This magazine stands as a consciously tentative and perhaps fleeting first step towards a much larger and longer term aim. A vague idea became a concrete plan as a result of a BSA funded day school (The Politics of Sociology) which took place at the University of Warwick in January 2010. What struck me most about that highly stimulating day was the near tangible sense of energy and enthusiasm which a diverse range of attendees bought to the event. It was a rare occasion when usually private causes became the subject of public discussion and, furthermore, the day’s discussion was framed by the idea of negotiating between the two. It hinted at the enormous critical force and transformative energy which the constraints of academia too often leaves inchoate and unarticulated. The Sociological Imagination represents a cautious attempt to build on this day school and offer an ongoing forum within which the ethical and political commitments underlying much sociology can be explicitly and passionately linked to the actual practice of social research itself.
Pierre Bourdieu (2003) argued that the energy and expertise of social science could be rescued from its self-imposed confinement in the ivory tower of academia if the anachronistic opposition of scholarship and commitment (a ‘scientifically unimpeachable form of escapism’) was left behind. Under such conditions social science could oppose the ‘reactionary think tanks, which support and broadcast the views of experts appointed by the powerful’ with the research of critical networks which bring together individual social scientists into a ‘collective intellectual’ capable of establishing and pursuing its own aims and agendas. Bourdieu offered a potent vision of the emancipatory potential of a politically liberated social science:
“It must work to produce and disseminate instruments of defence against symbolic domination that relies increasingly on the authority of science (real or faked). Buttressed by the specific competency and authority of the collective thus formed, it can submit dominant discourse to a merciless logical critique aimed not only at its lexicon (‘globalization’, ‘flexibility’, ’employability’ etc) but also at its mode of reasoning and in particular at the use of metaphors (e.g. the anthropomorphization of the market). It can furthermore subject this discourse to a sociological critique aimed at uncovering the social determinants that bear on the producers of dominant discourse (starting with journalists, especially economic journalists) and on their products. Lastly, it can counter the pseudo scientific authority of authorized experts (chief among them economic experts and advisors) with a genuinely scientific critique of the hidden assumptions and often faulty reasoning that underpin their pronouncements […]
It can organize or orchestrate joint research on novel forms of political action, on new manners of mobilizing and of making mobilized people work together, on new ways of elaborating projects and bringing them to fruition together. It can play the role of midwife by assisting the dynamics of working groups in their effort to express, and thereby discover, what they are and what they could or should be, and by helping with the reappropriation and accumulation of the immense social stock of knowledge on the social world with which the social world is pregnant.”
Particularly when it comes to the positive functions which Bordieu describes, it’s difficult to see a path from here to there and even more difficul not to feel naive in hoping for such a progression. Nonetheless this is what the Sociological Imagination hopes to do through functioning as an open forum within which graduate students, early career researchers and established academics can establish networks, co-ordinate activity and collectively negotiate the politics of sociology. Please make contact if you would like to get involved.