How to Shift Sociological Product: Lessons from the Career of Anthony Giddens

Image: Patrick Tomasso

Thursday 26th May, 2016

Mark Carrigan

In the fourth article of our special section on Superstar Professors, our Digital Fellow Mark Carrigan reflects on the career of Anthony Giddens and offers some tongue-in-cheek suggestions about lessons that can be learned from it.

I've always had an ambivalent relationship with the work of Anthony Giddens. His work drew me into Sociology when I was an intellectually frustrated Philosophy student, but a large chunk of my PhD was devoted to critiquing it. I believe his work on late modernity is deeply creative but profoundly flawed. I consider his early work to be amongst the most valuable and rigorous social theory being done at that time, while his later work barely merits serious consideration.

Despite all this, perhaps because of it, I find Giddens a fascinating figure. Taking my lead from this review article published in The Sociological Review in 1992, here are some suggestions about the lessons that can be learned from the career of Giddens:

  • Choose your targets well. Take early aim at the established masters. Draw upon the established canon but re-articulate it in a idiosyncratic way.
  • Demonstrate a mastery of the classics that is cashed out in terms of their translation into contemporary concerns.
  • Tie your interests, however general they may be, into the most pressing topics of the day.
  • Cultivate both your critics and yours fans: engage often and generously.
  • Publish lots, ideally in a way that combines repetition with reliable progress into new intellectual domains.
  • Write texts books. Seriously.
  • Own the company that publishes your books. Or, if you can’t, at least exercise substantial influence over the channels through which you disseminate your work.
  • (Re)define the canon in a way easily taken up by others.
  • Edit the major journal(s) outside of your professional stronghold.
  • Seek prestigious institutional positions and deploy them to maximal effect in disconnected arenas.

Interestingly, Clegg wrote in the aforementioned review article that “few have sought to challenge with a competitive strategy based on equivalent market penetration”. But since then many have. Stiegler, Bauman and Zizek, to name but three, have all achieved a rate of publication far beyond that which led Clegg to be so fascinated with Giddens. However, at least the latter two have self-plagiarised extensively, perhaps pointing to Giddens as having pushed the productivity bar to the maximum extent possible before one is forced to start copying & pasting from one book to the next in order to keep the profitable publications flowing.

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