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PGF Pre-conference Day 2015: Session Four – Epistemologies in Action: what do we do when we write?


???????????????????????????????Professor Bridget Fowler, University of Glasgow: “A new ethic of responsibility for sociologists adequate to the challenge of marketization in  late capitalism?”

Abstract: In Nazi-occupied France from 1942 on, writers and philosophers  debated not just the general ethics of writing in relation to power  but also the specific justice of capital punishment for those writers who used their literary skills in complicity with the enemy. In the face of the profound dangers inherent in contemporary Western societies, in which inequalities are deepening to the level prior to World War 1 and feminism is being recuperated, we need to discuss similarly the “deontology” or occupational ethics of sociologists. Furthermore, if Gide remarked “It’s with beautiful sentiments that one makes bad literature” we should also remember that Bourdieu wrote that “It’s with beautiful sentiments that one makes bad sociology” – i.e. our strongest commitment should be to unstinting realism. The paper will then argue, first, that Marx’s  ban on ethical discussion of justice whilst nevertheless an impassioned emancipatory ethic pervades Capital  offers a profound paradox that needs elucidation.  Second, Weber’s epistemology is unsatisfactory because of its radical split between the social scientific analyses offered from the lecture hall and the moral/political implications offered from the political arena. Thirdly and finally, this brief paper recommends combining aspects  of  critical sociology (Bourdieu) with the more detailed analyses of transgression, resistance and transformation in Boltanski’s On Critique and The Foetal Condition.       

Biography: Bridget Fowler is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Glasgow. She specialises in social theory, Marxist-feminism and the sociology of culture. She has had a long-term interest in the thought of Pierre Bourdieu, whose ideas she has taken up in various articles and books including The Alienated Reader (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991); Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical Investigations (Sage, 1997), and an edited volume, Reading Bourdieu on Society and Culture  (Blackwell, 2000). She has also applied Bourdieusian theory to the study of obituaries (see The Obituary as Collective Memory, Routledge, 2007), and continues to work on Bourdieu as well as Boltanski.

Professor Satnam Virdee, University of Glasgow: “What kind of sociology do we need in an age of organic crisis?”

Abstract: The political conjuncture has worsened markedly since 2007, when the British economy spiralled into depression as part of the global economic collapse. While the main political parties call for ‘the people’ to ‘tighten their belts’ and ‘make sacrifices in the national interest’ because ‘we are all in this together’, sociologists and others have usefully drawn attention to the contradictions between such calls for austerity and the actually increasing levels of inequality between the rich and the rest in contemporary Britain (Dorling 2014; Savage et al 2013). Some have even constructed new class schema to analytically capture these new forms of heightened inequalities (Savage et al 2013). At the same time however, there is another kind of question that sociologists have been less inclined to pose thus far, namely, how do ‘they get away with it’ or to put it in sociological terms how do the ruling elites secure their right to rule in such a moment of deep, systemic crisis for British, and, arguably global capitalism? To answer this question, I contend we need to look for inspiration to a different kind of critical sociology, one that draws inspiration from Stuart Hall – a thinker who was ‘in but not of’ the academy and who contra Weber refused the distinction between scholarship and partisanship. Echoing Marx’s claim that ‘philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’, Hall claimed that ‘theory was a detour on the road to somewhere more important’. I will discuss the analytic and political returns to be derived from the adoption of this epistemological standpoint.

Biography: Satnam Virdee is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Research on Racism, Ethnicity and Nationalism (CRREN) at the University of Glasgow. He writes in the areas of race and racism; class and social movements, and historical and political sociology more broadly. He is the author of Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). And as part of the on-going programme of work of the ESRC Centre for Dynamics on Ethnicity (CoDE), he is currently collaborating with Laurence Brown and Stephen Ashe ( University of Manchester) in conducting a major archival and interview study seeking to recover the ‘hidden history’  of Britain’s anti-racist civil rights movement (1965-1990).


Dr Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Cultural Sociology, University of Kent: “Social theory, writing and mood”

Abstract: The mood within social theory has become increasingly disdainful of the legacies of textual analysis.  At their intersection, the purported affective, ontological and new materialist ‘turns’ are represented as moving away from the privileging of text and discourse as key epistemological touchstones, and indeed beyond poststructuralist approaches premised on linguistic, semiotic and discursive frameworks more generally.  In this context, it would seem, any attempt to preserve the integrity of the epistemological tools of the textual, discursive and cultural turns is marked as decidedly out of step with the affective thrust of contemporary social analysis.  I want to argue, however, that appreciating the nuances and complexities of these various conceptual turns urges us to examine how many thinkers extend a much longer genealogy of critical scholarship concerned with the nature of texts and textual formations as ‘discursive-material’ assemblages, the materiality of language and its affective excesses, and the particular relations of feeling we finds ourselves in with texts.  Drawing on my recent work concerning the links between critical scholarship, epistemology and mood, I will explore how we might understand contemporary social theory as a form of ‘mood work’ that is at once discursive and material, textual and affective, political and aesthetic.

Biography: Carolyn Pedwell is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Cultural Sociology in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent.  She has recently held posts as AHRC Visiting Fellow at The Centre for the History of Emotions, Queen Mary (2013-2104) and the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney (2013).  Carolyn is the author of Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy (Palgrave, 2014) and Feminism, Culture and Embodied Practice: The Rhetorics of Comparison (Routledge, 2010). She is also an editor of the international journal Feminist Theory.

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