The Sociological Review: A Manifesto

Dramatic economic and political changes in many parts of the world desperately require interventions from sociologists, both intellectually and through individual and collective engagement. Amongst other things, these interventions pose questions about the conditions of possibility for sociological disciplines and their practices.

To renew the critical and creative appeal of sociology, we need to be responsive to what can be opened up, conceptually as much as practically, whilst things are closed down: about what could be thought differently, and how that creates more possibilities for what could and should be done next, both in the academy and outside of it.

The tradition of the journal, as its title implies, is to review issues sociologically, which centrally involves rethinking in a sociological way. Thinking and writing sociologically has always been an art as much as a science and involves intricate and complex sets of sensitivities and sensibilities that require fostering and developing, orientated towards emerging issues as well as the perennial debates.

It also requires openness to other disciplines, notably social anthropology, cultural geography and science and technology studies, with which we share many overarching concerns. In this, revisiting old alliances is as interesting as forging new ones: at various points disciplinary differences have budded out of similarities whose traces have since become lost through institutional and structural separations.

Equally, historical changes create conditions for new collaborations. Our emphasis on work being critically and creatively sociological is what sets us apart from other journals, many of which act primarily as outlets that credential research in sociology and its sub-streams.

Our aims and objectives state: “The Sociological Review has been publishing high quality and innovative articles for over 100 years. During this time we have steadfastly remained a general sociological journal, selecting papers of immediate and lasting significance.

Covering all branches of the discipline, including criminology, socio-legal studies, education, gender, medicine, and organization, our tradition extends to research that is anthropological or philosophical in orientation and analytical or ethnographic in approach.

“We focus on questions that shape the nature and scope of sociology as well as those that address the changing forms and impact of social relations. In saying this we are not soliciting papers that seek to prescribe methods or dictate programmatic perspectives for the discipline. In opening up frontiers and publishing leading-edge research, we see these heterodox issues being settled and unsettled over time by virtue of contributors keeping the debates that occupy sociologists vital and relevant.

We are interested in papers that take heed of how their topics and themes have been debated in the pages of this journal. We invite papers that are demonstrably alive to both the assumptions they are making and the wider issues they are raising. We are keen to receive papers that demonstrate the relationship between the theoretical and empirical through substantive research, demonstrating both the concept and the case.

Equally, we are likely to pass over papers that take their sociological objects for granted, or fail to acknowledge the consequences and politics of the view they are pursuing. We invite papers that are demonstrably alive to both the assumptions they are making and the wider issues they are raising”.

We would like these aims extended and concretised. We see the journal as contributing to the support of generations of academics across different fields who use a sociological imagination to approach their object of study. Those who: 1) see sociology as an intelligent way of understanding what is happening in the world; 2) contribute to an ethos in which reflection and critique are aimed at opening up issues for action and debate rather than closing them down; 3) actually want to read each other’s work, so as to be informed by the various bodies of writing circulating in the name of sociology and its cognate disciplines. We understand that sociological thinking does not just take place in sociology.

So, as part of its reinvigorated ethos, the journal proactively seeks to open up conversations between and across related disciplines, while retaining its sociological focus. Such conversations might well be difficult – not least when what is to count as ‘the social’ varies amongst intellectual traditions and geographical locations, or the very idea of ‘the social’ is de-privileged. But then we take the ‘review’ of The Sociological Review to connote a process of critical engagement rather than a more or less comprehensive survey.

In accepting papers, reviewers and editors should not see ourselves as being primarily in the business of publishing “contributions” that just seek to fill a “gap” in an existing sub-stream, or merely “add” something to what passes for knowledge in a specific sub-field of sociology. Such concerns are suitable for the more specialist journal. In contrast we have to ask if the work itself is inherently sociological in its thinking and its approach. It goes without saying that no one has a monopoly on what this is – but many reviewers do already have a sense of what passes or fails in this respect and judge accordingly.

Currently, the most exciting critical journals of this kind are not overtly sociological (e.g. Theory, Culture and Society, Economy and Society, Society and Space) and there is huge scope in defining ourselves as the sociological counterpart to journals such as these. One point of restating these matters is that as editors we have to modify our current acceptance of too many routine papers in order to make room for more lively, challenging and exciting work. We want to publish what should be read and re-read; not material that can be scanned in a second. Hence, as editors, we should not only be concerned about whether or not a paper is scholarly enough to publish. We should also ask ourselves if its analysis unpicks the boundaries of its sub-discipline sufficiently to make researchers in other areas want to read it.

In light of all this, in the issues that follow:

  • We will exercise editorial intervention to meet the above aims;
  • We will continue to re-work the general structure of the journal with a view to accommodating a wider range of formats (eg poetry, art, photography), given that these open out possibilities for both thinking sociologically and thinking differently;
  • We will continue to welcome articles that push the boundaries of sociological thinking, including those that entail more overtly cross- and inter-disciplinary work;We will encourage more commentaries. For example, we will invite key people to review new publications in their particular field, or sponsor pieces on the work of otherwise minor or marginal thinkers. This will allow us not just to reproduce the canon but to expand the discipline’s intellectual, political and cultural resources;
  • We will promote a greater internationalization of the journal, firstly by expanding the membership of the editorial board, then by pursuing ways of enabling voices from those regions where sociology is relatively underdeveloped (eg finding links with the activities of ISA and its journals; developing a special ad hoc section that encourages non-global north work);
  • We will introduce an ad hoc section devoted to interventions in key debates to be decided by the board;
  • We will endeavour to subsidise a ‘new scholar’ section to promote publication of PhD research;
  • We will continue to seek ways of promoting the Sociological Review’s ethos beyond academic audiences, not least by establishing a presence on social media platforms and developing links with the relevant popular media.

These ideas inevitably reflect the editorial team’s interests and experiences. We therefore warmly welcome further suggestions from The Sociological Review’s readers.

The Sociological Review Manifesto was originally conceived and written by the previous editorial team of Sarah Green, Mike Michael and Beverley Skeggs in 2014. The current editorial team continue to endorse the manifesto and to work in its spirit.