Sociology and crisis often appear linked together, trapped in each other’s embrace sometimes as ‘intimate bedfellows’ and sometimes as an ‘odd couple’ too. What binds the one to the other is the very nature of their unusual relationship which, like most tempestuous love affairs, finds itself in moments of settlement and rupture depending on the tide, the mood, or the very circumstances that prompt or discourage their encounter. Such a broad opening paragraph admittedly sits and inevitably awaits scornful criticism that will demand references to substantiate claims made and justifications that would need to spell out what entitles any author to dare attempt such generalising pronouncements. My answer, consistent with every lover’s confession, is simple; it is my attuned interest in both sociology and crises that gives me the confidence to talk about them freely, if not carelessly, even by violating established standards of academic practice. What I hope to introduce with this introduction to the series however, is not a purely academic endeavour nor is it a theoretical treatise. Like most of my previous posts at the Sociological Imagination blog, they are -at best- civic responses to social events (the English riots, the Eurozone crisis) or academic arguments (the limits and possibilities of sociology), intending to raise questions that draw on sociology’s vocabulary of intellectual curiosity and provocation.
A few cautionary remarks are due however before this article series is properly introduced; the first is that despite my publicly exposed love-letter to sociology, and my faith in its potential usefulness in explaining crises, what prompts me to discuss the discipline itself with so much ease is my own research specialisation in a ‘sociology of sociology’ itself in the space of my (soon-to-be-completed) doctoral thesis at the University of Sussex, where I am also fortunate enough (if not entirely blessed!) to teach sociology to first year undergraduate students; sociology’s very first and foremost (re)public.
The second and perhaps most important point of caution, concerns the way in which the words sociology and crisis are linked together in this article, assuming their troubled relationship to be already known to and accepted by the reader; it might be wise to remind ourselves that sociology’s trajectory through time finds it in various moments of crisis in itself, with itself and of itself, like those documented by Raymond Boudon’s 1971 classic, The Crisis in Sociology. This article series however, does not interrogate sociology’s existential unease but rather sociologists’ uneasy conscience in the face of socio-political questions that have an immediate bearing on their research, with crisis being just one of them. What I hope to introduce in the Sociologists of Crisis series then, is the way in which sociologists’ work might provide insightful and imaginative ways with which to orient both our contemplative thought and our routine, everyday social action towards a better understanding of and confrontation with the current global crisis.
The idea behind such an initiative is the belief that, despite the insularity and overspecialisation of contemporary scholarship, there remain ideas and research incentives that might prove rather useful, practical companions in our turbulent discussions of the current socio-political realm, often offering unfamiliar twists in thinking and fresh opportunities for critically examining our social world against the cult of punditocracy or the doxosophic lens of the media and the blogosphere too. The objective of this project is to offer sobering accounts of the crisis by moving beyond and away from the hype of media discourse, political demagoguery, ideology and irrational, irresponsible popular responses that often come in the form of forlorn gloom dramatised by hand wringing, chest beating and fatalistic lamentations that are polarised around disputes between warring camps; affording rival answers to a shared predicament.
This begs a number of questions that would need qualifying, one of them being; “which crisis exactly are we referring to?”, and the answer lies not (just) in the global financial meltdown of our time, but in the specific context of one of the main casualties of it; Greece, to which a two-part article was devoted last August in the space of this blog. The reasons behind choosing Greece as our destination for a guided tour of economic crises lie (a) in the fact that it provides a rather fertile ground for examining a lot of the arguments made about crises in general, and (b) in its casting as an accidental protagonist in the broader theatre of global capitalism’s ebb and flow.
The method or rather the chosen path for our navigation into such topographies of debt is to host a series of conversations with current sociologists whose research and thinking can offer perspectives that elude facile, popular representations of our crisis-ridden times and replace them with commentary that draws neither on expertise on the Greece, nor on intellectualist self-indulgence divining what the world looks like, but on the basis of powerful insights gleaned from the professional practice of their sociologies. The central question behind this modest project, best seen as a work-in-progress much like politics itself, is ‘can the way in which we speak about and listen to something change our understanding of it and more importantly its very own course?’. The argument offered here gently nods in affirmation of that statement proposing that by demystifying the language we use to refer to and comment on the crisis and its attendant issues, central or peripheral, ultimately has a bearing on how we might act towards it, experience it and/or live with, against or beyond it.
When language is used as the prime software for organising politics in the mind and as a framing device for our positioning as opinion-makers, opinion-dwellers and opinion-sharers, its misuse for the invention of villains, or the celebration of false-Gods can have harmful effects on our participation in our polity and the very shape it might take from this moment on. This re-adjustment of language to its critical functions is consistent with the title of the series which does not just allude to ‘sociologists of crisis’ as citizens of a world in crisis, but to sociologists of and with critical judgement, thus using the word ‘crisis’, derived from the Greek root krinein, for its capacity to judge rather than explain away the tribulations of the ‘sick man of Europe’ beset by austerity, rising unemployment, political corruption, Kafkaesque bureaucracy and escalating violence. Against such ‘giant evils’ of society, as William Beveridge of the Beveridge Report fame, would have it, and in favour of Paul Gilroy’s (2012: 395) bold assertion that such ‘rhetorical habits must be broken and our political system adjusted accordingly so that it can acknowledge the perils of a predicament in which the integrity of our ebbing democracy may itself be at stake’, this series will be of interest to those who wish to resist the impulse to think and act unreflectingly and thus un-sociologically, influenced by elusive and illusory linguistic tropes and socio-political attitudes that are misleadingly coded as respectable political argumentation. The first article of this series will elaborate further on the theme of language, political culture and the sound of politics, and will be ‘live’ online towards the end of the month, like every article in this series.
Boudon, R. (1980) Sociology In Crisis. London: Macmillan
Paul Gilroy (2012): ‘My Britain is fuck all’ zombie multiculturalism
and the race politics of citizenship, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 19:4, 380-397
Lambros Fatsis is a final year DPhil student at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex. His doctoral thesis concentrates on discussions of public sociology, the role of the University and intellectuals, while other research interests include black music, urban culture and the history and sociology of the Jamaican soundsystem. He also performs as a reggae selector/radio presenter under the name Boulevard Soundsystem and is a contributor of Billboard magazine on reggae music.
Categories: Sociologists of Crisis