to social theory, situating her in terms of her the Frankfurt school which she identified herself as a student of. Her work emerged in a context where “a focused search to develop a better grasp and articulation of sociology and its logic” (38) was mitigating the failure of classical sociology to identify its own methodological specificity. Latz takes critical realism, structuration theory and Bourdieu’s sociology as constructive responses to this underlying problem.

It is this context that Rose’s Hegelian work was so significant, providing a means to address “perennial issues in social theory, namely:the relationship of logic to the sociology of knowledge; contradictions and antinomies; emergence; and the possibility of a totality” (38). She engaged with Hegel’s speculative philosophy as a radicalisation of the Kantian critique of reason (theory) by reason (meta-theory). In doing so, it provides a way to approach the social character of knowledge which takes us beyond the post-Kantians, for whom objectivity (“the applicability of our concepts to the external world, which creates the possibility of true or false judgments about the world”, 39) is grounded in sense data received through intuition. If I remember this correctly, our sensory apparatus is receptive to the world and we know that world through the representations that receptivity provokes in our mind. We do not encounter the object but only this (involuntary) representation of it. The transcendental form of inquiry was retained by neo-Kantians but the transcendental idealism was rejected, leaving the subject locked within thought without the (indirect) escape which the latter provided. As Latz puts it, “The touchstone for a system of thought was thought itself, in a way that tended to insulate thought from receptivity to thought’s other” (40).

For Rose the recurrence of positivism within sociology has one of its source in the lack of appreciation by sociologists of the transcendental form of their reasoning. If I understand correctly, this manifests itself as an evasion of the relationships between theory and meta-theory, mind and world, theory and evidence (to use Latz’s terms): the world is either collapsed into our experience of it or our experience is imputed to a world deemed to be devoid of intrinsic meaning. As Latz says later, drawing on a reading of Rose by Simon Jarvis, “Sociology’s danger is twofold: on the one hand, imposing a grid or pre-theorized schema on society instead of allowing experience to speak; on the other, imagining that simply pointing to experience will do” (53). For Rose speculative philosophy provides a way out of this impasse as “transcendental philosophy performed with maximum awareness of its own workings, which is gained through a historical perspective” (42). It entails a grappling with the absolute – “the unity of finite and infinite, of law and ethics, the full achievement of ethical life” (42) – but as a regulative ideal which established the unattainable horizon of our thought. This goes hand-in-hand with her “emphasizing the moments of incompleteness, provisionality, tension, and even fragmentation within thought and society” (43).

Latz considers the significance of her work in relation to logic & the sociology of knowledge, contradictions & antinomies, emergence and totality. He does this through considering sociological studies which either repudiate or embody key features of her approach, namely thinking “in terms of contradictions and determinate negation, must use increasingly comprehensive levels of explanation and historically informed analyses, and be aware of its own role within its object of study” (47). Perhaps the key point in this discussion is the relationship between theory and meta-theory: how theorising in pursuit of social explanation is itself theorised and the practical implications of this. How do we tie  substantive and meta-theoretical considerations together in the same undertaking? If I understand correctly, the point is we are always doing this regardless of whether we are aware of it. If we’re not aware of it, we’re going to do it in a way that impedes our mode of explanation. So Rose’s approach is about how to do this in a way which is adequate to the character of social reality. It is a form of theoretical reflexivity, for lack of a better term. That at least is how I understand the gist of Latz’s discussion.

I was particularly interested in her conception of totality: “Since for Rose no single view of the totality is adequate to it, various perspectives on it are required” (52). It always evades us while remaining the horizon of what we are doing and why. A further point this left me reflecting on is how invoking experience can itself render that experience abstract by cutting it from the world in relation to which that experience emerges and which accounts for the meaning and content of it. It emerges from the failure to link theory and meta-theory, facing the challenge of for instance linking mind and world rather than simply allowing that to fade into the background in a way that dichotomises lived experience and brute facts. As Latz puts it, “Rather than an abstruse methodological pedantry, issues of meta-theory can often have theoretical effects, including philosophical conclusions drawn from sociological studies, the nature of the explanations given, or the status afforded to those explanations and the theories whence they derive” (54).

The second paper by Brian W. Fuller is more explicitly concerned with the subdued reception of Rose’s work and its relationship to the wider neglect of Hegel within the social sciences. He highlights how “Rose argues that we sociologists have been systematically misunderstanding ourselves, and allowing this to happen – taking refuge, either implicitly or explicitly, in the notion of Kantian limits to our understanding” (266). If we remain locked within the Kantian problematic then we are confined to the “social investigation of unknowable objects” (266). This entails recognising the brokenness of modern thought, which a thematic I’m fascinated by without really understanding and want to return to. I assume it relates to the post-Kantian estrangement of thought from world, cutting it off from what it is, but I’m far from certain based on what I’ve read so far. What Fuller later calls ‘the strict dichotomy between cognition and its objects” which begins in Kant and is preserved in post-Kantian philosophy (268). Rose’s concern is to acknowledge this and to begin with it in the sociological enterprise. Its failure can be seen in a dichotomisation which pervades sociological thought. From 269: 

Her Hegelian move is to grasp the two paradigms as aspects of one whole. Sociology has repeated the mistakes of neo-Kantian philosophy by bifurcating into two contradictory theoretical paths, each of which represents one-half of a linked pair, and which consequently cannot be comprehended in isolation. Durkheim’s structural approach and Weber’s interpretivism each postulates a precondition and a conditioned; though their perspectives are opposite, neither can grasp the transition between spheres. Employing Hegel directly, Rose declares the former approach ‘empty’, while the latter is ‘blind’ (1981: 214). In sum, Rose’s complaint is that sociology is trapped within dichotomies which it can never overcome, because they are products of its own mode of thinking.

The confrontation with the relationship between theory and meta-theory opens up  the possibility of transcending dichotomies in their application. I’m trying to understand how this relates to the approach of Margaret Archer, whose precondition of analytical dualism entails thinking with dichotomies as ways in which we can unpick the relationship between heterogenous elements in the explanation of social outcomes. But what Archer calls explanatory methodology as a site for leaving these dichotomies behind would presumably be to effectively reproduce them from Rose’s point of view. As Fuller puts it, “the ‘speculative’ direction she suggests is designed to help uncover the meaning and significance of such recurring problems and limitations, opening up potential for transformative practice” (270). This I would argue is what Archer actually does, I’d be interested to encounter any sustained engagement between these two sets of ideas. It certainly falls short of Rose’s lofty, somewhat existential, approach to theoretical inquiry. From 270:

A second difficulty of explication is that – according to Rose’s interpretation – there is no way to adequately present the Hegelian speculative position in an abstract and concise fashion, without misunderstanding it. Hegel’s approach to philosophy intends to teach a new (speculative) way of thinking and experiencing, which requires continual ‘re-cognizing’ of one’s current position. Rose takes Hegel’s philosophy seriously as a ‘way of despair’, and the process of educating consciousness necessarily appears difficult, aporetic, or else impossible. This is not an illusion to be overcome, nor a dead end, but a process that will require failure. Accordingly, for Rose, abstract explication is out of the question, and the reader must learn through failure.

Incidentally, could this not be a meta-theory of what Daniel Little calls being an open-source philosopher? This could provide a profound intellectual-existential rationale for the virtues of thinking out loud, rather than thinking being an internal process contained until moments of careful and purified expression. More generally, Rose’s project involved a move beyond reflective thought, in the process recognising the dichotomies it creates as both its own creation and “part of a larger whole, a conceptual and social-historical whole” (271). This move has its origins in the Hegelian turn beyond Kant’s restriction to the boundaries of the finite, “insisting that the whole point of philosophical thought is to be speculative, to attempt to think the infinite, to embrace the contradictions produced by reflection” (271). Philosophical reflection merely analyses, categorises and schematises its contents, ordering the finite rather than understanding its coming to existence and totality within which it happens.

The possibility for overcoming it rests on a self awareness of the reflective position, understanding its own activity as the origin reflective understanding. In this sense, it involves taking Kant further than recognising the dependence of objectivity upon the subject. We typically see appearances as grounded in essences but the Hegelian project was about recognising this as a posited dichotomy, in order to grasp the unity of the appearance and the essence. My crude understanding of this, which I’m not very confident about, sees it as a vast multilayered mess of becoming which is parcelled out into discrete terms by the activity of cognition. Speculative philosophy involves tracing out how these discrete terms and their static relations have been created through reflective activity, moving upwards towards a totality we can never reach because our striving is part of the whole we are trying to apprehend from inside the mess. This has implications for ethical life. From 274:

In his practical philosophy, Kant derived a set of universal principles to gov- ern the moral subject, arguing that moral action must be guided by the univer- salizability of a potential action. Hegel’s critique of Kantian moral philosophy is similar to his account of speculation above. He claims that Kant’s practical philosophy cannot adequately comprehend humanity nor society in its historical concreteness, since it deals only in abstractions and universals. The critique emphasizes two points. First, he objects to the abstract separation of theoretical and practical reason, and consequently, of the realms of necessity and freedom. For Kant, for example, the human will exists in the sphere of noumena, inde- pendent of the natural, empirical world in which human subjects reason and act. Second, Hegel criticizes Kantian practical philosophy for being too ‘formal’. The formality of the moral law means that it cannot be derived from the con- crete, historical world, but only transcendentally from reason. From a Kantian view, we can only understand ethical life abstractly.

I think this is akin to the understanding Alisdair Macintyre expresses in his focus on moral particularism. We are always already inside ethical community and abstracting the individual from that community in the Kantian manner will capture nothing of the concrete reality of moral existence. It ties to Rose’s reading of Hegel’s phenomenological method, which unites thinkers I’ve been drawn to who in different sorts of ways seek to concretise subjectivity without reducing it to the dominion of first person experience. From 277:   

The phenomenological method is then a way of presenting speculative expe- rience. It treats experience concretely, in its social-historical particularity, and hence allows ‘us’ to recognize our own ‘determination’. In other words, it affords a conception of consciousness not simply in its mode of being or exis- tence, but in ‘actuality’ – consciousness at work in the social world.

Fuller’s discussion of the relationship between philosophy and sociology is extremely interesting. From 278:

Sociology has long had a difficult relationship with philosophy, beginning with the attempts of the most promi- nent classical theorists (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) to articulate a vision of soci- ology which goes beyond philosophy in some important aspects. Although perhaps the more common claim remains that sociology has in some sense tran- scended philosophy or made it obsolete, there are periodic calls to reintroduce philosophical perspectives into social science.

This ends with a really interesting critique of Daniel Chernilo’s project of philosophical sociology, arguing it merely reiterates the dichotomies it takes as its starting point while remaining with the horizons of existent sociological reason. Counter-poising the philosophical and sociological doesn’t help us better understand the relationship between them, as much as inviting this dialogue might in itself help enrich the practice of each. His final discussion of the horizons of Rose’s thought are fascinating. From 280:

Likewise we cannot use Rose to overcome the contra- dictions of structure and agency that so many have struggled with for so long. Rose did not succeed where contemporary theorists failed, any more than Hegel ‘solved’ the problems of Kantian philosophy. We need to tell the story of the conceptual oppositions and antinomies as they came to be, to structure our current social theoretical world. These antinomies are not just distractions, but have their own particular social history, which needs to be comprehended and presented phenomenologically, in order to not result in reification.

In this he departs from Latz who he frames, unfairly I think, as claiming that Rose’s speculative approach be used to avoid social theory’s missteps and contradictions. I read this instead as Latz be concerned about the practical application of Rose’s approach by working sociologists and Turner being concerned by the integrity of Rose’s approach as speculative philosophy.

My notes on Lichterman, P (2017) On Social Theory Now: Communicating Theory Now. Perspectives 39(2)

In this response to Social Theory Now, Paul Lichterman offers a compelling vision of social theory as sociology’s meta-conversation, with communicating theory being “to keep track of and facilitate that conversation, treating it as always in movement”. It is a sprawling conversation about the conceptual terms we use to articulate empirical research, linking together the particular subfields within which theories are generated in a topology of the discipline as a whole. Facilitating that conversation involves a kind of “temperature-taking”, “assessing where we are in the various sub-conversations, rather than a statement about which theories best reflect our historical era, or which theories are currently the best contenders for sociological immortality”. He contrasts this dialogical approach to theorising as transmission:

Transmissive theorizing starts with a large conceptual framework, and promotes it, applies it, passes it down with improvements or at least updates.  I’m contrasting that with this book’s version of communicating theory — which I will call “dialogue.” Dialogical theorizing propounds questions, and a few central concepts such as “culture” or “gender.” It sustains questions and central concepts, more than sustaining master theorists or distinct schools as ends in themselves. In transmissive theorizing, the theorist or school is exalted. In dialogical theorizing, the theorist or school is. . .consulted.

It is an overdrawn distinction but it’s an important one which captures the essence of my discomfort with critical realism, which I think suffers from being institutionally locked into a transmissive mode. Transmission gets in the way of “minding the conversation, recognizing its limits, checking out the rest of the party”. It is ill suited to the reality of contemporary social theory, consisting of “relatively porous conversations, where participants invite new participants now and then, rather than a world of masters, and apprentices working their way in”. Critical realism is far from alone in being transmissive but it is a powerful exemplar of this mode of theorising.

He ends with an interesting discussion of vision questions: “the big normative questions that help us envision a society that is—more democratic (Habermas, or Dewey), more self-understanding (Shils), more radically democratic (Mouffe, Seidman), not to mention more solidary, more rational, or less alienating, to invoke the big three”. If I understand correctly, he’s claiming that these vision questions tend to be baked into theorising in the transmissive mode, locked within schools to be accepted or resisted as part of a whole. But could they not be better integrated into dialogue between subfields in a way which renders them autonomous from schools? Can social theorising involve “semi-autonomous, conversational room for explicit communication about vision questions and how they relate to concepts in subfields”? He suggest public sociology and civic sociology as contributing to this process. Could a broader dialogical approach to social theorising better integrate them?

From pg 67 of his Wasted Lives:

With the passage of time, successive layers of emergent realities come into view, each calling for a deeper and more comprehensive revision of received beliefs and our conceptual net than was required by the one before in order for it to be scanned and its significance revealed. We haven’t reached the bottom layer yet; even if we did, though, we wouldn’t be able to decide for sure that we had.

I recall other points where he writes like this. This is not liquidity, it’s lamination: successive layers of nested reality which we discover in an accelerating fashion. Liquidity is a feature of our experience, not of reality. Bauman ontologizes a phenomenological concept and then uses it to ground a thematic of modernity. Thoughts? This idea only just occurred to me but I suspect it would be an interesting critique to try and develop.

I’m just doing some late stage proof reading for the collection of Margaret Archer’s papers I’ve edited with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler. This passage from the revised introduction to the Social Origins of Educational Systems really jumped out to me, both because of the forcefulness with which it sets out her intellectual project and also the austere clarity which I really value about her writing style:

A social ontology explains nothing and does not attempt to do so; its task is to define and justify the terms and the form in which explanations can properly be cast. Similarly, the Morphogenetic Approach also explains nothing; it is an explanatory framework that has to be filled in by those using it as a toolkit with which to work on a specific issue, who then do purport to explain something. Substantive theories alone give accounts of how particular components of the social order originated and came to stand in given relationships to one another. The explanatory framework is intended to be a very practical toolkit, not a ‘sensitization device’ (as ‘structuration theory’ was eventually admitted to be); one that enables researchers to advance accounts of social change by specifying the ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ and avoiding the vagaries of assuming ‘anytime’, ‘anyhow’ and ‘anywhere’.

I really like this idea – see the full post here. I was always quite taken with the method for social ontology which Dave Elder-Vass elaborated for what I think were quite similar reasons. There’s far too much attention paid to theory and far too little attention paid to theorising.

Following this, Swedberg suggested that learning to theorise can only be done effectively through concrete exercises, and so he spoke about how he helps students to do so in the course he runs at Cornell. Beginning with the instruction to go and observe any social phenomenon, ideally one that they are not familiar with, Swedberg listed the steps he encourages his students to work through (with the stipulation that they must ‘construct theories to suit facts not facts to suit theories’):

  • Step 1: Observe; learn something about the topic before theorising
  • Step 2: Name the phenomenon
  • Step 3: Use and develop one/several concepts; develop a hybrid concept
  • Step 4: Push further – perhaps use a metaphor, an analogy, a typology, a classification; try to build in process
  • Step 5: Come up with an explanation, rather than a description only

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/researchingsociology/2015/10/21/theorising-theory-reflections-on-the-bjs-annual-lecture/

This looks like it’ll be very interesting:

The International Origins of Social and Political Theory

What is the relationship between history and theory? Much of the time, theory is held to stand outside history. Theoretical systems are applied to, rather than drawn from, historical events. Structural functionalism in sociology, neorealism and neoliberalism in International Relations, and neo-classical economics work in this fashion. The promise of such ‘objective’ theorising is to construct schema that are abstracted from the minutiae of historical events and the agents who enact them.

This special issue of Political Power and Social Theory explores two commitments that stand in opposition to the view that theory inhabits a space distinct from history:

·       First, theory and theorists arise historically. History is an ‘archive’ of events and experiences that leads to theorising, often by practitioners caught up in those very events. Marx was a revolutionary, Clausewitz a soldier, and Freud an analyst. Rather than abstract theory from history, this special issue sees theory as necessarily constituted in and through history.

·      Second, international encounters are productive of theorizing: the discovery of the Americas helped to generate the idea of the ‘state of nature’; transnational practices of commercial capitalism fuelled Adam Smith’s theories of free trade; and Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave could not have been written without the Haitian revolution. Theory and theorists are always located somewhere – and that somewhere is history.

This special issue invites submissions on the various international encounters that have generated social and political theorizing. Although we welcome submissions in the fields of history of ideas/intellectual history, we are particularly interested in how historical events, experiences and practices have shaped theoretical developments.

Those interested in contributing to this special issue should send an abstract (maximum 200 words) to Tarak Barkawi (tarak.barkawi@gmail.com) and George Lawson (g.lawson@lse.ac.uk) by 1st July 2015.

We will host a workshop at LSE in Spring 2016 in which papers will be discussed. Those papers selected for the special issue will be sent for review in early Summer 2016. Final submissions will be made to Political Power and Social Theory in September 2016. Publication of the special issue will take place in early 2017.

The Social Theory Research Cluster invites paper proposals for its first Symposium for Early Career Theorists. SECT is a special one-day group of sessions at the Canadian Sociological Association that spotlights the work of emerging social theorists at a relatively early stage in their careers (PhD Candidates who are ABD status and those who are no more than five years beyond completion of their doctorate).

Social theory is an open and dynamic field, and so in that spirit we seek papers that reflect, expand and/or critique the array of social phenomena that can be theorized. The Social Theory Research Cluster aspires to make SECT a flagship for social theory in Canada, and aims to renew and consolidate the place of theorizing in the Canadian sociological imagination. All proposals will be given serious attention, with session themes and topics reflecting the scope of submissions rather than vice versa. Papers will be circulated in advance to facilitate dialogue, and senior scholars will act as discussants.

We welcome extended abstract submissions of 600-800 words. Abstracts can be submitted online here:

http://www.csa-scs.ca/files/webapps/ocs/index.php/csaconferences/ottawa

Abstracts will be accepted until 11:55 pm on February 2, 2015 (Eastern Time). Complete papers will be due no later than April 30, 2015 to ensure that discussants have adequate time to prepare. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) annual meeting will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences Congress 2015 at the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Ontario Canada’s capital city, from June 1 – 5, 2015.

Social Theory Research Cluster
Canadian Sociological Association

Organized by Dr. Ariane Hanemaayer (ahanemaa@ualberta.ca) & Dr. Mervyn Horgan (mhorgan@uoguelph.ca)

Is American sociology much more openly hierarchical than UK sociology? Or am I just reading too much into the name? Either way, it looks good, even if I dislike the title and concept slightly:

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 13, 2015

We invite submissions for extended abstracts for the 9th Junior Theorists Symposium (JTS), to be held in Chicago, IL on August 21st, 2015, the day before the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The JTS is a one-day conference featuring the work of up-and-coming theorists, sponsored in part by the Theory Section of the ASA. Since 2005, the conference has brought together early career-stage sociologists who engage in theoretical work.

We are pleased to announce that Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland), Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University), and George Steinmetz (University of Michigan) will serve as discussants for this year’s symposium.

In addition, we are pleased to announce an after-panel on “abstraction” featuring Kieran Healy (Duke), Virag Molnar (The New School), Andrew Perrin (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Kristen Schilt (University of Chicago). The panel will examine theory-making as a process of abstraction, focusing on the particular challenge of reconciling abstract “theory” with the concrete complexities of human embodiment and the specificity of historical events.

We invite all ABD graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors who received their PhDs from 2011 onwards to submit a three-page précis (800-1000 words). The précis should include the key theoretical contribution of the paper and a general outline of the argument. Be sure also to include (i) a paper title, (ii) author’s name, title and contact information, and (iii) three or more descriptive keywords. As in previous years, in order to encourage a wide range of submissions we do not have a pre-specified theme for the conference. Instead, papers will be grouped into sessions based on emergent themes and discussants’ areas of interest and expertise.

Please send submissions to the organizers, Hillary Angelo (New York University) and Ellis Monk (University of Chicago), atjuniortheorists@gmail.com with the phrase “JTS submission” in the subject line. The deadline is February 13, 2014. We will extend up to 12 invitations to present by March 13. Please plan to share a full paper by July 27, 2015.

 

At IACR earlier today I heard two interesting talks about Realist Evaluation. I had previously had a vague idea about what this involved, largely through encountering citations from Pawson in other texts, without ever having really grasped what it was in a concrete sense. Now I have, I’m very interested. All the more so because of the number of people who have told me today about the excitement that realist evaluation has generated in environments that one would have expected to be utterly hostile to critical realism more broadly. So there’s an interesting question about how realist evaluation has proved so amenable to circulation outside of its initial domain. Certainly, some of this must be a matter of networks, in terms of the original generation of those advocating this approach and the patterns of work stemming from their own engagements. I imagine it’s also a matter of analytical value – I was particularly interested to hear how realist evaluation appears to those from an applied background working within a positivistic intellectual culture. It sounds like the conceptual distinctions it draws are crucial – realist evaluation critiques what positivist empiricism does but also explains how its own function corrects these mistakes by going deeper into the case.

However the aspect that interested me most were the questions about intellectual self-presentation. Firstly, in terms of the limitations upon the acceptability of realist evaluation that some people encounter e.g. the approach is becoming fashionable but the results may still be somewhat alien on an intellectual level to funders. Secondly, in terms of what strikes me as the terminological minimalism which characterises the approach and its proponents. Take this extract about mechanism in a paper i just found by Pawson and Tilley:

The concept is best grasped through an illustration. The ‘primary school breakfast club’ is a very popular measure used to boost early education performance, often included within community regeneration initiatives. The key point here is that ‘the measure’ is not the basic unit of analysis for understanding causation. A measure may work in different ways or, in realist parlance, they may trigger different mechanisms (M1, … , Mn). A breakfast club may aid classroom attentiveness by offering the kids a ‘nutritious kick-start’ (M1) to the day, which they might not otherwise get. And/or it may act as a ‘summoning point’ (M2) to prevent kids loitering or absconding or misbehaving in the chaotic period before school. And/or it may act as an ‘energy diffuser’ (M3) to soak up gossip and boisterousness before formalities commence.

And/or it may enable to school to present a more ‘informal face’ (M4) to those uninspired by classroom and book learning. And/or it may act as a ‘pre-assembly’ (M5) enabling teachers to troubleshoot potential problems and seed the day’s schedules. And/or it might give parents and school staff an ‘informal conduit’ (M6) to mix and offer mutual support. Mechanisms also explain a programme’s failure, of course, so to this list we might add some adverse processes. It may act as an  opportunity for ‘messing about’ (M7) if only ancillary staff are on duty; it might provide an unintended ‘den of iniquity’ (M8) for planning the day’s misdeeds: or it might prove a ‘cultural barrier’ (M9) because inappropriate food is served, and so on.

http://www.communitymatters.com.au/RE_chapter.pdf

I’ve long thought that mechanism is a powerful concept. In fact encountering the notion of a generative mechanism, in virtue of the operation of which events unfold in the way that they do, played a crucial role in winning me over to critical realism in spite of my initial scepticism. Even the more instrumental conception of mechanism found in analytical sociology appeals to me because once you start to think in terms of mechanisms, it’s hard to understand how anyone could be satisfied by a form of social inquiry entirely absent of them, even if you may disagree with the way in which other people conceptualise them.

But it can also be a hard concept to explain to those who don’t think in these terms. They are also often not written about clearly and, in spite of what I’m suggesting is their analytical pay off, I can understand why this is the case. In my own work I’ve tended to use ‘mechanism’ as a vague concept I employ in my provisional analysis but then articulate in other terms at the point of writing. The reason for this is partly because I don’t have the confidence that I can write clearly in terms of mechanisms while also being accurate. Or sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s because what I’m bestowing the ‘mechanism’ title to actually just reflects a causal hunch. Or my own thinking is much vaguer than I would like it to be.

It’s in terms of this experience that I find the clarity of Pawson and Tilley’s writing about mechanisms so striking. What I see as problematic, using it to designate the fact that I think I’ve identified operative causal power of some form, seems utterly fine when I encounter it in their writing. I find it problematic in my own because of the vast meta-theoretical edifice in virtue of which the concept is meaningful to me. But perhaps this is a feature of my own intellectual biography rather than anything that should exercise normative power in relation to my own writing? Could this be a more general mistake i.e. assuming that the theoretical considerations that led you to come to have accepted a concept should figure into your applications of that concept?

I look forward to reading more of Pawson and Tilley’s writing and I’m interested to develop my understanding of the style they write in. The small amount I’ve looked through in the last hour or so certainly fits with the effusive complements I heard about their style during the conference today. I’m also intuitively of the opinion that this style is, in a very particular way, part of the reason for the success their work has enjoyed. I’m not making the rather trite claim that ‘theory would be more popular if theorists wrote more clearly’. I’m suggesting there’s something very specific about their particular kind of clarity which lends to their work a wider popularity than would otherwise be the case.

My suggestion is that it uses the minimum of terminology necessary to convey the conceptual distinctions which have practical implications. It’s stylistic parsimony. Or at least it tends towards this. Are there many other theorists this is true of? I’m not convinced that there are. I’d like to be one of them though.

Theorizing Roles and Collective Intentionality: Contemporary Perspectives
Monday 5 May 2014, 1-5pm
Seminar Room 3, Chrystal MacMillan Building
15a George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD
 
Overview: Despite the arguments of committed critics, notions of roles and collective intentionality have persisted in social science and philosophy. They provide ways of conceptualizing aspects of our sociality and tools to critique individualistic approaches to the social world. This symposium brings together speakers who are engaging with contemporary debates about roles and collective intentionality. The aim is to provoke debate about these concepts, and to push forward their theorization whilst considering serious challenges to them.
 
Schedule
1.00-1.10pm    Introduction
1.10-2.10pm    Social Roles and Tasks, Professor Raimo Tuomela (University of Helsinki)
2.15-3.00pm    What Ever Happened to ‘Sex Roles’? Sex, Gender and the Concept of Role, Dr Mary Holmes   (Edinburgh University)
3.00-3.30pm    Tea, Coffee and Biscuits
3.30-4.00pm    Social Roles and Moral Law, Professor James Swindler (Illinois State University)
4.00-4.30pm    Roles and Implicit Consensus, Dr Stephen Kemp (Edinburgh University)
4.30-5.00pm     Panel: all speakers in discussion with each other and the audience
 
Organized by Professor James Swindler, Illinois State University (jkswind@ilstu.edu) and Dr Stephen Kemp, Edinburgh University (s.kemp@ed.ac.uk) with support from the School of Social and Political Science and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Edinburgh University, and the BSA Theory Study Group.

This looks fascinating, shame it’s so far away from me:

International conference

Moments of rupture: Event and negativity in modern thought

October 29 & 30, 2014
Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile
Keynote speakers:
Andreas Kalyvas (The New School, USA)
Eduardo Sabrovsky (Universidad Diego Portales, Chile)

Rupture is a motif central to modernity. A certain “culture of rupture” has animated in various forms the development of modern political and social thought, from the speculative philosophy of Hegel to the deconstruction of Derrida. The word “rupture” suggests a break in the status quo, an unexpected and irreversible event which interrupts the continuity of established institutions and practices, a singular occurrence which shatters the apparent consistency of the symbolic and normative order. Moments of rupture inspire hopes of a new beginning and emancipation but also instill fears of disorder and destruction.

The recent scenes of economic crisis, social discontent and political revolt have forcefully brought the topic of rupture to the fore. In the contemporary thinking about this topic, a peculiar opposition can be observed. While, in some forms of political philosophy, moments of rupture are celebrated as radical, extraordinary, genuinely political events, in the social sciences rupture tends to be seen as a common element of everyday disputes and struggles.

We invite proposals for presentations in English or Spanish that explore the notion of rupture from a philosophical, political, or sociological perspective. Possible topics include:

– The semantics of the concept of rupture

– The notions of event and the extraordinary

– The relation between rupture/event and negativity

– The problems of narrating and representing rupture

– Foundation, revolution and constituent power

– The significance of moments of rupture for the philosophy of history and political time

– Crisis and conflict

– Secular miracles and political theology

We welcome submissions both of complete papers and of extended abstracts of around 500 words. They should be prepared for blind review and sent tocoloquio_ruptura@mail.udp.cl. The deadline for submissions is June 27. Notices of acceptance will be sent by July 22.

The conference is hosted by the Instituto de Humanidades and the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales e Historia of the Universidad Diego Portales. For additional information, please contact the organizers, Rodrigo Cordero and Wolfhart Totschnig, at the email address above.

Support: FONDECYT Initiation Project No. 11121346

Workshop

ORIENTATING FEMINISM(S): FEMINIST ‘TURNS’ AND THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION

The Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, University of Warwick

Friday 28th February 28th, 2014, 2.00pm  – 4.00pm

Social Sciences Building, Room A0.23

Speakers:

  • ·         Prof. Clare Hemmings (LSE)
  • ·         Dr. Carolyn Pedwell (Newcastle)
  • ·         Dr. Rebecca Coleman (Goldsmiths)
  • ·         Prof. Valerie Hey (Sussex)
  • ·         Prof. Lisa Blackman (Goldsmiths)

(More speakers may be announced – please check the event website for the most recent list: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/research_centres/gender/forthcomingevents/feministturns)

Chairs:

Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira and Kathryn Medien (University of Warwick)

This workshop seeks to interrogate the nature and impacts of claims that feminist scholarship is, or ought to be, undergoing a ‘turn’, i.e. a change in direction, aim or focus. The notion of ‘turn’ has long played an important role in oral and written narrations of the development of social and political theory. In those narrations, the declaration of a ‘turn’ functions not just as a categorising device making it possible to identify patterns and pinpoint transformations in knowledge production, but also as a touchstone of sometimes fierce debates about the relative epistemic value and political utility of different forms of scholarship.

In recent years, it appears that invocations of, and exhortations to, a ‘turn’ have become especially frequent in feminist scholarship, particularly within conversations about theoretical and empirical work often clustered around the terms ‘the affective turn’ and ‘the (new) materialist turn’. These ‘turns’ have been the object of much attention in conferences and publications, but this workshop invites colleagues to think about them differently.

  • ·         Rather than evaluating the key principles, theoretical merits and analytical potential of such feminist ‘turns’, we want to discuss what happens when we think and speak of these (and other) scholarly developments as a ‘turn’, and how they come to be positioned and function within feminist scholarship.
  • ·         Rather than just conceptualise ‘turns’ as epistemic processes (where what is at stake is theories, concepts and findings), we also want to situate the declaration of ‘turns’ within the broader political economy of contemporary academic practice and ask, for example, how these declarations might relate to ongoing processes of transformation and competitive commodification of academic knowledge.

This event will take the format of an open roundtable discussion where speakers and participants will debate the current political-theoretical feminist landscape, asking how feminist ‘turns’ operate within and against a changing academic environment, at a time of political and economic ‘crisis’ and strengthening of social inequalities. We will consider questions of institutionalisation, temporality, the stories we tell about feminist scholarship, geo-politics, feminist pedagogies, citational practices and the relation between feminism and the political economy of contemporary academia.

We hope you can take part in the debate and then join us for the post-workshop drinks reception!

Attendance is FREE, but we ask that you REGISTER IN ADVANCE by clicking here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/research_centres/gender/forthcomingevents/feministturns/register

Useful Information

(The Social Sciences building is marked with the number 60, and appears at the centre of the map, within square 4D.)

Brendan Halpin just linked to this on my last post. It’s my new favourite xkcd:

Sociology seems to produce a number of co-existing and mutually exclusive (semi) paradigms which continually split and re-form in different combinations. Those who are committed to the idea of the necessity of a ‘theoretical core’ frequently argue that such a situation represents a moment of synthesis, a moment that requires the development of a unified frame of reference representing structure and agency as presuppositional categories (as argued, for example, by Parsons,Alexander, Habermas, Giddens,Archer, Scott, etc.). The fact that an accepted synthesis never comes and that each new attempt gives rise to further critique suggests that ‘synthesis’ is one of the moves that gives rise to new splits and forms and is not, therefore, a resolution

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2010.01332.x/abstract

SA: Early Career Theorists’ Symposium

6th June, 2014, held at the London School of Economics

Call for Abstracts

The Early Career Theorists’ Symposium is a special one-day symposium for up-and-coming theorists, organized on behalf of the British Sociological Association’s Theory Study Group. This symposium aims to bring together sociologists at a relatively early stage in their career who work on theory or are engaged in original theoretical work as part of their on-going research. We invite early-career sociologists, across all research areas, to submit abstracts. Submissions from advanced PhD students are also welcome.

Prof. Claire Alexander (Manchester), Prof. Patrick Baert (Cambridge), and Dr Fran Tonkiss (LSE)—covering theorisations of Race & Ethnicity, Philosophy of the Social Sciences and the Sociology of Intellectuals, and Urban and Spatial Theory and Economies, respectively—will comment on the papers. Complete information for submitting the abstract will consist of:

(1) name and contact information of the author (including career stage, e.g. PhD student, post-doc, early career academic);

(2) title of your presentation;

(3) a 500-word abstract of the presentation;

(4) five keywords descriptive of the presentation.

Please send submissions to the organizers: Dr Marcus Morgan, University of Cambridge (mm2014@cam.ac.uk) and Dr Suzi Hall, London School of Economics (s.m.hall@lse.ac.uk). The deadline for submission of abstracts is 6th January, 2014.

Please plan to share a full paper of no more than 5000 words by 28th April, 2014. Registration for the event is free.

Please do forward/share as appropriate.

 

BSA Annual Conference 2014: Changing Society  

Call for Papers 
Theory Stream Submissions
This stream welcomes abstracts on any aspect of theory as well as abstracts for the following Study Groups:

· Bourdieu
· Historical and Comparative Sociology
· Realism and Social Research
· Weber

The Realism and Social Research group would also like to invite abstracts under the theme “What is Realism for?”

The group is particularly interested in papers that consider any of the following issues:

  • The relevance of realist theory to substantive social, economic and political issues.
  • The practical implications of methodologically operationalising different forms of realist thought.
  • Those from other schools of thought who wish to engage critically in a dialogue with realist theory.

How to submit 
All abstracts and proposals for other events can be submitted online at:
http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/bsa‐annual‐ conference/submissions.aspx

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 18th October 2013.   

For further information contact the Theory stream coordinators:
Gurminder K Bhambra E: g.k.bhambra@warwick.ac.uk
Tom Brock E: T.Brock@mmu.ac.uk
Alternatively, contact the BSA Events Team E: events@britsoc.org.uk

‘theory’ is what happens when common starting-points can no longer be taken for granted. For example, literary critics in the English-speaking world in the 1950s and 1960s disagreed about many things – about the authorship of certain Jacobean plays or about the influence of Keats on Tennyson or about whether D. H. Lawrence was a great writer – but for the most part they did not disagree about whether the evaluation of literary worth was legitimate or even possible, or indeed about whether there was such a category as ‘literature’. When all these concepts and procedures are defamiliarized, made to seem culturally contingent rather than logically necessary, debate has to move to a more theoretical or abstract level. But once again, this is not a form of pathology, not something that happens because there is nothing more to say about the established canon or because literary scholars have lost interest in literature (though some may have). It may, rather, be an index of health, or at least a sign that scholars cannot and should not be immune to the intellectual changes consequent upon living in a more diverse society in which the assumptions shared by certain traditional elites no longer command general assent

– What are Universities For? by Stefan Collini (1176)