Stating the Sociological: an introduction

By Michaela Benson

This autumn marks 10 years of my relationship with the Sociological Review. I remember the day I travelled to Keele University for my interview, the critical interest and enthusiasm with which the interview panel talked with me about my research with British people living in France, the suggestions of new directions I might be interested in exploring. At the time, I had just completed the first year of a teaching fellowship after handing in my PhD a year earlier. The opportunity to spend a year writing was one that I was ready for after squeezing my writing into gaps between student supervisions, late nights and weekends. I don’t know where I would be now if I hadn’t been successful. It is undeniable that holding that fellowship helped me along the way both in terms of my career but also in terms of my thinking. Fast forward 10 years and I am now managing editor of the journal.

What’s that got to do with the state of the sociological?

From this early stage in my relationship with the journal, it became clear that the sociological, as intended by the Sociological Review, was an attitude not a discipline. This suited me, with my education that positioned me between social anthropology and sociology (as defined in institutional terms). As I stressed in my welcome to delegates at our recent Undisciplining conference, with its long and rich history the journal was sociological before there was Sociology. This was intended as a deliberate provocation given an audit culture of Higher Education that instructs us to think of ourselves in disciplinary terms, to box and bound the limits of our knowledge around something called Sociology.

This is why I sighed on reading the broken-record-on-repeat in the pages of the THES alleging to attend to ‘the state of sociology’; it spoke to Sociology without considering how this is accompanied by the sociological. Perhaps it is inevitable that something like this would be published at a point in time when we are so frequently called to account for ourselves in disciplinary terms, as we try to hold onto a place in the academy or to meet the demands of audit culture. But of course, Sociology does not have a monopoly on the sociological; this exists outwith the institutional framings of the academy. Sociology may be the discipline, the institutional demand and framing of the knowledge that we produce. But the sociological is something else. To think only with Sociology presents a rather moribund account that does not resemble the ‘demonstrably alive’ sociological interventions that the Sociological Review—among others—has been curating not only through the pages of the journal, but also through its blog, events and social media presence. So, if there is something to be said on the state of the sociological, it is to highlight its promise to trouble boundaries, to demonstrate that there are other ways of doing the sociological that have the potential to disturb and challenge the taken-for-granted shape of the discipline. More than this, it is in thinking what the sociological can offer beyond the walls of the university, beyond the narrow echo chambers of social media where internecine squabbles among colleagues are made newly public.

But, this is a collective ambition. It is not one that can be taken on alone. The promise for the future of the sociological lies in attending to the inequalities and injustices in the world, in offering creative and critical thinking, in thinking of new ways of communicating and spreading this knowledge and understanding, in reconceiving the publics that we want to engage with the sociological.

We invited a selection of sociologists to join us in stating sociology:

Rima Saini

Hannah Jones

Gargi Bhattacharyya

Gurminder Bhambra

Des Fitzgerald

Robin Smith

Michaela Benson is Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths and Managing Editor of The Sociological Review. She writes on migration and social class. She tweets @michaelacbenson.

Originally posted 30th October 2018

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