Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sociology as Disembodiment.

A view from my desk, notice spatial disorganization and inspirational quotes. 
Fellow PhD candidate, Alexander Page, over at his new blog ‘Sociology as Self-Defence’ has written a blog post on sociology as embodiment and elaborated for us what he thinks constitutes a good sociologist and how he endeavours to embody that normative standard.  I thought I’d write a parallel post on what I think about the practice of sociology and how I employ my time as a first year PhD candidate.

Throughout my undergraduate degree I’d too receive the same snide remarks about the economic value of doing a B.A. and majoring in sociology (all my sibling went into the physical and medical sciences, and I cop the periodic jibes about who is going to be the real doctor).  I didn’t respond that I wanted to be a professional activist, which, even though I’m aware of thesis eleven, sounds a little too vanguardist, as if you should prioritize political ideals over the pursuit of an unclouded understanding; rather, I responded that I wanted to be an academic and researcher and struggled to list alternative career plans.  The normative idea of a good sociologist I hold is someone who is motivated by a desire to understand the social and cultural formations and unravel the infinity of threads that inform our current situation.  I’m not naïve enough to imagine that social scientists maintain a perfectly disinterested search for truth and aren’t, at least sub-consciously, guided by extra-scientific and normative considerations.     

Early sociologists of knowledge, particularly Karl Mannheim, had examined how social location influenced the formation of peoples’ understandings and ideologies and demonstrated that individuals cannot be ‘unbiased’, thought is always thought from a particular social standpoint. Though Karl Popper argued that when sociologists of knowledge applied this approach to science they fundamentally misunderstand their object of study because they failed to recognize that science is an inter-subjective project of an epistemic community and not the project of lone scientists.  In effect, Popper argued sociologists failed to understand the sociality of science and how this helps knowledge building.

Now, personally, I’m well aware that my choice of research topic stems from deeply personal concerns. Yet, I believe that objectivity and progression within an intellectual discipline is not achieved by individual participants crafting a view from nowhere, but a relative objectivity is achieved through mutual criticism and a desire to kick the ball forward and put together a better understanding of an object of study.  The sociologist might try to embody sociology, but sociology is a disembodied project irreducible to the sociologist.

As I haven’t been published academically, I haven’t been subjected to a formal peer-review or PhD review board for that matter.  I’m still in the process of refining my research question and rationale, reading as much of the research and theoretical literature that has been written on the discourse around climate change and the internet as possible. But I look forward to being able to contribute something to our collective understanding (and, perhaps, help deal with an important social problem).   My view right now would seem to undermine the ‘epistemic community’, inter-subjective, disembodied ideal of sociology I've been pushing:
Desk in post-grad centre, Fisher Library.

But than, this is the start of the process, gathering up the previous sociological accounts of the object of study to identify a gap and formulate a new conjecture that might help us gain more explanatory power. 


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