Anarchism and The Sociological Imagination: An Interview with Dana Williams

Protestors on the roof of Millbank House

I first came across Dana Williams and his work on an anarchist academics email list about three years ago. I was excited to find another person bringing anarchism and sociology together! There were, I believe, literally only a couple that I knew of already (Jonathan Purkis and Ian Welsh). Over the last couple of years, that number has expanded steadily and I now see that there is quite an upsurge in interest in bringing anarchism and sociology together. Dana’s talk at the North American Anarchist Studies conference last year particularly interested me in this regard. I wasn’t brave enough to travel to Toronto in February and am very appreciative to have been able to take in the talk in comfort via YouTube ([Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZBtTj2dB4c]& Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpENVCrGf5s]. Entitled “Defining an Anarchist-Sociology (A Long-Anticipated Marriage)”, Dana’s argument intrigued me and I wanted to find out more. The following interview took place by email between March and July 2011.

My first question is, what connections do you already see existing between anarchism and sociology?

I think there are quite a few connections between the two, some major and better made, while other connections are a bit more tenuous and ambiguous. First, both anarchism and sociology are very interested in this thing called “society”. That itself is impressive, given how hard it is to often even think about something as complex and abstract as society. Both also agree that societies affect individuals. Within the sociological ranks, this was put most eloquently by C. Wright Mills and his analytical device of the “sociological imagination”. But, anarchists have also regularly considered large, macro-scaled institutions like capitalism, states, White supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc., rarely losing the forest for the trees. In other words: anarchists are not apt to dwell on how bad a certain president is for a society or how evil a particular corporation is behaving, but instead call-out the entire system for its negative consequences on society. If this sounds a lot like Mills’ sociological imagination, it might not be much of a coincidence. The same Mills who coined the phrase “new Left”―that early-1960s, anarchistic impulse that rejected state-socialism for participatory democracy―also called himself a “goddamn anarchist”. So, sociologists do much the same thing as anarchists and focus on society as their unit of analysis (while appreciating it is composed of individuals, groups, and organizations). In fact, sociologists very consciously eschew efforts to develop idiosyncratic theory based on particular people, situations, or events, and instead try to consider general patterns. This focus on society unites the two endeavors in a very immediate way.

Second, I think anarchism and sociology―in their better moments―do a bit of each other’s “typical” work. Anarchism has busied itself with attempts to transform society. Often this transformation is pursued through initially small acts of agitation (the formation of labor unions, community organizations, revolutionary cells and affinity groups), but also the encouragement of and participation in mass social movements, and broad insurrections and revolutions. Sociology, on the other hand, has for much of its history (and definitely during its periods with the greatest commitment to positivism) has tried to merely understand society, sometimes in the broadest, more “grand theory” strokes, sometimes in meticulous detail. Yet, anarchists have regularly pursued some of these more sociological endeavors, engaging in a rigorous critique of society, often very similar to sociologists. Much of the great classical-era anarchist theorists―such as Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin―were essentially thinking about sociological questions, having to do with social problems that people and groups in societies face. It’s one thing to desire change, but another thing to have a good, solid understanding of why that change is so necessary―anarchists are generally very thoughtful, well-informed individuals, who tend to think sociologically and just happen to want revolutionary change. And, sociologists have occasionally (but with astonishing regularity) wanted to go beyond mere analysis and participate in advocacy and even efforts to change society. Granted, most of the change sought assumes a liberal-reformist character, often focused on changes to particular laws. But, the very fact that sociologists are usually able to (sometimes with great prodding) draw conclusions and personal inspirations from what they study and eventually act, is important. Thus, sociologists do not necessarily always have their noses stuck in books, data, and abstract hypotheses.

A third connection I see is there has often been fraternization between anarchists and sociologists; they have read and considered each other’s ideas, and, occasionally, they have been some of the same people. Consequently, their ideas have―whether the purists in each camp wish it or not―influenced each other. For example, Bakunin intensively studied Comte’s positivism (liking his general impulse, but rejecting Comte’s more messianic pretensions). Weber spent time vacationing around anarchists, especially Europe’s more libertine cultural anarchists. Pitrim Sorokin―the first chair of Harvard’s sociology program―personally knew and admired Kropotkin. Kropotkin himself translated some of Herbert Spencer’s work and later Spencer signed a petition to the French government demanding Kropotkin’s release from prison. More recently, the rebellious tendencies of earlier radical culture―infused with anarchism―inspired numerous sociologists, perhaps most important Mills who often wrote favorably of rebels, like the Wobblies. Today, the connections between anarchists and sociologists are much more muted, but maybe even more widespread than at any time in the past. The movements of the 1960s and 70s reinvigorated radical sociology and, especially in the United States, led to an explosion in self-identified “Marxist sociologists”. The radicalism of the Black Power and anti-war movements inspired young people with rediscovered/recycled Marxist ideas, some of whom chose to enter graduate school (or who were already there). This new generation of sociologists, helped shift the discipline back towards its progressive roots and (at least partially) away from instrumental positivism and structural-functionalism. Given that many of today’s popular and radical social movements are strongly inspired by and designed on anarchist principles (with a significant collection of actual anarchist participants), there has been a similar in-fill of anarchists into sociology in the last decade and a half. I have heard that approximately one million people in the US take sociology classes each year and surely a few thousands of those people are anarchists (or anarchist-friendly). Hundreds of anarchists are potentially majoring as sociologists and dozens are likely in graduate school. This has resulted in an up-swell of university-trained anarchist-sociologists (whether self-identified as such or not). I am one of that increasing number of people. Consequently, due to this influx of anarchist-movement-inspired personnel into the academy, I do not, universally, receive blank-looks when discussing anarchism or the anarchist movement amongst sociologists. Although there is often still some confusion and misunderstanding as to what anarchism is, many sociologists now acknowledge anarchism as a legitimate school of ideas and the movement as something real that is having a definite impact on the world. This is a clear change of earlier generations (especially from the dismissive generations of Albion Small or Talcott Parsons). As time goes one, I assume and hope that anarchism and sociology continue to learn more from each other.

Following on from that, what connections between anarchism and sociology would you like to see developed further?”

All sorts of closer connections could be developed! And, I think these two different things―anarchism and sociology, whether we consider them to be disciplines, ideologies, or approaches―can also be grown together, in-tandem. Let me tell you a story that I think illustrates this: near where I used to live there was a tree close to a chain-link fence and at some point, the tree began to grow into and through the fence. Not just a branch going through the fence, but the actual rings of the tree merging with the fence! Each new years’ worth of tree-growth emerged, in part, on the other side of the fence. The fence supported and redirected the trees’ growth, and the tree has now sturdied an otherwise rickety fence. Today, that tree and fence are hopelessly intertwined with each other, you couldn’t take down one without affecting the other. That’s sort of how I’d like anarchism and sociology to become (and I won’t say which is the fence and which is the tree!). I think each could not only benefit from the other, but also they could grow stronger together. This is sort of how Marxism and feminism are today for sociological theory. It’s hard to imagine talking about social change, class inequality, gender, and so forth without directly referencing the contributions of those two philosophies (which are of non-sociological origins). And Marxism and feminism have gotten all sorts of validation, institutional support, and proliferation due to their affiliation with sociology. I think it’d be great if anarchism were to intertwine itself, strategically, with sociology. And I think―in my more optimistic moments―that might already be starting to happen.

But to more specifically answer your question: I would like to see a certain sociological appreciation become more commonplace within anarchist circles. In other words, it’s be great if sociological ideas could help support and strengthen anarchist theory and the anarchist movement. For example, anarchists could benefit from an understanding of how people learn, adopt, and maintain their commitments through socialization. Since anarchists want to help people find pathways to a more liberatory future, dealing with all the practices that inhibit better social relations is going to be necessary. It’ll be important for people to more widely adopt radical social norms, which will require intensive resocialization―something anarchists already do, instinctively, but maybe not as reflectively as necessary. Knowing what socialization is and how norms work will help anarchists think more critically about their self-education strategies and also appreciate how really hard long-lasting social change is to achieve. Even insurrections and open-revolts can easily roll-back into counter-revolutionary and reactionary behaviors if a period of resocialization doesn’t occur. I think that’s an important lesson to be learned from the Russian and Spanish revolutions during the twentieth-century. I suppose another level of sociological understanding that anarchists could benefit from is a deeper understanding of how formal organizations (especially bureaucracies) work. They are neither completely inefficient, nor completely rational. Instead, bureaucracies are somewhere in-between. And since the majority of people in modern societies are trapped somewhere within multiple such organizations, it seems crucial for anarchists to know how this embedding works, the best ways to extricate folks from hierarchical structures, and why radical movements like anarchism meet resistance when trying to do so.

Or, anarchists―and social movements more generally―could benefit from knowing a bit of social movement theory, the kind of stuff that sociologists study about social movements. And, although this research is often imperfect, there’s a lot to potentially learn from it. There’s certain aspects of movement-building and movement-work that activists ought to at least reflect upon in a systematic fashion. For example, questions about framing, resources, political opportunities, and so on. But, as my co-author Jeff Shantz has said, the attention given to radical movements that see the entire social system as inherently off-kilter, self-destructive, brutal, etc., is almost non-existent. So, sociologists ought to start thinking about and studying those social movements that have no interest in influencing the state (except to dissolve it)!

Then, the flipside of this coin is where things might get even more interesting: taking anarchist concerns or subjects, and inserting them into Sociology. I think it would be great to have anarchist ideas pop-up more regularly in sociology classes, within sociology’s many subfields, or be included as references in journal article literature reviews. And, most importantly, have those ideas treated as the serious intellectual traditions they are! What if all those aforementioned college students started encountering anarchist ideas in their introduction to sociology classes or if sociology majors started to discover a highly-libertarian form of socialism that has valid ideas and precepts, that are independent of Marxism?

Imagine if sociological theory classes taught Bakunin alongside his intellectual and activist counterpart in the First International, Marx. Both crafted their words from ideas being generated in the same radical labor milieu, but Bakunin’s warnings turned out to be more prophetic than Marx’s musings, when he predicted Marx’s socialist vision (led by and encapsulated in the state) would become as bureaucratic and tyrannical as state capitalism. Or, more interestingly, imagine Kropotkin’s ideas of “mutual aid” being treated as seriously as Durkheim’s ideas of solidarity. The similarities are, at points, astounding, and to have Kropotkin’s politically-infused analyses of survival, sociability, and justice presented with the same worth as Durkheim, would be an amazing step forward for both anarchism and sociology. Heck, most classical-era anarchist thinkers still, even today, sound like and share a lot of the same concerns as sociologists: folks like Emma Goldman, Gustav Landauer, Voltairine de Cleyre, Errico Malatesta, and Elise Reclus, and so on…

Or, more recently in the anarchist tradition, consider how devastating Murray Bookchin’s focus on hierarchy and domination as the ultimate engines of inequality (not just economic exploitation) would be for students of social inequalities, or students of modern conflict theory. And I think it is high-time to give proper credit to the anarcha-feminists of the 1970s for their role in influencing feminism’s “third wave” (as learned about by countless sociology majors in contemporary theory and gender classes). The crossover between anarcha-feminists, black feminists, black anarchists, and others in nurturing a radical, intersectional approach to inequality is a linkage still begging further exploration.

I suppose another thing that could result from drawing anarchism and sociology closer together would be an appreciation of the horizontal, cooperative social organization that is needed for social transformation. Some of this is being considered along the lines of network theory, but something more deliberate (and, frankly, more anarchist) needs to be considered here. To me, this seems to require a pro-active/positive form of sociology that studies the best avenues for social transformation, with a vested-interest in seeing those changes come to pass!

Those are just some immediate ideas of how anarchism could be sociologized and sociology could be anarchized―if those are even appropriate words! Otherwise, some anarchists working in (and around) sociology have already started to consider what an “anarchist social science” would be: Would it be “applied”? Radical? Self-critical? Maybe decentralized and autonomous from the academy? Or perhaps it’d be directly in the hands of everyday people? A lot of these intellectual efforts (both epistemological and ontological) are trying to consider the revolutionary pathways of social change and how anarchism (and maybe sociology) plays a role in that. So, on one hand, an anarchist-sociology could illuminate society―as it presently is―for us, but it could also light the way towards practical solutions for overcoming all the hierarchical crap that keeps people from taking control of their lives and communities.

You’re in the process just now of writing a book with Jeff Shantz exploring anarchism and sociology. Could you tell us a bit about it?

I don’t want to speak for Jeff and put words in his mouth, so I’ll just tell you my thoughts about the book. (But, I think Jeff and I are in very strong agreement about what we’re doing, and I’ve been a big fan of his writing for years. Both of us have had lengthy activist experiences and both of us are working professionally at mainly teaching-oriented schools, teaching heavy course loads, but still trying to remain active with research (and with politics)!) I think anarchism and sociology are both central commitments that we share and we’ve been fascinated at all the points of overlap. And for me, I’m sort of amazed that these overlaps don’t get talked about more regularly.

At a recent conference presentation to the North American Anarchist Studies Network in Toronto, I joked that our book―which we are calling Anarchy & Society, I suppose in a sort of bemused homage to Weber’s Economy & Society―is akin to a blind date. Our book is essentially organizing a blind date, in this case between two very different perspectives: anarchism and sociology. I think the book is gently encouraging sociology to meet anarchism (“Hey, you should get to know anarchism. They’re passionate and not nearly as crazy as everyone says they are…”), and also telling anarchism a similar message about sociology (“Yeah, sure, they’ve dabbled in Marxism in the past, but their heart is in the right place…”). So, in part, it’s a sort of easing one into the conversation of the other. Conceptually, anyway. More, practically, for me, I wanted to write the kind of book that I wish existed when I first started graduate school in sociology. This book didn’t exist then for me! And, I know it’s a bit presumptuous to think a book of yours will have a big impact in an area, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it could be a sort of lighthouse, helping to guide along new anarchist-inclined sociologists or sociologically-minded anarchists? In comparison, Marxist sociologists can turn to “Capital” or Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks”. Since we (when I say “we”, I mean all those self-identified anarchist-sociologists out there) don’t have anything like this that is all nice and neatly prepared for us, we’re going to have to create it ourselves. There’s a long-history of do-it-yourself politics with anarchists. We’re always starting up small newspapers, mutual aid projects, collectives and cooperatives, or organizing unions―and I think the same thing is going to have to be necessary for those working in academia, too.

And, I’m sure Jeff would agree with me when I say that I don’t want our book to be the last thing said about “anarchist-sociology”. For me, that would mean the book has been a complete failure! Even if thousands of people read it and like it. Books only have an impact when they inspire lots of other people to respond to them, to critique them, to carry-on a conversation. I’d like for there to be an explosion (and I think that growth in anarchist-sociologist scholarship will come soon enough) of folks writing books like this, who bring their own notions of what anarchist-sociology is to the table. At the present moment, I don’t think there’s any strategic value in anyone declaring definitively what the hell anarchist-sociology is… we haven’t explored all the intellectual possibilities yet! We haven’t thought through all the practical and political consequences. We definitely haven’t experimented enough in classrooms with students (let alone in the so-called “real world”) to know all the ways in which such ideas could be used. So, we want our book to be a provocation, a conversation starter.

If I could, I’d like to compare some of what our book does to Colin Ward’s book Anarchy in Action. It’s an amazing work of sociology―or, dare I say, anarchist-sociology! For me, it’s the most important modern work in anarchism (“modern” referring to the post-1960s era, after the Golden Age of Anarchism, with Kropotkin, Goldman, Malatesta, and all the rest). All sociologists (and anarchists, of course) should read it. It might be a bit primitive for some, but it really captures the core impulse of the sociological imagination. And, like any good work of sociology, it destroys a lot of people’s preconceptions and makes you think differently about the world. In my opinion, it’s a sociological work on par with Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality or Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. It ought to be read and debated in theory classes… well, that’s what I think about it anyway. Others should read it and decide for themselves! I’d like to hope that our book continues the mission Ward set out with―to point out examples of anarchy happening around us, regularly in society―by also incorporating a bit more consciously sociological theory and research, all with an anarchist aesthetic and commitment.

Specifically, in the book we try to a number of things. Most importantly, we stake-out a “big tent” called anarchist-sociology, which we think lots of folks―even with completely divergent orientations and projects in-mind―could huddle underneath. Then, we do some basic contrasts between anarchist thinkers and sociological thinkers. Here, obviously, the anarchist ideas of Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer, and Ward are key. Jeff has written a great chapter considering Proudhon’s unique criminology, which in some ways prefigures today’s “restorative justice” movement. From the sociologist side, there’s a new take on Ferdinand Tönnies and others. We also have chapters dealing with core sociological topics, like social norms and socialization, and social inequalities. In each, we’re trying to synthesize the unique thoughts and contributions together. Then, there’s some lengthy discussions on social movements. Fortunately, both anarchism and sociology have a lot to say to each other.

The book is going to be published by Brill, as part of their Studies in Critical Social Sciences series. It’s a great, critically-oriented series. And, we’re also very excited about the prospects of an accessible version (in terms of cost) being released in paperback on Haymarket Books, so activist and non-academic folks can more easily get their hands on it.

Can you think of any particular examples of ways in which aspects of anarchist traditions have, or might, contribute to sociological imagination?

Sure, there’s lots of ways in which anarchism contributes to the sociological imagination―but I don’t know how conscious anyone has been with it. For example, anarchism’s strong allergy to social hierarchy and domination affects the sociological imagination (nay, improves upon it). Or, its activist or agent-orientation. The sociological imagination itself, as defined by Mills, may be one of the most anarchistic ideas ever developed by sociology. I think this is because the sociological imagination is best seen as a tool (or at some moments, a defensive weapon) to be used practically, strategically―as opposed to a forceful prescription of “you should do this” or “you should do that”. The whole character of the sociological imagination implies that individuals are going to figure out for themselves what social phenomenon has affected them most and how. Being able to realize that, understand that, and hopefully do something about it all, well, it’s classic anarchism! It implicitly trusts individuals to know what’s best for themselves, once they have the capacity to understand their circumstances.

Anarchism has often been bad-mouthed by its leftist cousin, Marxism, for being practice-heavy and theory-light. I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but even if it were, I think anarchism has always been sensible and ethical for placing a strong emphasis upon means. How something gets done is often as crucial to the outcome as is the end itself. In other words: we have to pay attention to how we pursue our objectives and avoid trying to meet our goals at any costs. Sometimes the costs are far too high and violate our principles! Anarchists have always taken for granted the idea that having people in control of their own lives will create a better society than any centrally-planned Utopia designed by a few bright minds. If Mills was asking us―asking all free individuals, not just the sociologists―to think critically about our lives, personal troubles, and struggles in a sociological fashion, then he was obviously not asking sociologists to tell the masses what their problems are. Yes, sociologists have some mighty fine and sophisticated tools for exploring society, but these tools ought to be popularized, democratized, and turned-over into the hands of everyday people. People can make good decisions―and will probably act justly, too―if they are given the means to do so. In this respect, the sociological imagination is a tool for participatory democracy and liberation, and its notion of justice and freedom is deeply indebted to anarchist notions of self-determination, autonomy, and anti-authoritarianism.

Unlike many reform movements, which sometimes utilize paid campaigners to stir-up dissent and often must go somewhere very specific, anarchists can act nearly anywhere. There’s always something for an anarchistic-minded individual to do, even in their own milieu, regardless of how progressive it is. A quick look around our workplaces, neighborhoods, popular cultures, or even families will show there’s a lot of authoritarianism and inequality around. Thus, we can always start where we are. What neighborhood isn’t in need of more active nurturing around issues of justice? What workplace―except the rare producer cooperative―isn’t run autocratically, by a small handful of people who do a very narrow amount of the actual necessary work? Or, since a lot of professional sociologists work as teachers, what classroom isn’t in need of radical democratization? I agree with Michael Burawoy here: students really are the first “public” to encounter professional sociologists. But, we spend so very little time actually considering how despotic universities and schools can be, how disempowering the life of an undergraduate can be, especially in a college classroom.

Let me tell a short story that conveys this real need. A year and a half ago I taught a student-requested course, called the “Sociology of Anarchism”. Some students approached me about teaching it and I agreed, since I like both sociology and anarchism quite a bit. Then, I realized that it would be pretty disingenuous to teach about anarchism in a hierarchically-organized classroom. So, I turned the class into a mini-laboratory, a social experiment on how to learn without authority figures (i.e. students acting as anarchists to learn about anarchism). I was still responsible for giving a grade to the students at the end of the semester, but I decided that they should be in charge of deciding how that was to be done. The students were the ones who wanted to learn about anarchism, so they should be in control of that learning. And, since they were all going to be sharing the experience with each other, the class should be democratically-managed. Thus, from the first moment of the class, I turned over the reins to the students. It wasn’t perfect, and my hierarchical-socialization got in the way of the project more than once, but it was an amazing experience. Students designed the syllabus. They spent the first weeks of the semester laying out for themselves what they wanted as learning objectives, what they would require of themselves and each other, how I should give out grades, and so on. They did all of this democratically, and achieving a near-consensus (with a class of over 40 students)! They acted completely different from any other collection of students. They were literally in charge of the class and they took seriously my promise to not act as their boss. Consequently, the students were excited, engaged, and felt in control of their learning.

My little experiment was not perfect, of course, and there’s lots of things I would do differently next time. But, it changed my entire perspective on what is possible (and, judging from exit surveys the students filled out, it changed them, too)… students can be trusted with control over their educations. But, it can be scary, since it puts teachers outside of their safe space. I was in a learning environment that all my professionalization suggested shouldn’t be allowed to exist. I haven’t done a class like that since, although I’ve thought seriously about how to democratize many aspects of certain classes. Turns out that I, like most of my colleagues (and higher education itself), are just too invested in hierarchical social forms. But, as an anarchist, I’m trying my best to grow my pedagogical approach and teach more anarchistically, more regularly.

But, if most sociologists are using their sociological imagination to help them teach (and I think the good ones do this), then anarchism definitely has a lot to offer in the classroom. Transparency in the classroom is essential for students to be informed and brought in to the mechanics of a course structure. Giving students the opportunity to practice new, liberatory skills (especially those they can use later, outside the academy) is important―my classes have used online collective decision-making software, to help prioritize projects, rank preferences, debate options, and so on. Students used all sorts of anarchistic organizing models―from small/affinity groups and large assemblies to formal consensus decision making techniques―to accomplish otherwise formidable, complex tasks. Exposing students to new worlds and new ideas is crucial. As a feminist colleague of mine tells her classes: she’s not there to make students feel comfortable in their old beliefs, but to provoke critical thought, reflection, and action. A sizable minority of my students were often visibly uncomfortable with the control they were given―a few times throughout the semester there were subtle requests to end all the democracy and revert back to a typical, predictable course… with me making all the decisions. But, in the midst of those discomforting moments, students learned a lot about education, a lot about the subject of anarchism, and even a lot about themselves and their own collective potential. Creating a memorable class is important; in the same way that anarchist artists have introduced giant puppets, stencil graffiti, or guerrilla theater into stagnant protest, anarchist teachers need to create novel environments that will create lasting impressions. Doing something anarchistic (or democratic, or justice-oriented) is going to leave a stronger mark upon students and influence them to think differently in the future than just learning about anarchism (or democracy or justice). To follow this logic, civics or political science classes would be better taught as active democracies, just like most sociology classes would be best structured as practical exercises in creating social justice. One last, crucially important thing for teachers would be finding a way to de-center their own roles and voices, especially that as “bosses” and “experts”. This doesn’t mean pushing volumes of empirical research aside or allowing an “anything goes” environment. The best way for a teacher to self-de-center would be to create a more horizontal, democratic course framework. Allow students to select topics that they find more interesting (within the reasonable confines of the course subject, I suppose), let them pick or create projects or assignments that interest them most, and when there are discussions happening in the classroom, especially between students themselves, a teacher ought to play more of a “facilitator” role than that of a “final arbitrator”. The amazing thing is, that any of these things can be done without even mentioning the word “anarchism” (but talking about anarchism wouldn’t necessarily hurt either). In other words, acting anarchistically is often more important to anarchists than self-identifying as such.

Maybe the best anarchist tweaking of the “sociological imagination” is to speak of an “anarchist imagination”. Undoubtedly, lots of anarchists have spoken of such a thing in the past, but I use the phrase in a very sociological sense. The “anarchist imagination” is the capacity for people to correctly identify the structures of domination and hierarchy that they are personally embedded in, and to have strategies in mind for how to extricate and remove themselves from those structures. In other words, it is an anarchist appreciation of the role that structures play in our lives―the impact of capitalism in imposing class hierarchies upon us, patriarchy in imposing gendered roles and sexual inequality. Or, White supremacy’s racial-based caste system, heterosexism’s privileging of straight folks, or any other institutionally-supported system of domination. The position of an employee in relation to their boss, a citizen (or worse, non-citizen) to police, a religious layperson to a religious authority, a child to a parent, an “average” person in relation to a celebrity, and so forth. Once the tight, dense network of these systems are understood, and how they affect even the most mundane part of our daily affairs, then do we have any actual ideas that can help to emancipate ourselves (and, hopefully, others in a similar position)? It’s one thing to know that you are facing the sharp-end of a sword, but another thing altogether to imagine a different sort of social relations and the strategies to pursue them. A key difference here, for anarchists, is to not think in terms of social mobility, like most sociologists do. There’s little justice in finding a way for some women (for example, White, straight middle-class women) to improve their lot in relation to men. Instead, how could the entire ugly, warped table of patriarchy be completely overturned? Thus, how can women (as well as queer and intersexed folk, but also men) find better ways of existing in the world? These are tough questions, often only answerable on a small, intimate micro-level at the outset. But, this is the beginnings of the anarchist imagination.

Thank you, Dana, for taking time to share your thoughts on anarchism and sociology.

My pleasure, Jamie!

Dana M. Williams works as an assistant professor in the department of sociology at Valdosta State University. His research has appeared in a variety of  journals including Race, Ethnicity, & Education, Sociology of Sport Journal, Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, and Contemporary Justice Review. He is currently writing a book with Jeff Shantz entitled Anarchy & Society (forthcoming, Brill).

Jamie Heckert holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Edinburgh and currently serves as an interdependent scholar in the south of England. His writings on ethics, erotics and ecology have appeared in a number of books, journals and other publications. He is editor of a special issue of Sexualities and co-editor (with Richard Cleminson) of Anarchism & Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power (2011, Routlege).

 


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