Annual Lecture 2018: Unthinking Sociology and Overcoming its History Deficit

Professor Satnam Virdee (University of Glasgow)
Tuesday 19th June 2018, 16.00-18.00
Main Auditorium, Undisciplining Conference

Over the past three decades or so, sociology has been increasingly dehistoricised, and accompanying its growing obsession with presentism has been a certain ‘narrowing of its vision’ (Back 2014). Given this accelerating ‘retreat into the present’ (Elias 1987), now seems like an appropriate moment to take stock and consider the possible returns that might accrue from a more thorough-going engagement with Immanuel Wallerstein’s call to ‘unthink sociology’ of this present-oriented kind in favour of that which is more historically-inflected.

First, I will seek to demonstrate how a stronger historical consciousness can help to stretch the postcolonial project of ‘reconstructing modernity’s past’ (Bhambra 2007), and particularly the place of racism within it. In correctly drawing attention to Sociology’s pervasive eurocentrism and the constitutive part played by colonialism and racism in the making of modernity, postcolonial accounts have at the same time, a disposition to homogenise the West. The consequences of this are that it leaves no analytic room to identify and make sense of racisms within the European interior (e.g. antisemitism). How can an approach more attentive to history help us understand the production of racism within the European exterior and the interior simultaneously?  

Second, I will consider the rise of reactionary populism, particularly within the US and UK. Many sociologists have been left flat-footed, unable to think race and class together when making sense of Brexit or Trump. I will demonstrate how such social processes are better understood over the longue durée, arguing that capital, both historically and contemporaneously, has maximised its returns through the social production of racial difference. My suggestion here is that to some extent these contemporary manifestations of populism are path dependent, which of course is why history matters.

Keynote: Professor Satnam Virdee (University of Glasgow)

Respondents: Dr Sivamohan Valluvan (University of Warwick)

Respondents: Professor Bev Skeggs (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Chair: Dr Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths, University of London)

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