The Sociological Imagination http://sociologicalimagination.org A daily dose of the Sociological Imagination Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:37:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Book Review: Experiments in Knowing – Gender and Method in the Social Sciences by Ann Oakleyhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16523 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16523#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:36:23 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16523 Read More ›]]> by Gwen Redmond

oakley

An interest in the methodological debate between qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as an inclination to read methodological approaches with a feminist perspective, drew me to reading Ann Oakley’s Experiments in Knowing. Published in 2000, it still has relevance to anyone with an interest in the history of research in the social sciences, and will resonate with anyone looking to challenge their own thinking on methodologies. It is a tome of heavily referenced reflections on the origins of research in the field of science, in particular health science which, in its early history influenced by philosophy, was eager to distance itself from abstract theory and so began providing quantifiable evidence. I expected to read a resounding affirmation for the qualitative method, instead I found an explanation for how qualitative research found itself in the feminist realm and why quantitative research was, and still is, seen as the patriarchal, distanced and clinical method.

The book is divided into four parts. Part One looks at the origins of what Oakley calls ‘The Paradigm Wars’ claiming that the hierarchal debate between the two methods did not exist prior to the 1960s, when the feminist movement ‘infiltrated academia’ and began to question methodology. This in turn influenced the first feminist social science texts published in the 1970s querying the absence of women’s voices in research. Good feminism, she purports, became synonymous with qualitative methods. Feminist researchers rallied against the ‘three p’s’, positivism, power and p values. At this point she traces the change in language around research, subjects became participants, research was for participants not about and democratic values espoused. She goes further in arguing against experimental methods claiming they were seen as masculine and patriarchal in that they pillaged, plundered and then abandoned participants. Feminist research was arguing for inclusive equal participation with full disclosure on part of the researcher.

Part Two delves further back into the history of methodologies, sociology and gender. Making references to some of the great ‘fathers’ , (founding or otherwise) Descartes, Bacon and Galileo, Oakley unearths the 16th and 17th century views that nature was herself feminine and in need of ‘dissection’ by the sciences in order to control her. This pervading discourse, she feels, led to women being seen as naturally inferior to men. She goes on to trace how social science became equated with numbers and refers to the work of Hobbs in the 1600s and Condorcet in the 1700s. She reveals the origins of the terms ‘normative distribution’ and ‘the average man’ (who was in fact your average army conscript!)as coined by Qúetelet in the 1800s, as well as the father of statistics John Graunt. Making reference to women using statistics also, Florence Nightingale’s empirical work offers a surprising juxtaposition with her historical image. In chapter six, Oakley again revisits the background methodology of social sciences through the ‘penetration’ of nature by male scientists in order to understand evolutionary biology. She again refers to the influence of more ‘founding fathers’ such as Herbert Spencer and Charles Booth and their influence on another surprising researcher, Beatrix Potter. Oakley traces new sociological thinking when she talks about Durkheim (1895) reflecting Mills’ (1843) view that experimentation was not the ideal sociological tool of discovery, but that only the observation of society and its social phenomena (or absence thereof) can provide a truth unmitigated by the researcher. The latter part of the 1800s, she says, was the birthing of the new social science, different and separate from its roots in natural science and philosophy. The era recognised the emerging tensions between ‘hard’ empirical data and ‘soft’ experiential data (often in the form of art and literature, especially the novels of the era) and Oakley sees this clash as a seed for the future paradigm wars between the quantitative and qualitative methods.

The RCT is introduced in the final chapter of Part Two, however Part Three of the book in the main concerns itself with the continuation of the history of the development of the field of social science, and shifts now from Europe to North America to recount the ‘full-blown’ use of RCTs in social and health experimentation. Early models of experimentation (by McCall in education for example) used the idea of chance, or random selection, as a control, however it was not until the 1946 streptomycin trial was the design officially applied. Oakley makes her way through a dense history of RCT experimentation in order to remind the continued post-positivist defence of the qualitative method, that the ‘frontiersmen’ in sociology used experimentation and statistics as a means to take the field into the domain of public policy. The golden age of experimentation in the US led to policy reform in areas of social concern; unemployment, drug misuse, crime and poverty. Oakley argues that although there were disagreements in how to interpret these findings they did however lead to reform, undermining the continued argument against positivist methodology as an impossibility within the field of sociology. In Chapter eleven, Oakley explains some of the resistance towards experimentation lies with its history of unethical methods, for example on animals or without full disclosure and therefore uninformed consent. She queries, with the recent shift to qualitative methods, whether the public will be better informed without RCTs. This question reflects a recurring practice of Oakley’s (in this book) where she queries but often leaves us without answers, or even a direction in which to find those answers.

Part Four aims to conclude the strands Oakley has weaved throughout the book, with her aim being to free social science of the divide between patriarchal quantitative and feminist qualitative ways of knowing and reclaim both as ‘people’s ways of knowing’ free of their gendered past. Oakley advocates a ‘reconstruction’ of the field of social science built on ‘new fundamentals’. She argues that reality exists and experimental methods have a role to play in the social sciences, and that freeing the method of its ‘baggage’ and association with patriarchy will enable its rejuvenation.

Returning to my initial reasons for being drawn to the book, I have to admit some disappointment. I struggled with Oakley’s constant referrals to ‘founding fathers’, ‘frontiersmen’ and ‘master’s tools’ when referring to male historical figures and methods but not ‘founding mothers’ or even ‘sisters’ in reference to female researchers. I felt deference is given to the empirical positivist researchers, and rightly so historically, but that the ‘paradigm wars’ are not wholly served by the retrospective elevation of these methods currently. I agree with Oakley that the quantitative remains a valuable method but only to shine a light on sociological issues rather than possibly being ‘the right tools for the job’ (in some instances) as she claims. However, this is an excellent book on the history of the field and I imagine anyone with an interest in broadening their knowledge would do well to find a more complete reference book.

 

Gwen Redmond is studying for a Master of Education degree in The Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University, Kildare, Ireland. Working in the field of Adult Literacy education for ten years, her studies and practice are informed by Critical Theorists.
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Junior Theorist Symposium August 2015, Chicago, IL CFPhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16394 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16394#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 08:00:42 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16394 Read More ›]]> 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.

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Nightcrawler: or, the possibility of a vocation in late capitalismhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16392 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16392#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 08:00:18 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16392 Read More ›]]>

Lou Bloom is a petty thief, prowling Los Angeles by night while seeking some purpose in his life. He exists on the fringes of society, stealing to survive while also offering himself as an employee prepared to work under any conditions. We see the rejection he must have faced on many occasions, in spite of his ostentatious subservience (“my motto is if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy the ticket”) and genuine acceptance of the dogma that demands this of him as a precondition for employment. However a chance encounter on the roadside introduces Lou to the world of LA’s stringers, the freelance video journalists chasing ambulances and assaults, striving for the most lurid footage (“if it bleeds, it leads!”) to buy their way into a local news media concerned for crime reporting above all else. Lou is captivated by what they do, the urgency and action which defines it, leading him to take his first fumbling steps into this occupational world. He rapidly advances, soon revealing himself to lack scruples – putting it mildly – with the film closing at what we can only assume is the beginning of his ascendency to power within the seedy world of TV journalism in LA. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I won’t say precisely what he does but it’s not pleasant.

Jake Gyllenhaal is superb throughout (incidentally, wouldn’t he make the perfect Patrick Bateman if American Psycho was ever remade?) and much of the film depends upon the consistency with which his performance sustains the balance between calm self-mastery and the rage we know exists beneath the surface. Too much of either would have detracted from the sheer creepiness of Lou Bloom, a man equally unblinking when blackmailing his employer into sex as when filming a corpse. The only time Lou’s mask slips is when his ambitions are thwarted, with this experience of denial prompting an outburst of rage as disturbing as it is understated. Other than this, the only emotion we see from him is delight, with involuntary smiles only becoming sinister because of context.

It’s this quality that renders the homolies which he delivers throughout the film quite so unsettling – he regurgitates nuggets of wisdom from the online business courses he consumes autodidactically, advising those around him on their negotiating positions and reflecting on the status of his transactions. However in an important way Nightcrawler isn’t about Lou Bloom’s sociopathy, it’s about his calling: he genuinely loves his newfound profession, exhibiting a natural flair and impulse towards self-improvement that combine to facilitate a rapid ascent into TV journalism and an escape from the precarity that had defined his existence heretofore. We only see hints at his previous life, most pointedly in the certainty with which he recognises that his newfound assistant was leaving sex work behind to work for him, but it seems to have been one that left him driven towards ‘bettering himself’ and with a very particular idea of what ‘better’ entails. He is an American success story, as Henry Barnes puts it in the Guardian, with the satire of this being constructed through the careful arrangements of parts rather than simply holding up Lou’s vacuity as an inditement of the America that produced him. Many aspects contribute to the force with which this critique is conveyed, not least of all the incisive assessment of TV journalism and the endemic insecurity which drives a race to the bottom, however without Lou’s fundamental earnestness I don’t think it would work. He seeks self-improvement, to embrace his newly discovered calling and earnestly strives to make a success of himself through it. The moral bankruptcy is contextual, expressed through Lou but not originating in him – satirising the American dream in terms of the immorality it licenses is far from a novel project but I found Nightcrawler a peculiarly gripping and elegantly constructed example of it.

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The intellectual legitimacy of academic blogginghttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16390 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16390#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 08:00:47 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16390 Read More ›]]> One of my favourite academic blogs is Understanding Society. Written by the philosopher Daniel Little, it covers a diverse range of topics across the social sciences while continually coming back to a number of core theoretical questions that fascinate me. Reflecting on its seventh anniversary, Little offers some interesting thoughts on the role that academic blogging plays in his own intellectual life:

This week marks the seventh anniversary of Understanding Society. That’s 954 posts, almost a million words, and about a hundred posts in the past twelve months. The blog continues to serve as an enormously important part of my own intellectual life, permitting me to spend a few hours several times a week on topics of continuing interest to me, without needing to find the time within my administrative life to try to move a more orderly book manuscript forward. And truthfully, I don’t feel that it is faut de mieux or second-best. I like the notion that it’s a kind of “open source philosophy” — ideas in motion. In my view, this is an entirely legitimate primary way of contributing to philosophy and sociology.

http://understandingsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/seven-years-of-understanding-society.html

He also makes some interesting suggestions about the future of academic blogging that are informed by his own experience. In the last couple of years I’ve been settling into a view of my blog as my main outlet for developing my ideas, feeding into formal publications as occupational necessity and/or personal passion dictate – in fact the blog has helped me come to terms with the fact that the former and the latter may not always coincide. It’s interesting to see how Daniel Little experiences his blogging because it contrasts in some ways with my own – I share the experience of it being often ‘more creative and less laboured’ but I’m certain it’s much less rigorous, at least in the narrow sense of being carefully constructed. What I do on my blog often amounts to a form of free writing – I’m interested to see if this will change over time. I think Little offers a compelling account of the intellectual legitimacy of blogging and it’s actually left me wondering if I should try and be more careful and selective about my own writing online:

What I would really like to see in the future is a more porous membrane between academic blogging and academic publishing. There is no reason why the arguments and debates that are presented within an academic blog should not enter directly into engagement with formal publication — specialists writing about mechanisms, explanation, or historiography might well want to engage in their published work with the ideas and arguments that are developing in the online world of academic blogging. For example, I think the series of exchanges among Kaidesoja, Elder-Vass, Hartwig, Cruickshank, and Ruth Groff in Understanding Society in December and January make a substantive addition to debates within the field of critical realism. It would make sense for other specialists to take these sources into account in their published work.

I suppose many scholars would look at blog entries as “working notes” and published articles as “archival” and final, more authoritative and therefore more suitable for citation and further discussion. But I’m not sure that’s the right way of thinking about the situation. When I compare the intellectual work process I undertook in writing Varieties of Social Explanation orUnderstanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science with the care and concentration I give a blog post, I would say that the latter is just as rigorous and often more creative; less labored, more willing to lay out a new idea quickly. So speaking as a focus group of one, I would say I’m more satisfied with the quality of thinking and presentation I’ve conveyed in the blog than in the books I’ve published.

http://understandingsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/seven-years-of-understanding-society.html

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The psychology of your future selfhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16511 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16511#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 18:52:57 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16511 Read More ›]]> This talk by Daniel Gilbert is excellent. He argues that human beings exhibit a pervasive tendency to see their present selves as the culmination of a process of becoming who they are. In doing so they tend to vastly underestimate the amount of change they will undergo over the coming ten years. This has important consequences because the decisions we make now have implications for our future selves – we overestimate the stability of our current preferences and assume a fixity to the basis upon which we make our decisions instead of factoring in the likelihood of our continued change. As Gilbert  poignantly phrases it: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished”.

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Thomas Piketty: New thoughts on capital in the twenty-first centuryhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16357 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16357#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 08:00:45 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16357 Read More ›]]> TED have come to the rescue of those who, like me, only got 50 pages into Piketty’s Capital before getting distracted:

French economist Thomas Piketty caused a sensation in early 2014 with his book on a simple, brutal formula explaining economic inequality: r > g (meaning that return on capital is generally higher than economic growth). Here, he talks through the massive data set that led him to conclude: Economic inequality is not new, but it is getting worse, with radical possible impacts.

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How to ensure the democratic dividend of academic capitalismhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16500 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16500#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:53:10 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16500 Read More ›]]> I recently tweeted that the Anglo-Indian welfare economist Amartya Sen has received 90+ honorary degrees. Speaking as someone who sees Sen as a net positive influence on contemporary political economy, I have nothing against the idea that some academics may acquire a disproportionate level of attention vis-à-vis their colleagues. However, if this fact is supposed to empirically ground normative judgements about specifically institutional recognition, then universities should only give honorary degrees or comparable honours to people who are willing to acknowledge the significance of the honour in material terms. This means that the recipient should absorb some of the cost of receiving the honour, which involves endorsing the institution bestowing the honour. There needs to be something more than just a ‘thank you’, even if that alone seems to generate a transient ‘feel good’ factor in the granting institution. On the contrary, any prospective recipient of such an honour should absorb the cost of transport to the relevant university, which in return would agree cover the ground costs. Only under such conditions would capitalism coincide with democracy because there would be a formal acknowledgement of the academic’s need to receive external honours in a way that is commensurate with the price that the institution is willing to pay.

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Creating an ‘idea index’http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16353 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16353#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:00:38 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16353 Read More ›]]> In a recent interview Maria Popova, curator of the wonderful Brain Pickings blog, explained how she reads books. Cal Newport summarises on his blog:

Around thirty-one minutes into the interview, Popova explains how she takes notes on books:

  1. As she reads, she creates an index at the front of the book that lists its most interesting ideas.
  2. Every time she encounters a passage relevant to one of these ideas she adds the page to the relevant line in the index. If its a new idea, she creates a new line for it.
  3. As she reads more, the index grows.

Here’s what’s great about this idea index method: When you pick up a book read long ago, you can quickly recall what it has to offer by glancing at the index. Then, if you want to grab some quotes about one of these ideas, the index tells you exactly where to look (no more reading every annotation!).

http://calnewport.com/blog/2014/10/23/deep-habits-create-an-idea-index/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+StudyHacks+%28Study+Hacks%29

I also find this a really appealing idea. I tend to underline & scribble notes & fold corners for particularly important pages  (in my books) or use mini post (in library books) to mark parts of the text to come back to. However the only structure between the notes tends to be how they are sequences so it leaves me running back through a text in a very linear way. Popova’s method seems a lot better in that respect. Particularly when I use a Kindle, my approach to reading can sometimes feel like mining for ideas in a way I’m unhappy with. If I’m enjoying the book then it’s not a problem. But if I’m a little bored or the author writes badly, I sometimes slip into something that’s far closer to skim reading to ‘extract’ useful bits then I’m happy with.

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Why are some interactions energising while others are not?http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16349 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16349#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:00:36 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16349 Read More ›]]> We subsume such a wide array of phenomena under the category of ‘interaction’ that we sometimes risk obscuring the diversity within this category. One important way in which interactions differ is in how energising, or otherwise, they are to the participating actors. Some interactions can be draining and tedious. Others can have a negligible impact upon us. Others still leave us energised and focused. We can leave some interaction situations and feel marginal and diminished while others leave us feeling fuller and more congruent. These experiences are probably peripheral in the scheme of our lives as a whole but they’re nonetheless sociologically important. For the kind of actor-centred sociology I advocate, in which individual lives are taken as basic unit of analysis and analytically distinguished from the relationships in which they are always embedded, it’s also a challenging one – it’s necessary to account for these seemingly intersubjective aspects of experience in terms of individual trajectories into, through and out of interaction situations in which “reside the energy of movement and change, the glue of solidarity, and the conservatism of stasis” as Randall Collins puts it. For the position I’m advocating to be tenable, it needs to account for the experience of these situations in a way that resists the (effective) dissolution of the individual that is advocated by Collins:

This is not to say that the individual does not exist. But an individual is not simply a body, even though a body is an ingredient that individuals get constructed out of. My analytical strategy (and that of the founder of interaction ritual analysis, Erving Goffman), is to start with the dynamics of situations; from this we can derive almost everything that we want to know about individuals, as a moving precipitate across situations.

Here we might pause for a counterargument. Do we not know that the individual is unique, precisely because we can follow him or her across situations, and precisely because he or she acts in a familiar, distinctively recognizable pattern even as circumstances change? Let us disentangle what is valid from what is misleading in this statement. The argument assumes a hypothetical fact, that individuals are constant even as situations change; to what extent this is true remains to be shown. We are prone to accept it, without further examination, as “something everybody knows,” because it is drummed into us as a moral principle: everyone is unique, be yourself, don’t give in to social pressure, to your own self be true–these are slogans trumpeted by every mouthpiece from preachers’ homilies to advertising campaigns, echoing everywhere from popular culture to the avant-garde marching-orders of modernist and hypermodernist artists and intellectuals. As sociologists, our task is not to go with the flow of taken-for-granted belief–(although doing just this is what makes a successful popular writer)–but to view it in a sociological light, to see what social circumstances created this moral belief and this hegemony of social categories at this particular historical juncture. The problem, in Goffman’s terms, is to discover the social sources of the cult of the individual.

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7769.html

It’s strange to only really discover Collins after I’ve finished my PhD. In a very real way, his project is the mirror image of my own: to develop situational micro-foundations for macro-sociology i.e. how can the analysis of everyday life be made most amenable to drawing out the connections between micro and macro? However Collins argues that the situation rather than the individual should be the starting point while I argue that we should understand situations as composed emergently of individuals in movement - the crucial factor conditioning a situation, as well as the situated and structured milieu* in which it unfolds, being what the individuals bring to that situation – the propensities and liabilities, the expectations and concerns, originating through the personal changes they have undergone as a consequence of past situations and analytically distinct from the present situation. While Collins says that “A situation is not merely the result of the individual who comes into it, nor even of a combination of individuals” because “Situations have laws or processes of their own” I’d agree but I see the causality differently: I see any number of people P(n) with distinct characteristics at a ‘moment of entry’ to a situated milieu with distinct characteristics M – one of the characteristics of P(n) are the existing relations obtaining between them R(n). So we have (Pn) + R(n) entering M. The situation S unfolds because of how P(n) interact with each other, conditioned by the characteristics of R(n) and M(n), while they contribute to the reproduction or transformation of P(n), R(n) and M as a result of their situated interaction – everything (potentially) changes in the interaction situation, include those party to it. There are a finite number of true statements that can be made about P(n) at the start of any interaction situation and the truth of those statements can be analysed in terms of the consequences of past interaction situations. It’s only through analytically distinguishing between these changes that we can gain traction on the links between situations i.e. how what P(n) bring to future situations was shaped by their experience of past situations.

One thing I find particular problematic about the account given by Collins is how he conceives of structure and agency:

Am I proclaiming, on the micro-level, the primacy of structure over agency? Is the structure of the interaction all-determining, bringing to naught the possibility of active agency? Not at all. The agency / structure rhetoric is a conceptual morass, entangling several distinctions and modes of rhetorical force. Agency / structure confuses the distinction of micro / macro, which is the local here-and-now vis-à-vis the interconnections among local situations into a larger swath of time and space, with the distinction between what is active and what is not. The latter distinction leads us to questions about energy and action; but energy and action are always local, always processes of real human beings doing something in a situation. It is also true that the action of one locality can spill over into another, that one situation can be carried over into other situations elsewhere. The extent of that spillover is part of what we mean by macro-patterns. It is acceptable, as a way of speaking, to refer to the action of a mass of investors in creating a run on the stock market, or of the breakdown of an army’s logistics in setting off a revolutionary crisis, but this is a shorthand for the observable realities (i.e., what would be witnessed by a micro-sociologist on the spot). This way of speaking makes it seem as if there is agency on the macro-level, but that is inaccurate, because we are taken in by a figure of speech. Agency, if we are going to use that term, is always micro; structure concatenates it into macro.

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7769.html

My account offers a micro-sociology of collective action. In fact Tom Brock and I have a paper coming out soon in the Journal for Theory of Social Behaviour in which we analyse political demonstrations in these terms. If agency is predominantly micro-sociological then how do we explain the capacity to organise together for common purposes? Tom and I argue that demonstrations are important situations in which collective participation in a situated milieu helps solidify relational bonds that are experienced as solidarity – I see so many others who have converged on this situation for the same purpose as myself and I recognise converging motivations, facilitating a translation from the relational characteristics of my existing bonds to the crowd at large – solidified in turn by the performative aspect of protest (“you say cut back, we say fight back!” etc). The language I’m prone to using (motivations, concerns, solidarity, collectives) would be anathema to Collins who sees  agency as “the energy appearing in human bodies and emotions and as the intensity and focus of human consciousness”. My reasons for rejecting this language could easily constitute a a second PhD thesis. But I’m engaging with his work because I recognise that, with the partial substantive exception of what Tom and I have written about demonstrations, I can’t account for something which his theoretical framework can: energy. I need to develop an alternative explanation, probably predicated on the social psychology of what Pierpaolo Donati calls relational goods, if I want to seriously advocate that the social world can be fruitfully understood through the micro-situational realism I’ve been trying to develop over the last six years. I like how Collins describes this, I just don’t like how he explains it:

Perhaps the best we might say is that the local structure of interaction is what generates and shapes the energy of the situation. That energy can leave traces, carrying over to further situations because individuals bodily resonate with emotions, which trail off in time but may linger long enough to charge up a subsequent encounter, bringing yet further chains of consequences. Another drawback of the term “agency” is that it carries the rhetorical burden of connoting moral responsibility; it brings us back to the glorification (and condemnation) of the individual, just the moralizing gestalt that we need to break out from if we are to advance an explanatory microsociology. We need to see this from a different angle. Instead of agency, I will devote theoretical attention to emotions and emotional energy, as changing intensities heated up or cooled down by the pressure-cooker of interaction rituals.

The central mechanism of interaction ritual theory is that occasions that combine a high degree of mutual focus of attention, that is, a high degree of intersubjectivity, together with a high degree of emotional entrainment–through bodily synchronization, mutual stimulation / arousal of participants’ nervous systems–result in feelings of membership that are attached to cognitive symbols; and result also in the emotional energy of individual participants, giving them feelings of confidence, enthusiasm, and desire for action in what they consider a morally proper path. These moments of high degree of ritual intensity are high points of experience. They are high points of collective experience, the key moments of history, the times when significant things happen. These are moments that tear up old social structures or leave them behind, and shape new social structures. As Durkheim notes, these are moments like the French Revolution in the summer of 1789. We could add, they are moments like the key events of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s; like the collapse of communist regimes in 1989 and 1991; and to a degree of significance that can be ascertained only in the future, as in the national mobilization in the United States following September 11, 2001. These examples are drawn from large-scale ritual mobilizations, and examples of a smaller scale could be drawn as we narrow our attention to smaller arenas of social action.

IR theory provides a theory of individual motivation from one situation to the next. Emotional energy is what individuals seek; situations are attractive or unattractive to them to the extent that the interaction ritual is successful in providing emotional energy. This gives us a dynamic microsociology, in which we trace situations and their pull or push for individuals who come into them. Note the emphasis: the analytical starting point is the situation, and how it shapes individuals; situations generate and regenerate the emotions and the symbolism that charge up individuals and send them from one situation to another.

*Because there is structural conditioning that transcends the situation even if this, in turn, can be understood in micro-sociological terms. For instance when students interact in a Student Union bar, the accumulated consequences of a panoply of past situations operate causally in relation to the character of the SU bar, the roles they play within it and the consequent expectations they bring to bear upon the interaction. All these factors have their own history of emergence which can be analysed micro-sociologically but they operate concurrently i.e. statements about their situational origins are ontologically past tense rather than present tense.

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Powerful song by UK Hip Hop artist Swisshttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16493 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16493#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 11:42:08 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16493 Read More ›]]> UK Hip Hop artist Swiss interrogating the widespread use of “Nigger”.

Powerful messages:
I don’t change colour, but they call me a coloured man!

The language of Black: blackmail, black-hearted, black sheep, blacklist, black magic!
Skin-bleach because wanting to be white.

Let me do you a favour, I am going to teach you mysteries…

House nigger, Field nigger.

Now everybody use the word like we weren’t “niggers”,
Like they never kidnap and hurt niggers…
stripped naked, burnt and castrate niggers,
Had them swinging from a tree..

Racism don’t exist, oh really?

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