Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Journal Watch: Sociological Review

It's been a while since I dipped into the pages of a sociology journal, and I did promise this was going to be a semi-regular feature. Remember, if you want a more complete and regular low down of what's happening in social science journals, Journal Flood is the blog for you. Now, where was I? Oh yes. During a quiet moment this afternoon, I thought I'd have a nose around the latest Sociological Review (Volume 56, number 3, August 2008). And there are a couple of articles that caught my eye.

First up is W.G. Runciman's provocative article, 'Forgetting the Founders' (abstract). Well, by provocative I mean pretty critical of the "founding fathers" of sociology - Marx, Weber and Durkheim. His is a well tread argument: the three were writing in a different time ... so much has changed since then ... we need to move on. Pity most of this "moving on" has resulted in a discipline-wide retreat from explanatory social theory, but I digress. Regardless of Runciman's opinion on the big three, he advocates a bold new direction for sociological research: Neo-Darwinism. Runciman argues this is being deployed in two ways - psychological and biological arguments concerning naturally-selected facets of human behaviour, and "the framing and testing of non-reductionist causal hypotheses about cultural and social evolution." He acknowledges these claims are controversial for sociologists, but this shouldn't be taken to assume some kind of genetic determinism. It's certainly an interesting argument and one that sociologists - including this one - will require a lot of convincing.

The second of my picks is 'Vive la (Sexual) R̩volution: The Political Roots of Bourdieu's Analysis of Gender', by Gad Yair (abstract). As long-time AVPS readers know I use the work of Pierre Bourdieu in my PhD and so have an interest in any new scholarship that comes along. In this paper Yair courts controversy with the claim that the 1789 Revolution constitutes a deep cultural code that continues to structure French scholarly practice, and Bourdieu was no exception. His "preoccupation with the Revolution Рand his analyses of its frustrations in the realm of the sexual division of labour Р[could be read] as a reincarnation of a deep French cultural code which animated his writings." In other words, the code is so deeply embedded in the French intellectual habitus that this is refracted in all of Bourdieu's work on gender. After exploring the argument in more depth, this leads to a suggestion (not all that shocking, from a Bourdieusian point of view) that there may well be national peculiarities that are reflected in our social scientific output, undermining the discipline's image as a scholarly community imbued with a cosmopolitan internationalism. Interesting.

The full contents of this edition of The Sociological Review can be read here.

5 comments:

Darko said...

I read it twice, and still find it hard to understand how can we apply neo-Darwinism to sociological research, can u elaborate please

The link at the bottom isn't working

thinkingdifference said...

and i was just thinking today that we NEED to go back to Marxism and recuperate the critical stance on capitalism. i was just thinking of how the unintended consequence of post-modernist sensibilities is precisely the impossibility of having a strong voice against injustice and inequality. we see resistance and complexity everywhere, eager to recuperate the empowerment. is this just a hegemonic domestication of critical thought? :)

Phil BC said...

To be honest Darko, I haven't a clue. When I'm back in the office I'll take another look. I've fixed the link.

Thinking, I think you're right. There's no doubt postmodern thought is critical, but, as Marx said of his contemporaries in The German Ideology, it is symptomatic of critical criticism, of being critical for its own sake and with nothing else to say, except for a pious hope toward coalition politics of some indeterminate character.

Phil BC said...

Re: the Neo-Darwinian stuff, Journal Flood has a better stab at it than me.

Admin said...

Thanks for the ongoing plugs... and given despite my blogs smirking-liberal slant :D

To lead in where I'm unwanted: I was glad to hear Runciman making this call. He's someone with some genuine sosc-theory chops - not just a copy of The Selfish Gene and a bad attitude (although, I'm sure he has both of those things too).

Regardless of the applicability of this or that piece of evolutionary theory, I think there is a real risk of sociology walling itself off from the public, politics, and from other interesting disciplines... the risk comes via a tendency for soaking our work in cliquish jargon, cults of personality, and 100 year old frames of reference... this turns off the public, firewalls texts from real politics, and renders ideas incommensurable with those form other disciplines...

The real point is that sociologists will benefit a lot more from reading some current fresh 'out-of-discipline' work (if you want a recommendation try one of Sterelny's... Thought in a Hostile World, or Evolution of Agency) than by dredging through another volume on Weber...

(of course you can make both of these claims about most research communities without being as provocative as Runciman is being)

Also I've got a feeling that philosophers and psychologists are - down the line - going to have some sort of neo-darwinian semi-consensus as their basic terms of reference. I don't think this stuff is going away (ie. I think it's more or less right). Sociology is going to seem pretty archaic if we don't have any stake in, or traction on, that conversation...

As for specifics on how to apply etc... I'm not specifically applying any myself, so can't say. I am borrowing a lot of tools of thought that I lifted from philosophy of biology work though, and my basic underlying framework regarding agency, communication and such is informed by evolutionary thinking. This would have little bearing on a lot of research though...

Any this is I shouldn't comment...