What was sociology?

Abstract

This paper is about sociology’s sense of its place, and its future, as transformations in the digital and biological sciences trouble the discipline’s present claim over ‘the social.’ Rather than analysing the specifics of these transformations, however, my interest in this paper is on the ensuing rhetoric of methodological and jurisdictional crisis in sociology, and on how this sense of crisis conjures particular disciplinary futures. Through a close reading of some key texts in this genre, I show how that sense of crisis is in fact haunted by surprisingly vitalistic, existential, and biological imagery – that what imagines itself a conversation about the politics of method is also, at least in part, a conversation about the politics of life. At the heart of my paper is a claim that foregrounding this image of life, and of the life sciences, offers an alternative way of understanding– and intervening in – methodological ‘crisis.’ Threading this claim though my own current interest in how social and biological agencies come to inhabit one another in cities, I ask: what would it mean for sociologists to seek less conventional method futures than those on offer from a canonised discipline cathected by endless crisis-talk?

Part of the InSIS Seminar Series Hilary Term 2018

Presented by Des Fitzgerald

Des Fitzgerald is a lecturer in sociology at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University; he has broad interests in the sociology of science and medicine, and in science and technology studies, with particular attention to the neurobiological ad psychological sciences. He is the author of Tracing Autism: Uncertainty, Ambiguity and the Affective Labor of Autism Neuroscience (University of Washington Press, 2017) and, with Felicity Callard, Rethinking Interdisicplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences (Palgrave, 2015). He is currently co-authoring a book about the ‘urban brain,’ and was a winner of the Philip Leverhulme Prize for sociology in 2017.

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