The Sociological Review Short story: The Last Seminar, by Stanley Cohen

By Mark Carrigan

Widely known for his work on moral panics, as well as his contributions to Sociology and Criminology more broadly, Stanley Cohen once wrote a strange and fascinating short story, published in The Sociological Review in 1979. It is the only short story we have published, so far.

The Last Seminar tells the story of a university campus overrun by the research subjects from projects past. They arrive unbeckoned in a place where the social scientists never expected to find them, infiltrating the life of the campus and bringing it to a grinding halt. Chaos ensues, with the narrator ultimately bundling up his most treasured books and fleeing the burning campus as gun fire echoes in the distance.

It’s a strange story, perhaps better described as a fable, in which social scientists find their research subjects “taking revenge against us for writing about them”. It raises important questions about the ethics of social science, pointedly challenging ‘extractive’ approaches to the research relationship through its illustration of the disorder provoked by the return of the participants into the lives of researchers.

It’s a unique paper in the long history of The Sociological Review and a fascinating part of Stanley Cohen’s long and distinguished career. 

Originally posted 22nd November 2014.

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