THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: twenty theses
I am busy writing a series of manifestos bout several of my interests. I started doing this for sociology in my little book Sociology: The Basics. There are now more to come.
Here is the book version of what might be called a sociological manifesto.
Caution! Danger! Beware! Sociology will change will your life
Opening slide to Ken Plummer’s Introductory first year lectures at Essex University, 1987-2004)
Sociology is passionate about the social. It brings a distinctive consciousness and an imagination to think outside of that limiting frame whereby ‘everything can be explained through ‘individuals’ or the ‘natural’. Sociology questions the ‘certain blindness’ of human beings’ which takes the world for granted. Everywhere it looks at the hauntings of social life. Here, as summary and challenge, are twenty of its key features to argue about.
- Sociology is the systematic, sceptical and critical study of the social, investigating the human construction of social worlds.
- ‘The social’ captures the idea that we live with others but it also constitutes a level or layer of reality which is quite distinctive and which exists ontologically sui generis to constrain and coerce social life.
- Social life is awesome, amazing and often horrendous, sometimes to be celebrated and sometimes to lead to disenchantment. The air we breathe is social. We can’t stop ’experiencing the social’ and seeing ‘the social’ everywhere.
- Sociology is a way of thinking – an imagination, a form of consciousness – that can/will change will your life. It defamiliaries the familiar, questions the taken for granted, treats social facts as things, and destroys the myths we choose to live by. It is a haunting.
- Sociologists always look for the social patterns, prisons, predictabilities in human social life- the social structures in which we dwell.
- Sociologists see human beings as acting in social worlds with others – they create daily life in a search for meaning. Human beings live in worlds of complex symbolization, living with others through social actions. All of human social life is inherently about meanings and social actions.
- Human beings weave webs of cultures – life designs, tool kits for life and ways of living which are composed of complex, mutli-layered, negotiable and ever emergent symbolic actions. Cultures are never tight, fixed or agreed upon but are multilayered ‘mosaics of social worlds’.
- Human beings live in material worlds of brute reality: environments, economies, bodies. We are both animals and cultural creatures- we are intrinsically dual – living simultaneously in material and symbolic worlds. We are the little gods who shit.
- We live with the tensions of Constraining Structures and Creative Meanings: sociology sees this tension everywhere.
- All social worlds are ‘incorrigibly plural’ and we dwell in social tensions and contradiction. Everything in social life – including sociological thinking- brings tensions, conflicts, contradictions.
- We live in a deep swirling matrix of differences and inequalities. Human capabilities are structured through divisive processes into structured inequalities which have damaging effects on our lives. Our opportunities for human social can be thwarted by our class, gender, ethnicity, age, health, sexuality and nationhood.
- Social life is always shaped by time and space. Change and Contingency are ubiquitous.
- Social life is structured by power relations: we ask – who and what can shape our lives?
- Sociology was born of radical social change and continues to dwell in major social change. Social worlds are always changing – and every social thing has a constantly changing history.
- All of social life is dialogical not monological. Human beings are narrators and are in a constant round of telling tales of lives and societies to each other. And all knowledge –whatever else it may be – is within this social dialogue: it is always local, contested, relational knowledge.
- Sociologists describe, understand, and explain the social world using the best‘ tricks of the trade’ they can muster. They must straddles art, science and history. They think hard, conduct rigorous empirical research, and skilfully make sense of data
- The new information technologies are radically reforming this sociological project – providing new tools for research and new source of data and even new ways of thinkiong about social life.
- Sociologists are researchers, thinkers, critics, educators, dialogists, critical citizens, enhancers of art and creativity, and facilitators of unheard voices being heard. Above all it fosters critical citizens alive and changing their own social worlds. They dwell in a flowing wheel of sociological life
- Sociologists put their tools to work in envisaging a better world. Sociology lives in human social worlds, studies them and takes very seriously the values and politics that help shape them into the future.
- Sociology helps us all to act as critical citizens in a world we never made but which every day we have to help to re-create. The challenge is on for each generation to leave behind a better place for subsequent generations. There is a social dream of a better world which haunts sociology. Maybe there could be a flourishing for all?