Introducing June’s Theme: Activism

This blog – along with The Sociological Review journal and our monograph series – is a publication arm of The Sociological Review Foundation, a charity that promotes the study and teaching of sociology to a wider audience. But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The Sociological Review’s manifesto seeks to formalise the links we strive to build within political and economic realities in and around the sociology practised by a diverse community of researchers. For this reason and because  – as our manifesto states – now more than ever, dramatic economic and political changes around the world desperately require interventions from sociologists, we decided at the start of this year that ‘Activism’ would be our digital theme for June. We put a call out for work reflecting on the role of sociology in projects critical of the existing social order, or which incorporated research pushing for or enacting change.  We hoped to hear from researchers questioning the power dynamics between the researcher and ‘the researched’, and those writing about how such dynamics impact upon study design and methodology. We encouraged academics working actively to challenge the culture, values, and systemic injustices of social arrangements, including in academic institutions, to share their work with us, with a view to thinking about how such projects might be scaled or replicated.

Without a doubt, this year, many of the researchers in our communities most involved in activist work have also been engaged – intellectually and practically – in community (and wider) responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic is not an equaliser, and in the countries currently impacted by the virus, those who were already the most marginalised are now also the most affected. Anti-racist activists and researchers will have seen research suggesting that, in the ‘globally significant’ examples of the US and the UK, Black and Brown people are disproportionately more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. Scientists in The Lancet have attributed this to socioeconomic and environmental factors, not biological ones.

In the last week, our attention has also been with the Black Lives Matter movement mobilising in the USA, bringing about urgent protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and the death of Ahmaud Arbery. Anti-racist and anti-fascist activists around the world have reacted in solidarity with those in the US, and in protest at the anti-Black policing and institutionalised racism of their own nation state. This context is one of increased visibility of the dangers of racism and the urgent need for activists to mobilise and respond, pushing for change to our racist social order. Black friends and colleagues have shared these poems this week: by Audre Lorde and Ross Gay. They’ve shared extracts from Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, with its page of commemorations to Black people killed by the police in the US and ending ‘In memory of / In memory of / In memory of’, each subsequent line left blank for the imagined future victims of ‘white men’ who ‘cannot police their imaginations’.

The current context is therefore one of increased visibility of the dangers of racism and the urgent need for activists to mobilise and respond, pushing for change to our racist social order. This racism is present in our sector too. Here in the UK where we write this, there are only 25 Black women who are Professors, and Black academics are under-represented at every level. As a sector, it isn’t enough to mourn these facts or align ourselves with rhetoric; action must be taken towards change, championed by white people alongside the academics of colour who more often than not, are doing the work.

Within these social contexts, many activists and sociologists already personally impacted by the issues they work on have significantly-increased labour at this moment in time. Everyone is adapting and responding to the global pandemic, whilst other inequities and oppressions that many of our colleagues work against and within are exacerbated, demanding immediate response. The challenges brought about by COVID-19 have – of course – included the feeling work of grief and fear. For those most at risk from the virus – whether as older, disabled or chronically ill people; due to increased precarity; a lack of shelter, or a context of violence and danger at home; responsibilities that involve high exposure to the virus; or socio-economic factors like race and class – there has been so much additional labour to navigate, alongside increased care responsibilities, professional adaptations, and other fundamental changes. We know many activist-sociologists are – frankly – overwhelmed.

For all these reasons, we know it’s a difficult time to ask for contributions to our blog and that whilst the theme of  ‘Activism’ is as important as ever, it’s also a time when much of our activist community are incredibly busy, at risk of burnout, and not in a position to draft us 1500 words. That’s why this month, we’ll predominantly be re-publishing existing posts from blogs and sociological sites, using our platform to highlight work that speaks to ‘Activism’, seems pertinent to sociology, and that we think should be shared far and wide in this time, and beyond.  We’re also delighted to be publishing several original blog posts from academics around the world who responded to our call, each with a different perspective on activism and sociology.  We’re grateful for the energy and ideas in all of them, and excited to share them with you. The first of these is this month’s Instagram residency, a project from Ruth Patrick, Mark Simpson, and Dan Farley called ‘Journeys on Universal Credit’. Keep your eyes on the blog next week, as we’ll be introducing this work – featured all month on our Instagram – here.

We look forward to continuing these conversations with you on social media. If you are interested in contributing to our blog, our list of open themes can always be found here. You can access The Sociological Review’s work on ‘Solidarity and Care’ during the pandemic here.

To our colleagues around the world involved in the hard work of social change, we extend our solidarity. To those involved in the anti-racist protests in the US and beyond, stay safe. Black Lives Matter.

The Digital Team

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