Endnotes for Sociology Basics Part Two Chapters 5-8
Page 126- 151
QUESTIONS: CULTIVATING SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATIONS
C Wright Mills
C Wright Mills is a major figure in ‘Critical Sociology’. He has been a major influence on this many sociologists – and this author and book!
A lively introductory ‘social science bite’ on S Wright Mills can be found at:
There are now many biographies of Mills. A sample would include:
C Wright Mills (SAGE Masters in Modern Social Thought series) by Professor Stanley Aronowitz
Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thoughtby D Geary(Hardcover – 17 Apr 2009)
Postmodern Cowboy: C. Wright Mills and a New 21st-Century Sociology (Advancing the Sociological Imagination)by Keith Kerr(Paperback – 2010)
The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills by John Summers OUP
The Amazon Blurb says:
Here are 23 essays, interviews, and public letters representing the best of C. Wright Mills’s “politics of truth.” The first collection of Mills’s writings to be published since 1963, these essays show how America’s best known sociologist grew into a representative for dissenters in Europe, Latin America, and Europe, and was posthumously declared one of the three most influential figures in the international Left by the CIA. First published in Evergreen Review, Harper’s, The Nation, Dissent, and New Left Review, these out-of-print and hard to find writings show Mills’s growth from academic sociologist to intellectual maestro in command of a mature style, in search of an independent radical public to oppose the drift toward permanent war. Seminal papers including “Letter to the New Left” appear alongside notably prescient but lesser known meditations like “Are We Losing Our Sense of Belonging?” Historians interested in United States foreign policy and in the Latin American Left will find Mills’s cogent and probing thoughts on these subjects, sociologists and engaged members of the citizenry who analyze the relationship between culture and politics will find no less incisive essays on these topics. John Summers provides both a new introduction to this book, including an overview of Mills’ life and career, as well as annotations that restore each piece’s
John Scott and Ann Nilsen (2013)
C Wright Mills and the Sociological Imagination
Another Amazon Blurb
Wright Mills is one of the towering figures in contemporary sociology and his writings continue to be of great relevance to the social science community. Generations of sociology students have enjoyed learning about the discipline from reading his best known book The Sociological Imagination. Over the years the title has become a term in itself with a variety of interpretations, many far removed from the original. The chapters in Part One of this book begins with general issues around the nature and significance of the sociological imagination, continue through discussions of modes of theorising and historical explanation, the relationship between history and biography, and the intellectual and political relationship of Mills to Marxism. They conclude with considerations on issues of class, power, and warfare. Part Two of the book includes a series of reflections from scholars who were invited to give personal thoughts on the impact of Mills’s writings in their sociological work, with particular attention to their own ‘biography and history’. With renowned international contributors and expert contributions from a range of specialisms, this book will appeal to academics, students and researchers of sociology.
The films mentioned are:
Stranger than Fiction: see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0420223/
For the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj4MC8Nqpjg
Groundhog Day (1993) dir Harold Ramis
Follow up Elijah Anderson at: http://sociology.yale.edu/people/elijah-anderson
The Chicago Maps:
The Charles Booth Archive can be found on line at:
Here you can browse the poverty maps.
Rational actions and Max Weber:
A useful site on Weber is: http://www.sociosite.net/topics/weber.php
(click on fundamental concepts)
If you are very interested you could download the paper by Stephen Kalberg on actions at:
On kinds of social actions, see:
Hans Joas The Creativity of Action 1996 Polity
Margaret Archer Being Human : The Problems of Agency 200 Cambridge
On Margaret Archer see:
See William James Talks to Teachers C 8 The Laws of Habit (also see chapter on habit, from The Principles of Psychology.
“Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor….
But the fact is that our virtues are habits as much as our vices. All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
There is much on Bourdieu on the web site. See
An online bibliography of comments and elaborations of Bourdieu’s work
A useful starting point here is the Wikipedia entry.
The language used here is quite difficult. Terms like ‘determinism, holism and abstraction’ are not easy. But then we have now entered the domain of major sociological theory and this is quite hard to grasp. I suggest a simple entrance point such as a basic textbook…. From this, here are some major examples of the debate at work:
Anthony Giddens The Constitution of Society 1986 Polity
Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann The Social Construction of Reality 1966 Allen Lane
Anselm Strauss Continual Permutations of Social Action 1993 Walter de Gruyter
Bruno Latour Assembling the Social 2007 Oxford University Press
Margaret Archer Structure Agency and the Internal Conversation 2003 Cambridge
Rob Stones Structuration Theory 2005 Palgrave MacMillan
The classic book on all this was:
Talcott Parsons The Structure of Social Action
See: Ann Swidler Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies
American Sociological Review, Vol. 51, No. 2. (Apr., 1986), pp. 273-286.
The original paper to suggest culture can be seen as a tool kit is by Ann Swidler and can be downloaded at: http://www.pierpaologiglioli.it/web/uploads/Ann_Swidler.pdf
Wikipedia provides a useful site which links together all its sites on different subcultures. See: List of subcultures at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_subcultures .
At last count, it listed over 75. There are many more. A useful historical overview is:
Ken Gelder; Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice 2007 Routledge
The line comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850. The quotation comes in Canto 56 (it is a very long poem) and refers to man:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
Full the full poetic, see:
Materialism as the Three Es: Evolutionary, Economic, Environmental.
A useful starting point on the material world is:
Tim Dant Materiality and Society 2004 Open University Press
A classic work on history and sociology is Philip Abrams Historical Sociology (orig 1976; 1983) Cornell University Press
On Time, see
Barbara Adams Time 2004 Polity
Eviatar Zerubavel Time Maps 2004 Chicago
Helga Nowotony Time : the Modern and Postmodern Experiences 1996 Polity
On Generations, see:
Sliding Doors http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120148/
A somewhat advanced book on all this is:
Robin Wagner-Pacific Theorizing the Standoff: Contingency in Action 2000 Cambridge
See Doreen Massey For Space 2005 Sage
Steven Lukes . Power is considered a key text.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UCLA: He is the author of “The Sources of Social Power” Four Volumes covering the history of power in human societies from prehistory to the present. Two later books are: “Fascists”, a compaqrative study of fascists in six European countries; and “The Darkside of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing”, a comparative and historical analysis of murderous cleansing.
For two interview with him, see:
Interview of the distinguished sociologist Michael Mann on 18 July 2005 talking about his life and work. Interviewed by Alan Macfarlane.
UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler welcomes UCLA sociologist Michael Mann for a conversation on how comparative historical sociology can help in our understanding of U.S. foreign policy. Series: “Conversations with History” [8/2004] [Public Affairs] [Humanities] [Show ID: 8799]
RESEARCH: CRITICALLY ENGAGING THE EMPIRICAL: pages 156- 182
Here are three opening quotes to discuss and set you thinking:
Knowledge is power
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Meditations
Beyond the creative act in any science, physical or social, lies a form and intensity of imagination.. that is not different from what we have learned of the creative process in the arts
Robert Nisbet Sociology as an art form 1976
To yield to every whim of curiosity, and to allow for inquiry to be restrained by nothing but the limits of our ability, this shows an eagerness of mind not unbecoming to scholarship. But it is wisdom that has the merit of selecting, from among the innumerable problems who present themselves, those whose solution is important to mankind…
Kant’s Dreams of a Ghost Seer Part 2, Ch 3. Via Popper p51
C Wright Mills has been a major influence on this many sociologists – and this author and book!
A lively ‘social science bite’ on S Wright Mills can be found at:
‘Tricks of the trade’ is Howard Becker’s term. See his book with that title – a very valuable starting point for research.
And he has a good web site:
There are hundreds of books and courses on all aspects of sociological research methodology.
A very simple guide in PDF is:
Patricia Dawson Practical Research Methods
At the other end of the continuum, see the material available on the
Sage Research Methods site at:
The debate on methodology’ (sometimes called -in German – the Methodenstreit) between the human and natural sciences (Geistwissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften) arose significantly in Germany between the philosopher and cultural historian Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) and the neo-Kantians Heinrich Rickert (1863-1936) and Wilhelm Windelband( 1848-1915) in the late nineteenth century.
A short introduction to this debate can be found in Ken Morrison’s Marx, Durkheim, Weber p 342-348. And in Keith Tribes account in The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Thought. For the detailed story, see:
Michael Bentley: Modern Historiography: An Introduction (1998) Routledge. Introduction to the Human Sciences: An Attempt to Lay a Foundation for the Study of Society and History (Paperback) by Wilhelm Dilthey (Author) › Visit Amazon’s Wilhelm Dilthey Page.Wayne State University, 2008
For a short introduction to epistemology, see:
Robert Martin Epistemology: A Beginner’s guide One World Publications 2010
The blurb says: ‘Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge. Without knowledge, scientific enquiry is meaningless and we can’t analyse the world around us. But what exactly is it and how do we obtain it? Should we trust our senses? When is belief knowledge? “
More detailed sociological accounts can be found in:
Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought (Traditions in Social Theory) by Ted Benton and Ian Craib (Paperback – 18 Jun 2001) 3rd edition 2022
See also Gerard DeLanty and Piet Strydom (2003) Philosophies of Social Science:The Classic and Contemporary Readings
David Attenborough’s series – now running for over fifty years – has made him a very well known person. These days he has become a major campaigner for environmental change.
There are many historians who have become ‘media stars’. For example, Simon Scharma
A History of Britain : The Complete BBC Series (6 Disc Box Set) [DVD] (DVD – 2006)
And the various volumes of his books that cover the entire History of Britain
David Starkey: The Monarchy Series – ion Book and Video
You can download Keat’s work free via Project Gutenberg
On art and sociology:
To its perpetual detriment, sociology overwhelmingly takes the ‘scientific pole’ in these debates. It did not have to in the past and it does not have to now. I was won over to this argument many years ago when I read two books:
Robert Nisbet Sociology as an Art Form 1976 Oxford
Audrey Borenstein Redeeming the Sin 1978 Columbia
They subsequently shaped my argument for a book I produced at that time: Documents of Life: An Introduction to a Humanistic Method org 1983 Allen and Unwin
C P Snow’s argument was well known in the 1950’s and 1960’s. More recently it has been revisited and turned in a debate about three cultures. See
Jerome Kagan The Three Cultures: Natural Science, Social Sciences and the Humanities in the 21st Century – Revisting C.P.Snow. 2009 Cambridge University Press
Methods of research
Page 167 et seq
There is now a great deal of material on digital research.
Robert Ackland Web Social Science (2013)
This seems the clearest simple overview
Sage handbook of On line Research Methods
Here is an outline of its contents:
Section I. The Internet as a research medium
Chapter 1: The Internet as a research medium: an editorial introduction to the Sage Handbook of Online Research Methods – Ray Lee, Nigel Fielding and Grant Blank
Section II. Designing Internet research
Chapter 2: The Ethics of Internet research – Rebecca Eynon, Jenny Fry and Ralph Schroeder
Chapter 3: Understanding and Managing Legal Issues in Internet Research – Andrew Charlesworth
Chapter 4: Research design and tools for Internet research – Claire Hewson and Dianna Laurent
Chapter 5: General approaches to data quality and Internet generated data – Karsten Boye Rasmussen
Section III. Data capture using the Internet
Chapter 6: Middleware for Distributed Data Management – Alvaro A.A. Fernandes
Chapter 7: Distilling Digital Traces: Computational social science approaches to studying the Internet – Ted Welser, Marc Smith, Danyel Fisher and Eric Gleave
Chapter 8: Analysing Social Networks via the Internet – Bernie Hogan
Chapter 9: Nonreactive Data Collection on the Internet – Dietmar Janetzko
Section IV. The Internet survey
Chapter 10: Overview: online surveys – Vasja Vehovar and Katja Lozar Manfreda
Chapter 11: Sampling methods for Web and E-mail Surveys – Ronald Fricker
Chapter 12: Internet survey design – Samuel Best and Brian Krueger
Chapter 13: Internet survey software tools – Lars Kaczmirek
Section V. Virtual ethnography
Chapter 14: Overview: Virtual ethnography: modes, varieties, affordances – Christine Hine
Chapter 15: Internet-based Interviewing – Henrietta O’Connor, Clare Madge, Robert Shaw, Jane Wellens
Chapter 16: Online focus groups – Ted Gaiser
Chapter 17: Fieldnotes in public: using blogs for research – Nina Wakeford and Kris Cohen
Chapter 18: Research Uses of Multi-user Virtual Environments – Ralph Schroeder and Jeremy Bailenson
Chapter 19: Distributed Video Analysis in Social Research – Jon Hindmarsh
Section VI. The Internet as an archival resource
Chapter 20: The Provision of Access to Quantitative Data for Secondary Analysis – Keith Cole, Louise Corti and Jo Wathan
Chapter 21: Secondary Qualitative Analysis using Internet Resources – Patrick Carmichael
Chapter 22: Finding and Investigating Geographical Data Online – David Martin, Samantha Cockings and Samuel Leung
Chapter 23: Data Mining, Statistical Data Analysis, or Advanced Analytics: Methodology, Implementation, and Applied Techniques – Bert Little and Michael Schucking
Chapter 24: Artificial Intelligence and the Internet – Ed Brent
Section VII. The future of social research on the Internet
Chapter 25: Longitudinal Statistical Modelling on the Grid – Rob Crouchley and Rob Allan
Chapter 26: Qualitative e-Social Scienceber-research – Nigel Fielding and Ray Lee
Chapter 27: New Cartographies of ‘Knowing Capitalism’ and the Changing Jurisdictions of Empirical Sociology – Michael Hardey and Roger Burrows
Chapter 28: The Internet and the Future of Social Science Research – Mike Fischer, Stephen Lyon and David Zeitlyn (Kent).
Chapter 29: Online Research Methods and Social Theory – Grant Blank
Glossary of Key Terms.
Peter Halfpanny and Rob Procter Digital Research Methods 2015 Sage
Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research
Social media and social network analysis
Modeling and simulation
Visualizing social data
Ethics and e-research
The future of social research in the digital ag
Here is a small sample of some topics:
On Ethnography on Line
Robert V Kozinetts Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online (Paperback) 2009 Sage
A good guide to qualitative software is:
Ann Lewins & Christina Silver Using Software in Qualitative research 2007 Sage
On Wikipedia: see
On You Tube, see:
Jean Burgess & Joshua Green You Tube 2009 Polity
On Blogging, see
Jill Walker Retterberg Blogging 2009 Polity
On On-line communities, see:
Nancy K. Baym Personal Connections in the Digital Age 2010 Polity
Christine Hine Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet Berg 2005
BIG DATA from LUPTON’s Web Site
Based on my research and reading of the critical data studies literature, I have generated my own list that can be organised around what I am choosing to call the ‘Thirteen Ps’ of big data. As in any such schema, this ‘Thirteen Ps’ list is reductive, acting as a discursive framework to organise and present ideas. But it is one way to draw attention to the sociocultural dimensions of big data that the ‘Vs’ lists have thus far failed to acknowledge, and to challenge the taken-for-granted attributes of the big data phenomenon.
Portentous: The popular discourse on big data tends to represent the phenomenon as having momentous significance for commercial, managerial, governmental and research purposes.
Perverse: Representations of big data are also ambivalent, demonstrating not only breathless excitement about the opportunities they offer but also fear and anxiety about not being able to exert control over their sheer volume and unceasing generation and the ways in which they are deployed (as evidenced in metaphors of big data that refer to ‘deluges’ and ‘tsunamis’ that threaten to overwhelm us).
Personal: Big data incorporate, aggregate and reveal detailed information about people’s personal behaviours, preferences, relationships, bodily functions and emotions.
Productive: The big data phenomenon is generative in many ways, configuring new or different ways of conceptualising, representing and managing selfhood, the body, social groups, environments, government, the economy and so on.
Partial: Big data can only ever tell a certain narrative, and as such they offer a limited There are many other ways of telling stories using different forms of knowledges. Big data are also partial in the same way as they are relational: only some phenomena are singled out and labelled as ‘data’, while others are ignored. Furthermore, more big data are collected on some groups than others: those people who do not use or have access to the internet, for example, will be underrepresented in big digital data sets.
Practices: The generation and use of big data sets involve a range of data practices on the part of individuals and organisations, including collecting information about oneself using self-tracking devices, contributing content on social media sites, the harvesting of online transactions by the internet empires and the data mining industry and the development of tools and software to produce, analyse, represent and store big data sets.
Predictive: Predictive analytics using big data are used to make inferences about people’s behaviour. These inferences are becoming influential in optimising or limiting people’s opportunities and life chances, including their access to healthcare, insurance, employment and credit.
Political: Big data is a phenomenon that involves power relations, including struggles over ownership of or access to data sets, the meanings and interpretations that should be attributed to big data, the ways in which digital surveillance is conducted and the exacerbation of socioeconomic disadvantage.
Provocative: The big data phenomenon is controversial. It has provoked much recent debate in response to various scandals and controversies related to the digital surveillance of citizens by national security agencies, the use and misuse of personal data, the commercialisation of data and whether or not big data poses a challenge to the expertise of the academic social sciences.
Privacy: There are growing concerns in relation to the privacy and security of big data sets as people are becoming aware of how their personal data are used for surveillance and marketing purposes, often without their consent or knowledge and the vulnerability of digital data to hackers.
Polyvalent: The social, cultural, geographical and temporal contexts in which big data are generated, purposed and repurposed by a multitude of actors and agencies, and the proliferating data profiles on individuals and social groups that big data sets generate give these data many meanings for the different entities involved.
Polymorphous: Big data can take many forms as data sets are generated, combined, manipulated and materialised in different ways, from 2D graphics to 3D-printed objects.
Playful: Generating and materialising big data sets can have a ludic quality: for self-trackers who enjoy collecting and sharing information on themselves or competing with other self-trackers, for example, or for data visualisation experts or data artists who enjoy manipulating big data to produce beautiful graphics.
Critical Data Studies – Further Reading List
Andrejevic, M. (2014) The big data divide, International Journal of Communication, 8, 1673-89.
Boellstorff, T. (2013) Making big data, in theory, First Monday, 18 (10). <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4869/3750>, accessed 8 October 2013.
Boellstorff, T. & Maurer, B. (2015a) Introduction, in T. Boellstorff & B. Maurer (eds.), Data, Now Bigger and Better! (Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press), 1-6.
Boellstorff, T. & Maurer, B. (eds.) (2015b) Data, Now Bigger and Better! Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press.
boyd, d. & Crawford, K. (2012) Critical questions for Big Data: provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon, Information, Communication & Society, 15 (5), 662-79.
Burrows, R. & Savage, M. (2014) After the crisis? Big Data and the methodological challenges of empirical sociology, Big Data & Society, 1 (1).
Cheney-Lippold, J. (2011) A new algorithmic identity: soft biopolitics and the modulation of control, Theory, Culture & Society, 28 (6), 164-81.
Crawford, K. & Schultz, J. (2014) Big data and due process: toward a framework to redress predictive privacy harms, Boston College Law Review, 55 (1), 93-128.
Gitelman, L. & Jackson, V. (2013) Introduction, in L. Gitelman (ed.), Raw Data is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 1-14.
Helles, R. & Jensen, K.B. (2013) Making data – big data and beyond: Introduction to the special issue, First Monday, 18 (10). <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4860/3748>, accessed 8 October 2013.
Kitchin, R. (2014) The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences. London: Sage.
Kitchin, R. & Lauriault, T. (2014) Towards critical data studies: charting and unpacking data assemblages and their work, Social Science Research Network. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2474112>, accessed 27 August 2014.
Lupton, D. (2015) ‘Chapter 5: A Critical Sociology of Big Data’ in Digital Sociology. London: Routledge.
Lyon, D. (2014) Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique, Big Data & Society, 1 (2). <http://bds.sagepub.com/content/1/2/2053951714541861>, accessed 13 December 2014.
Madden, M. (2014) Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the post-Snowden Era, Pew Research Internet Project: Pew Research Center.
McCosker, A. & Wilken, R. (2014) Rethinking ‘big data’ as visual knowledge: the sublime and the diagrammatic in data visualisation, Visual Studies, 29 (2), 155-64.
Robinson, D., Yu, H., and Rieke, A. (2014) Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future. No place of publication provided: Robinson + Yu.
Ruppert, E. (2013) Rethinking empirical social sciences, Dialogues in Human Geography, 3 (3), 268-73.
Tene, O. & Polonetsky, J. (2013) A theory of creepy: technology, privacy and shifting social norms, Yale Journal of Law & Technology, 16, 59-134.
Thrift, N. (2014) The ‘sentient’ city and what it may portend, Big Data & Society, 1 (1). <http://bds.sagepub.com/content/1/1/2053951714532241.full.pdf+html>, accessed 1 April 2014.
Tinati, R., Halford, S., Carr, L., and Pope, C. (2014) Big data: methodological challenges and approaches for sociological analysis, Sociology, 48 (4), 663-81.
Uprichard, E. (2013) Big data, little questions?, Discover Society, (1). <http://www.discoversociety.org/focus-big-data-little-questions/>, accessed 28 October 2013.
van Dijck, J. (2014) Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology, Surveillance & Society, 12 (2), 197-208.
Vis, F. (2013) A critical reflection on Big Data: considering APIs, researchers and tools as data makers, First Monday, 18 (10). <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4878/3755>, accessed 27 October 2013.
To see Les Back on Live Sociology: Sociology and its Futures
A useful book to help you understand criminal statistics is
The Mismeasure of Crime by Clayton Mosher et al: see
On Rape Statistics, see
Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault by Candace Kruttschnitt, William D. Kalsbeek, and Carol C. House, Editors
Page 174 :
Narratives and stories are among the most powerful instruments for
ordering human experience. Narrative can be expressed in oral or
written language, still or moving pictures, or a mixture of these media.
It is present in myths, legends, fables, tales, short stories, epics,
history, tragedy, drama, comedy, pantomime, paintings, stained glass
windows, movies, local news, and conversation. In its almost infinite
variety of forms, it is present at all times, in all places, and in all
societies. Indeed, narrative starts with the very history of mankind….”
We tell ourselves stories in order to live
Joan Didion, title of her collected stories.
Stories animate human life: that is their work.
Arthur W.Frank Letting Stories Breathe
Narrative makes the earth habitable for human beings” Frank, again: p46
We have each of us, a life story, an inner narrative – whose continuity, whose sense is our lives…. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative to maintain his identity…
Oliver Sachs opening to The man who mistook his wife for a hat
.. There is no best way to tell a story about society. Many genres, many methods, many formats – they can all do the trick. Instead of ideal ways to do it, the world gives us possibilities among which we choose. Every way of telling the story of a society does some of the job superbly but other parts not so well……
Howard S Becker Telling About Society 2007 : 285
“All sorrows can be born if you put them in a story or tell a story about them….” Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition
This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were (recounting it) telling a story.
Jean Paul Sartre Nausea
Our life is essentially a set of stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future… we ‘story’ our lives…in fact, restorying continually goes on within us
G.M. Kenyon and L.W. Randall Restorying Our Lives
Our society has become a recited society, in three senses: it is defined by stories (Recits, the fables constituted by our advertising and informational media) by citations of stories, and by the interminable recitation of stories.
Michel de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984 p186
The significance of narrative in sociology cannot be understimated. We are the narrating animal, telling stories in order to live. As Roland Barthes famously remarked:
“Narratives and stories are among the most powerful instruments for ordering human experience. Narrative can be expressed in oral or written language, still or moving pictures, or a mixture of these media. It is present in myths, legends, fables, tales, short stories, epics, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, pantomime, paintings, stained glass windows, movies, local news, and conversation. In its almost infinite variety of forms, it is present at all times, in all places, and in all societies. Indeed, narrative starts with the very history of mankind “ ( Barthes, 1975).
Here are some of the kinds of descriptions or narratives that sociologists encounter and indeed make themselves:
Common sense narratives- this involves ‘just telling it as it is’. Don’t worry too much about it. Listen to what people say and report it as well as you can.
Statistical narratives – counting it when you can. Try and get to the complexities by counting and measuring. Then you should be able to make generalisations across a host of cases. Through statistics – giving us broad features of who does what where when and maybe why?
Idiographic narrative – the unique tale. Get close to one account of the world, really try and understand it. Capture the in depth complexity in your writing.
Thematic narratives – looking at substance for core themes. Take a number of cases and try to tease out common threads ands themes into your own account. Here you may want to lookout for Formal and structural narratives – finding underlying pattern
Hermeneutic circle narratives ?????
Dialogic and performative narratives – probing self and communication seriously
We can gain these narratives:
Through ethnography – giving us an inner sense of the culture, of what is going on here?
Through biographies – giving us a feel of how lives are lived and experience this?
Through documents – giving us a natural glimpse of what is going on – in court records, films, reports
Through visuals – giving us images through which we can see what is going on
In a simple way- and following the highly influential anthropologist Clifford Gerrtz- we might want to distinguish between descriptions which are thin, and others which are thick or deep……
And ponder the issue of deep description (Geertz).
Geertz, Clifford. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. (New York: Basic Books, 1973) 3-30.
The Roshomon Effect
This is a term based on the famous Japanese film. Akira Kurosawa’s world renowned film, Rashomon, (1950) set in 12th century feudal Japan, tells the story of a woman raped and her samurai husband murdered by a notorious bandit Tajomaru who is later captured and put on trial. The story is then told – through various cunning devices – from the perspectives of four different characters – the bandit, the woman, the samurai – and a passing by wood cutter. All the stories are mutually contradictory and the film poses a challenge about which of the perspectives is true.
: Human Social Life as perspectival, as a point of view
In many ways this is well known and sociologists have to take it seriously. As the literary critic Kenneth Burke has famously put it: “every way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (1935:70); that “every insight contains its own special kind of blindness” (1984:41). It is even present in a famous childhood poem (by the American poet John Godfrey Saxe) which tells the tale of six blind (but learned) men from Indostan who describe their physical observations of an elephant. Blindfolded, eah is asked to ffeel the epelphadn and describe what they find; and each describe it differently- as ‘very like a wall’,as ‘ a snake’, as ‘a spear’,as ’ a tree’,as ‘a fan’ and even as a ‘rope’: ‘ each was partly in the right , and all were in the wrong’:
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
In both the Tale of the Elephant and the tale of Rasomon, we see the problem of competing perspectives circling around the truth. And these are fables to remember as we study society, because society is a whirling stream of different perspectives and partial truths, stories told from different angles and different perspectives. The sociologist has to recognise this not only in what is being studied, but also in what he or she subsequently writes – the sociologists tales which we can be sure will be challenged by other perspectives in time, both within sociology and outside of. This is the deeply problematic nature of social reality and its varying perspectives……..
Both of these accounts though leave something missing. There is a true elephant and somebody did rape and murder! So while we do need to recognise the one sided nature of perspectives for sure, we also must develop a wider account that gets closert to the truth. Ultimately the more perspectives we can develop, the more accurate our portrait may be. We may not be able to tell the whole story, but some stories come much nearer to it than others……
Verstehen is a method advocated by Max Weber to highlight the “understanding” and “interpretation” of meaning and human activities. It tries to understand people on their own terms and from their own point-of-view.
Hermeneutics refers generally to the ways in which study the interpretive process ( it was originally concerned with the interpretation of written texts). – how do people go about making sense (translating) and interpreting the world around them…Such underatanding has a cucruclar character – each part of an understanding links to other parts.
“””The hermeneutic circle describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one’s understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one’s understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole. Neither the whole text nor any individual part can be understood without reference to one another, and hence, it is a circle. However, this circular character of interpretation does not make it impossible to interpret a text, rather, it stresses that the meaning of text must be found within its cultural, historical, and literary context.”””WIKI (Habermas)
More WIKI…Jürgen Habermas considered his major achievement to be the development of the concept and theory of communicative reason or communicative rationality, which distinguishes itself from the rationalist tradition by locating rationality in structures of interpersonal linguistic communication rather than in the structure of either the cosmos or the knowing subject. This social theory advances the goals of human emancipation, while maintaining an inclusive universalist moral framework. This framework rests on the argument called universal pragmatics – that all speech acts have an inherent telos (the Greek word for “end”) — the goal of mutual understanding, and that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about such understanding. Habermas built the framework out of the speech-act philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, and John Searle, the sociological theory of the interactional constitution of mind and self of George Herbert Mead, the theories of moral development of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, and the discourse ethics of his Heidelberg colleague Karl-Otto Apel.
He carried forward the traditions of Kant and the Enlightenment and of democratic socialism through his emphasis on the potential for transforming the world and arriving at a more humane, just, and egalitarian society through the realization of the human potential for reason, in part through discourse ethics. While Habermas conceded that the Enlightenment is an “unfinished project,” he argued it should be corrected and complemented, not discarded. In this he distanced himself from the Frankfurt School, criticizing it, as well as much of postmodernist thought, for excessive pessimism, misdirected radicalism and exaggerations.
Within sociology, Habermas’s major contribution was the development of a comprehensive theory of societal evolution and modernization focusing on the difference between communicative rationality and rationalization on the one hand and strategic/instrumental rationality and rationalization on the other. This included a critique from a communicative standpoint of the differentiation-based theory of social systems developed by Niklas Luhmann, a student of Talcott Parsons.
His defence of modernity and civil society has been a source of inspiration to others, and is considered a major philosophical alternative to the varieties of poststructuralism. He has also offered an influential analysis of late capitalism.
Habermas saw the rationalization, humanization, and democratization of society in terms of the institutionalization of the potential for rationality that is inherent in the communicative competence that is unique to the human species. Habermas believed communicative competence has developed through the course of evolution, but in contemporary society it is often suppressed or weakened by the way in which major domains of social life, such as the market, the state, and organizations, have been given over to or taken over by strategic/instrumental rationality, so that the logic of the system supplants that of the lifeworld.
See also the project: Writing Across Boundaries.
This is a project which gets various social scientists who have published quite a bit to reflect on the nature of their writing. It includes pieces by Howard Becker, Harvey Molotch, Marilyn Strathborn and Liz Stanley, myself and many others: see
On this website you will also find resources relating to a variety of themes that engage writers in the social sciences. These include and Drafting and Plotting, the Data-Theory Relationship, Narrative, Rhetoric, and Representation and Hints and Tips on Writing.
Some challenges to orthodox methodologies include:
include Chela Sanoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed ( 2000), Les Back, The Art of Listening (2007), Norman Denzin The Qualitative Manifesto: A Call to Arms (2010). Kate Orton-Johnson et al (2013) ed Digital Sociology: Critical Perspectives ; Deborah Lupton, Digital Sociology,
Critical qualitative research
Norman Denzin The Qualitative Manifesto: A Call to Arms (2010) Left Coast Press
D.Soyini Madison Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics and Performance. (2005) Sage
Gayle Letherby Feminist Research in Theory and Practice (2003) OU Press
Dorothy Smith The Everyday World as Problematic (1988) Northeastern University Press
———— Writing the Social (1998) Toronto
Marjorie de Vault Liberating Methodology: Feminism and Research (1999) Temple
Michael Buroway et al Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections and Imaginations in a Postmodern World (2000) California
and Yvonne Lincoln The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research 3rd edition Sage (2007) (but other editions are worth looking at- they are different)
Linda T Smith Decolonizing Methodologies Zed Books 1999
Norman K.Denzin &
Linda Tuhiwai Smith Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies eds (2008) Sage
Judith Butler Giving a Stance of Oneself (2005) Fordham University
Kath Browne et al Queer Methods and Methodologies (2010) Ashgate
SUFFERING INEQUALITIES: P182 – 215
Discuss the significance of Human Suffering for sociology
See Iain Wilkinson http://www.kent.ac.uk/scarr/events/finalpapers/wilkinson.pdf
What has Inequality become such an important topic for sociology?
This is an old idea. Look at …‘ Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn! ‘ By Robert Burns: Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge 1784
When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev’ning, as I wander’d forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem’d weary, worn with care;
His face furrow’d o’er with years,
And hoary was his hair.
“Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?”
Began the rev’rend sage;
“Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.
“The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride;-
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev’ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.
“O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours-
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives Nature’s law.
That man was made to mourn.
“Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want-oh! ill-match’d pair-
Shew man was made to mourn.
“A few seem favourites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap carest;
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev’ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro’ weary life this lesson learn,
That man was made to mourn.
“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
“See yonder poor, o’erlabour’d wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho’ a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.
“If I’m design’d yon lordling’s slave,
By Nature’s law design’d,
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow’r
To make his fellow mourn?
“Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!
“O Death! the poor man’s dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow
From pomp and pleasure torn;
But, oh! a blest relief for those
That weary-laden mourn!”
see Goran Therborn talking about inequalities at
As the Irish poet Louis McNeice beautifully put it: the world is ‘ crazier and more of it than we think, the drunkenness of things various’. Human worlds are lush with multiplicities and possibilities. See: http://www.thepoetryexchange.co.uk/uncategorized/snow-by-louis-macneice-2/
On the durability of inequalities, see Charles Tilly: Durable Inequality (1999) Berkeley: University of California Press. It’s blurb states:
“Charles Tilly, in this eloquent manifesto, presents a powerful new approach to the study of persistent social inequality. How, he asks, do long-lasting, systematic inequalities in life chances arise, and how do they come to distinguish members of different socially defined categories of persons? Exploring representative paired and unequal categories, such as male/female, black/white, and citizen/noncitizen, Tilly argues that the basic causes of these and similar inequalities greatly resemble one another. In contrast to contemporary analyses that explain inequality case by case, this account is one of process. Categorical distinctions arise, Tilly says, because they offer a solution to pressing organizational problems. Whatever the “organization” is–as small as a household or as large as a government–the resulting relationship of inequality persists because parties on both sides of the categorical divide come to depend on that solution, despite its drawbacks. Tilly illustrates the social mechanisms that create and maintain paired and unequal categories with a rich variety of cases, mapping out fertile territories for future relational study of durable inequality”
For a critical note on this book, see Mike Savage:
The Facts of World Inequalities
Danny Dorling on Inequalities
and a quick listing? Try
Here is a clickable listing of the Data list given on page 183-6
World Top Incomes Database http://topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/
Rich List (Forbes, Sunday Times) http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/richlist/
Oxfam Report on Global Poverty:
For the original Credit Suisse Study see:
Credit Suisse (2015) ‘Global Wealth Databook 2015’. Total net wealth at constant exchange rate (USD billion).
An Economy for the 1% 18th January 2016
Global Slavery Index http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/
Human Development Index (HDI) http://hdr.undp.org/en
Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index
Gender Inequality Index (GID) http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/table-4-gender-inequality-index
Human Security Index: http://www.humansecurityindex.org/
Finally, The United Nations monitors the responses of states across the world, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch produce regular nation based comparisons and reports
Map of United Nations Indicators on Rights: http://indicators.ohchr.org/
Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org/
Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org.uk/
Annual State Sponsored Homophobia Report on PDF
The Vision of Humanity web site and follow up the leads it provides. See: http://www.visionofhumanity.org
(You will find both the Global Peace Index and The Terrorism Index)
Global Peace Index
The Terrorism Index
Global Cost of Violence Report http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/conflict_assessment_-_hoeffler_and_fearon_0.pdf
Some more Data
Global wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite.
Oxfam’s frequently cited fact in 2014: ‘85 billionaires have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.’
In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet.1 Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years, as shown on Figure 2, with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.
The Rich List
And in the UK, the Sunday Times Rich list published in April 2015 showed that the wealth of Britain’s richest people has more than doubled in the last ten years. The wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families now have a combined fortune of £547.126 BILLION up from £249.615 billion recorded in 2005.
Here is a list of Britain’s wealthiest 25 people, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
1 Len Blavatnik £13.17 billion 2 Sri and Gopi Hinduja £13 billion 3 Galen and George Weston and family £11 billion 4 Alisher Usmanov £9.8 billion 5 David and Simon Reuben £9.7 billion 6 Ernesto and Kirsty Bertarelli £9.45 billion 7 Lakshmi Mittal and family £9.2 billion 8 Kirsten and Jorn Rausing £8.7 billion 9 The Duke of Westminster £8.56 billion 10 Roman Abramovich £7.29 billion 11 John Fredriksen and family £7.24 billion 12 Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Michel de Carvalho £7.145 billion 13 Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay £6.5 billion 14 Hans Rausing and family £6.4 billion 15 Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber and family £5.935 billion 16 Carrie and Francois Perrodo and family £5.8 billion 17 Nathan Kirsh £5.06 billion 18 Earl Cadogan and family £4.8 billion 19 Nicky Oppenheimer and family £4.55 billion 20 Sir Richard Branson and family £4.1 billion 21 Bruno Schroder and family £3.76 billion 22= Mike Ashley £3.5 billion 22= Sir James Dyson and family £3.5 billion 22= Sir Philip and Lady Green £3.5 billion 25 Sir Henry Keswick and family £3.275 billion
What is shocking about all this is that the world has been gripped by a period of recession and austerity. So how is it possible that the rich – who caused the international banking crisis in the first place – have done so well out of it?
Oxfam International (2014) Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality
(2015) Wealth: Having it all and wanting more https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/wealth-having-it-all-and-wanting-more
Danny Dorling (2014) Inequality and the 1% (Verso, 2014) A University of Oxford social geographer has written widely on the horrors of austerity – on poverty, inequality and the housing crisis. He explains why we cannot afford the rich.
Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack (2015) Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty One World. Poverty in Britain is now at crisis levels and the current government stigmatizes, excludes and blames the poor whilst protecting the rich.
Annette Hastings et al (2015) The Costs of the Cuts: The Impact on Local Givernments and Poorer Communities London: Rowntree see: http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/Summary-Final.pdf
Thomas Piketty (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press, 2014) Widely discussed, and already a classic, a French economist explores not just how unequal we have become but also shows how even more unequal we are rapidly becoming.
Goran Therborn (2013) The Killing Fields of Inequality. Cambridge: Polity
James Meek (2015 rev ed) Treasure Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Some one Else. Verso Critical examination of the ways in which Britain’s public services have been sold off – so the rich benefit and the poor pay.
Kerry-Anne Mendoza (2015) Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy. Oxford: New Internationalist
Andrew Sayer (2015) Why we can’t afford the rich/ Bristol: Policy Press
A startling book by a well-known and respected sociologist. He shows how the new economy – and austerity– works to make the rich richer and the poor poorer; how this is now done on a massive scale as the rich live lives cut off from the 99% of the world. Full of quite shocking detail that leads one to ask : just how are they getting away with making our world such a terrible place?
Joseph Stiglitz (2012) The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (W.W. Norton) A Nobel Prize-winning economist paints a vivid picture.
Polly Toynbee & David Walker (2015) Cameron’s Coup: How The Tories took Britain to the Brink. Guardian Books. A journalist and obviously partisan book that shows just how much havoc the Coalition has hurled at Britain over the past five years.
John Urry (2014) Offshoring . Cambridge: Polity. One of the world’s leading sociologists details the problem of the rich ‘ffshoring’…..
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Bloomsbury Press, 2009) Became an instant classic as it showed that by every measure that matters, from social trust to how long we live, relatively equal nations outperform nations where income concentrates at the top.
There are a number of films about the caste system on the You Tube: see
See also: Arudhati Roy On Capitalism and Caste
See the documentary: Slavery- A 21st Century Evil (2011) at
Wikipedia has a list of films featuring slavery: see
For a review of the Mike Savage et al book
To ask what is your social class, see:
A recent study to help you investigate the vast writings on social class, look at:
Will Atkinson Class (2015) Polity
An Amazon Blurb says:
Class is not only amongst the oldest and most controversial of all concepts in social science, but a topic which has fascinated, amused, incensed and galvanized the general public, too. But what exactly is a class ? How do sociologists study and measure it, and how does it correspond to everyday understandings of social difference? Is it now dead or dying in today s globalized and media–saturated world, or is it entering a new phase of significance on the world stage?
This book seeks to explore these questions in an accessible and lively manner, taking readers through the key theoretical traditions in class research, the major controversies that have shaken the field and the continuing effects of class difference, class struggle and class inequality across a range of domains.
The book will appeal to students and scholars in sociology, social policy, geography, education, cultural studies and health sciences.
Wendy Bottero Stratification: Social Division and Inequality 2005 Routledge
Tony Bennett, Mike Savage, Elizabeth Silva, Alan Warde, Modesto Gayo-Cal, David Wright: Culture, Class, Distinction. 2009 Routledge
The Globally Excluded
See Children Living in the Guatemala City Dump; Children of the 4th World – Documentary
See Guy Standing: his book A Precariat Charter and he discusses all this on:
“A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens”, a Seminar with Guy Standing
The notion of The Dispossessed is seen in the science fiction of Ursula Le Gn her novel of that name: hear:
In human societies, differences are used as moral markers to establish how some are better than others. Moral worth is often attached to this labeling as boundaries are established of the normal and
For a discussion of class and moral boundaries, see especially the work of Michele Lamont: Money, Morals and Manners. 1994. Chicago ; and The Dignity of Working Men 2002 Harvard UP.
Kimberley Crenshaw is usually seen as the first writers to talk about intersectionality, see her at:
On intersectional theory: see :
Patricia Hill Collins Black Feminist Thought 1990 , 2008 3rd ed Routledge
Yvette Taylor ed Classed Intersections 2010, Ashgate
On the BBC Survey and Mike Savage etc see
A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment Sociology April 2013 vol. 47 no. 2 219-250
There is much on Bourdieu on the web site. See
An online bibliography of comments and elaborations of Bourdieu’s work
A useful starting point here is the Wikipedia entry.
On gender, the literature is equally vast: sample-
Connell Masculinities (1995; 2nd ed 2005) Polity
Amy S Wharton The Sociology of Gender 2005 Blackwell
Angela Mcrobbie The aftermath of feminism 2008 Sage
An important statement from a long standing central figure is:
Catherine A. MacKinnon Are Women Human? 2006 Harvard
A contemporary history of feminism is:
Lynne Segal Why Feminism? 1999 Polity
A sample of twenty first century feminist texts include:
Natasha Walter Living Dolls : The Return of sexism 2010 Virago
Kate Banyard The Equality Illusion 2010 Faber and Faber
Catherine Redfern & Kristin Aune Reclaiming the Word 2010 Zed
Black Lives Matter
A wide ranging tour of the current field of disability studies can be found in:
Lennard J.Davis the Disability Studies Reader 2010 3rd edition. Routledge
The classic writing here is
Eve Kasofsky Sedgwick Epistemology of the Closet 1990 Harvester/ Penguin
Judith Butler Gender Trouble 1990 Routledge
Nicki Sullivan A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory 2003 Edinburgh University
The Generational and Age Order
The classic studies are by Mannheim and Eisenstadt:
Karl Mannheim ‘’The problem of generations’ in Collected works of Karl Mannheim Vol 5 p276-320.London: Routledge
S.N. Eisenstadt From Generation to Generation 1956 Free Press
More recently see:
June Edmunds and Bryan S.Turner Generations, culture and society. 2002. Open University Press
For an application of generational theory, see my own work:
Ken Plummer Generational Sexualities, Subterranean Traditions and the Hauntings of the Sexual World: Some Preliminary Remarks 2010 Symbolic Interaction. Vol 33.No 2 p162-p190
Voices of the Poor: Can anyone hear us was published by the UN in 2000.
It is the the first in a three-part series, about the common patterns that emerged from the poor people’s experiences in many different places. Chapter 1 sets out the conceptual framework and methodology. Chapter 2 discusses poverty from the perspective of the poor. Chapter 3 examines poor people’s experience with the state, and includes case studies of access to health care and education. Chapter 4 addresses the nature and quality of poor people’s interactions with civil society. Chapter 5 considers the household as a key social institution, and discusses gender relations within households and how these relations affect and are affected by larger institutions of society. Chapter 6 focuses on social fragmentation, and includes a discussion of social cohesion and social exclusion. Chapter 7 concludes the analysis and proposes some policy recommendations. The analysis leads to these conclusions: 1) poverty is multidimensional; 2) the state has been largely ineffective in reaching the poor; 3) the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the lives of the poor is limited, forcing the poor to depend primarily on their own informal networks; 4) households are crumbling under the stresses of poverty; and 5) the social fabric – poor people’s only “insurance” – is unraveling.
It can be downloaded in full: see: Deepa Narayan: Voices of the Poor: Can anyone hear us
Volume 2 is subtitled: Crying Out for Change (2004).
On marginalisation, see Iris Marion Young Justice and the Politics of Difference 1990 Princeton Chapter 2 :p53-6
On exclusion, see David Byrne Social Exclusion 2005 2nd edition Open University
On stereotyping, see Michael Pickering Stereotyping: The Politics of Representation 2001 Palgrave
The Process of Exploitation
See: Iris Marion Young Justice and the Politics of Difference 1990 Princeton Chapter 2 p48-53
Violence as the division of last resort
There is an excellent text on this, strongly recommended:
Peter Iadicola & Anson Shupe: Violence, Inequality and Human Freedom. 2003 2nd edition. Rowman and Littlefield.
The Armed Conflict Survey (ACS) is a new annual publication that provides yearly data on fatalities, refugees and internally displaced people for all major armed conflicts, alongside in-depth analysis of their political, military and humanitarian dimensions. The first edition of the book covers the key developments and context of more than 40 conflicts, including those in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.
The ACS features essays by some of the world’s leading authorities on armed conflict, who write on subjects such as:
the development of jihadism after 9/11;
refugees and internally displaced people;
criminality and conflict;
the evolution of peacekeeping operations
The IISS was founded in the UK in 1958 with a focus on nuclear deterrence and arms control. Today, it is also renowned for its annual Military Balance assessment of countries’ armed forces and for its high-powered security summits, including the Shangri-La Dialogue.
On Martha Nussbaum’s ideas see interview with her on the You Tube at:
Conversations with history: September 14th 2006 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy3YTzYjut4
See also; The Human Development and Capability Association
and its journal
Journal of Human Development and Capabilities A Multi-Disciplinary Journal for People-Centered Development
Here is a summary of Martha Nussbaum’s Central Human Functional Capabilities.
Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living
Bodily Health and Integrity. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; being adequately nourished; being able to have adequate shelter
Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; being able to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault, marital rape, and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.
Senses, imagination, thought. Being able to use the senses; being able to imagine, to think, and to reason – and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training; being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing expressive works and events of one’s own choice (religious, literary, musical etc.); being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression wit respect to both political and artistic speech and freedom of religious exercise; being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid nonbeneficial pain
Being able to have attachments to things and persons outside ourselves; being able to love those who love and care for us; being able to grieve at their absence; in general being able to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger; not having one’s emotional developing blighted by fear or anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.
Practical reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s own life. (This entails protection for the liberty of conscience.)
(a) Being able to live for and in relation to others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction; being able to imagine the situation of another and to have compassion for the situation; having the capability for both justice and friendship. (Protecting this capability means, once again, protecting institutions that constitute such forms of affiliation, and also protecting institutions that constitute such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedoms of assembly and political speech.) (b) Having the social bases of self-respect and nonhumiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. (This entails provisions of nondiscrimination.)
Other species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature
Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
Control over one’s environment. (a) Political: being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the rights of political participation, free speech, and freedom of association (b) Material: being able to hold property (both land and movable goods); having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human being, exercising practical reason and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers.
From Martha Nussbaum Sex and Social Justice. 1999: 41-2; but it can be found everywhere in her work (eg Frontiers of Justice); and most recently in Creating Capabilities (2011) and Development and Change, Forum 2006 Vol 37, No 6 November 2006 p1325-7, where she also comments on problems with the list – page 1315.
The Oxfam Recommendations for Change:
See on line PDF: January 2016 Oxfam – An Economy for the 1%
Pay workers a living wage and close the gap with executive rewards: by increasing minimum wages towards living wages; with transparency on pay ratios; and protecting workers’ rights to unionize and strike.
Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights: by providing compensation for unpaid care; ending the gender pay gap; promoting equal inheritance and land rights for women; and improving data collection to assess how women and girls are affected by economic policy.
Keep the influence of powerful elites in check: by building mandatory public lobby registries and stronger rules on conflict of interest; ensuring that good-quality information on administrative and budget processes is made public and is free and easily accessible; reforming the regulatory environment, particularly around transparency in government; separating business from campaign financing; and introducing measures to close revolving doors between big business and government.
Change the global system for R&D and the pricing of medicines so that everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines: by negotiating a new global R&D treaty; increasing investment in medicines, including in affordable generics; and excluding intellectual property rules from trade agreements. Financing R&D must be delinked from the pricing of medicines in order to break companies’ monopolies, ensuring proper financing of R&D for needed therapy and affordability of resulting products.
Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field: by shifting the tax burden away from labour and consumption and towards wealth, capital and income from these assets; increasing transparency on tax incentives; and introducing national wealth taxes.
Use progressive public spending to tackle inequality: by prioritizing policies, practice and spending that increase financing for free public health and education to fight poverty and inequality at a national level. Refrain from implementing unproven and unworkable market reforms to public health and education systems, and expand public sector rather than private sector delivery of essential services.
VISIONS: CREATING SOCIOLOGICAL HOPE
P216 – 236
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1845,Thesis 11 and engraved upon his tomb
See all the Theses here:
Ernest Bloch’s three volumes on The Principle of Hope (written at the end of the holocaust) shows how throughout history all societies have needed a sense of hope.
You can find an introduction to it at:
Think on: Sociology and utopia
For discussions on sociological utopias, see:
Eric Ohlin Wright (1947-)
and see him ‘live’ on the You Tube:
See a discussion on the idea of Sociological Utopias and the Centre for the Utopian Studies by Ruth Levitas
Look also at the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies and their work
There is also a journal called Utopian Studies : see
The debate about utopias from a sociological perspective
Richard Kilminster Human Figurations
Volume 3, Issue 2, June 2014
For other answers to the question of What sociologists do? see
The British Sociological Association’s Response:
An interesting book to introduce to to the idea of Communication ethics and dialogue in sociology is:
Communication, ethics, literacy by Ronald C Arnett and others. Sage 2009
The key writer and philosopher on dialogue is M. Bakhtin. See his
Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (1982: University of Texas Press) by M.M. Bakhtin, Michael Holquist, and Caryl Emerson
Rabelais and His World by M.M. Bakhtin and Helene Iswolsky ( 1984) Indiana University Press
For an introduction to his work see:
Deborah Tannen is prolific. Most of her books are about the misunderstandings between men and women. A classic is : The Argument Culture: Changing the Way We Argue and Debate
See Deborah Tannen http://www.deborahtannen.com/
The classic sociological statement on Citizenship is by T.H.Marshall and can be found at:Citizenship Today: Contemporary Relevance of T.H. Marshall by Martin Bulmer & Anthony Rees ( University of Southampton) 1996: Routledge
For recent debates, see the journal Citizenship Studies
The Circle of Sociological Life
Note that I have rethought this a little since the first edition of the book. This is a different circle, reorganized and separating out public from ‘pop’ular sociology, hence adding a new phase.
Compare p192 1st edition, with p222 second edition.
Ideas keep moving on!
3. Public Sociology
The core paper on Public Sociology by Burawoy can be downloaded from:
And watched on:
Michael Burawoy. A lot of his work can be accessed via his web site at:
For videos on Public Sociology, see:
On Margaret Archer and the Vatican
Studying sociology in professional courses will bring its own text books like Elaine Denny and Sarah Earle’s Sociology for Nurses (2016 3rd ed) or Anne Llewlynn & Lorraine Agu’s Sociology for Social Workers (2014, 2nd ed).
For current listings of so called popular books in sociology see
‘Sociology Best Sellers’ – with a strong US bias:
For access to Laurie Taylor’s programme (which is also accessible on pod casts) , search:
Laurie Taylor Thinking allowed:
On Owen Jones. see
On Naomi Klein, see
And Naomi Klein and Owen Jones together at:
On Grayson Perry on identity The Channel Four programmes Who Are You?see
On Antony Gormley on The Body, see
On Sebastio Salagundi’s The Salt of the Earth (2014) dir Juliana Salagundi, Wim Wenders
For a Trailer: see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OivMlWXtWpY
And his lecture on the The Drama of Photography
(A TED Lecture: Feb 2-13)
See Pierre Bourdieu at work as a public intellectual, see …..
You Tube: Sociology as a Martial Art
(but it is in French with translation)
The term ‘Moral Imagination’ was probably first used by the literary critic Lionel Trilling; and is certainly the title of a book by Getrude Himmelfarb (2012)
On the Value Debate, see For Max Weber’s classic texts: -6 http://www.ne.jp/asahi/moriyuki/abukuma/weber_texts.html
Look especially at: Objectivity in social science, Science as a vocation :Politics as a vocation. All downloadable.
See my discussion on the Common Ground in
Ken Plummer Intimate Citizenship 2003 : Washington Chapter 7
A Classic illustration of this The Golden Rule
Ancient Egyptian: Eloquent Peasant, 109 – 110
Baha’i Faith: Gleanings
Buddhism: Udana-Varga 5.1, Samyutta Nikaya v.353, Sutta Nipata 705
Christianity: Bible Matthew 7.12, Matthew 22.36-40, Leviticus 19.18
Confucianism: Analects 15.23, Mencius VII.A.4
Hinduism: Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8, Mahabharata 5:1517
Humanism: British Humanist Society
Native American Spirituality: The Great Law of Peace, Black Elk, Pima proverb
Islam: Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
ainism: Acarangasutra 5.101-2, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
Judaism: Leviticus 19.18, Shabbat 31a
Shinto:Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga
Sikhism: Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 1299
Sufism: Javad Nurbakhsh
Taoism: T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
Unitarianism: Unitarian principle
Wicca: Wiccan Rede
Yoruba: Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
Zoroastrianism: Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
See on line: http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm
Discuss the idea of a Social Imaginary?
Charles Taylor sees the social imaginary as ‘the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deep normative notions and images that underlies these expectations” (2003: p23).
Charles Taylor Modern Social Imaginaries 2003, Duke
John Thompson says the imagnary is the “The creative and symbolic dimensions of the social world through which people live their collective images of life” (Studies in the Theory of Ideology, 1984, page 6).
The idea derives from Cornelius Castoriades, 1975, The Imaginary Institution of Society. 1975. It enables us to see how people can imagine their lives as a whole. The idea can work to help clarify boundaries and horizons, limits and possibilities. Utopian imaginaries might lead to the emancipation of individuals from entrenched institutions?
There is a Centre for ‘Imaginaries of the Future’ : see
Discuss some values that may interest sociologists
Here is a short list of works to help you take some of these ideas further.
You Tube: See some speakers on care:
Nel Noddings : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns-XreddOis
Joan Tronto Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality and Justice NYU Press 2013
And see her on line at:
Joan Tronto Caring Democracy
Marian Barnes Care in Everyday Life
Michael D.Fine A Caring Society? Care and the Dilemmas of Human Service in the Human Service Industry in the 21st Century 2007 Palgrave
Natan Sznaider The Compassionate Temperament: care and Cruelty in Modern Society 2001 Rowman and Littlefield
Nial Scott & Jonathan Seglow Altruism 2007 Open University McGraw Hill
Ian Wilkinson Suffering: A Sociological Introduction 2005 Polity Press
On Freedom. Equality and Justice, see
Michael Sandel’s famous seminar /lecture discussions on the You Tube at:
Amartya Sen The Idea of Justice (2009) Allen Lane.
Michael Sandel Justice: What’s the right thing to do? (2007/2009) Penguin
Iris Marion Young Justice and the politics of difference (1990) Princeton
Nancy Fraser ‘From Redistribution to Recognition: Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-socialist’ Age’. in Nancy Fraser. Justice Interruptus (1997: Chapter 1)
———— The Scales of Justice
Sam Harris The Moral Landscape:How Science Can Determine Human Values (2011) Bantham.
Lukes, Steven Moral Relativism 2008 Profile
Peter Singer Writings on an Ethical Life (2000) Harper Collins
Ronld Dworkin Justice for Hedgehogs (2011)
Taylor, Charles et al Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition (1994) Princeton
Frank, Arthur Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology (2010)
Bakhtin, Michel The Dialogic Imagination
Habermas, Jurgen Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (1992) Polity
Arnett, Ronald C. et al Communication Ethics, Literacy: Dialogue & Difference (2009) Sage
Benhabib, Seyla The Claims of Culture: Equality and diversity in the global era (2002)
Zygmunt Bauman Postmodern Ethics (1999) Blackwell
Lois McNay Against Recognition (2008) Polity
Kwame Anthony Appiah The Ethics of Identity (2007) Princeton
What is Cosmopolitanism?
For the Ghanian-American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of Strangers ( 2006)) it is a ‘universal concern and respect for legitimate difference’ (Appiah,2006:xv). For the Swedish anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (in Ulf Hannerz Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places.( 1996) it is ‘a mode of managing meaning’ ‘ a willingness to engage with the other’. ‘It entails an intellectual and aesthetic openness toward divergent cultural experiences, a search for contrasts rather than uniformity. ……(It is) a state of readiness: an ability to make one’s way into other cultures, through listening, looking, intuiting and reflecting (Hannerz: 1996: p103). For the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (who is at the forefront of sociological writers in this field) we have arrived at the ‘cosmopolitan moment’ as an emergent and distinctive feature of modernity: ‘the human condition has itself become cosmopolitan’. We live with the ideas that ‘local, national, ethnic, religious and cosmopolitan cultures and traditions interpenetrate, interconnect and intermingle – cosmopolitanism without provincialism is empty, provincialism without cosmopolitanism is blind’ (Beck Cosmopolitan Vision 2006:p7). For the British sociologist, Robert Fine, cosmopolitanism is bound up deeply with international law and human rights. Indeed, cosmopolitanism is both ‘a determinate social form’ which ‘reconfigures’ a whole sphere of (potentially contradictory) rights as well as being a ‘form of consciousness that involves an understanding of the concept of cosmopolitanism and a capacity to develop the concept in imaginative and reflexive’. He sees it as both outlook (a way of seeing the world) and a condition ( an existing form of the world) (In Cosmopolitanism p 111, 134.) Finally, for the influential US feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum, it raises the issue of a ‘decent world culture’ and a world moral community:
If our world is to be a decent world in the future, we must acknowledge right now that we are citizens of one interdependent world, held together by mutual fellowship as well as the pursuit of mutual advantage, by compassion as well as self interest, by a love of human dignity, in all people, even when there is nothing to gain from cooperating with them. Or rather even when we have to gain the biggest thing of all: participation in a just and morally decent world. Martha Nussbaum Frontiers of Justice 2006: p324
What is the significance of Human development, Human Flourishing and Capability Theory?
Severine Deneulin with Lial Shahini eds An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach. 2009 Earthscan
On Martha Nussbaum and Capabilties:
Martha Nussbaum (2011), Creating Capabilities; The Human Development Approach. Harvard University Press.
Séverine Deneulin with Lila Shahani (eds) (2009), An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach, available online at ca/en/ev-143029-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Shiv Kumar (eds) (2009), Handbook in Human Development, Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Amartya Sen (2009), The Idea of Justice, London: Allen Lane
Sabina Alkire (2002), Valuing Freedoms, Oxford University Press
Martha Nussbaum (2000), Women and Human Development, Cambridge University Press
Amartya Sen (1999), Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press
Amartya Sen (1992), Inequality Re-examined, Oxford University Press
Ingrid Robeyns (2011), “The Capability Approach”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/capability-approach.
Ingrid Robeyns (2005), “The Capability Approach: A Theoretical Survey”, Journal of Human Development 6(1): 93–114.
Sabina Alkire (2005), “Why the Capability Approach”, Journal of Human Development 6(1): 115–33.
Martha Nussbaum (2003) “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice”, Feminist Economics 9 (2–3): 33–59.
Sabina Alkire (2002), “Dimensions of Human Development”, World Development 30 (2), 181–205.
Amartya Sen (1993),” Capability and Well-Being”, in M. Nussbaum and A. Sen (eds.) The Quality of Life, Oxford Clarendon Press, pp. 30–53.
Martha Nussbaum (1993), “Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach”, in M. Nussbaum and A. Sen (eds) The Quality of Life, Oxford Clarendon Press, pp. 242–69.
Amartya Sen (1989), “Development as Capability Expansion”, Journal of Development Planning 19: 41–58, reprinted in: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and A.K. Shiva Kumar (eds.) (2003), Readings in Human Development, Oxford University Press, pp. 3–16
Amartya Sen (1988), “The Concept of Development”, in Behram and Strinivasan (eds.) Handbooks of Development Economics. Elsevier: North-Holland, pp. 3–23.
There are also web sites that provide entrances:
Web Sites on Humanism, Human Flourishing and Common Grounds
Human Development and Capabilities Association (HDCA) https://hd-ca.org
“is a global community of academics and practitioners that seeks to build an intellectual community around the ideas of human development and the capability approach, and relate these ideas to the policy arena. The association promotes research within many disciplines, ranging from economics to philosophy, development studies, health, education, law, government, sociology, and more. Our members live in over 70 countries worldwide
Search for Common Ground: Understanding differences, working on commonalities
“Founded in 1982, Search for Common Ground works to transform the way the world deals with conflict – away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving. We work with local partners to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies’ capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities. Using innovative tools and working at different levels of society, we engage in pragmatic long-term processes of conflict transformation. Our toolbox includes media production – radio, TV, film and print – mediation and facilitation, training, community organizing, sports, theater and music. We promote both individual and institutional change and are committed to measuring the results of our work and increase our effectiveness through monitoring and evaluation. We currently work in 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.”
Do the ideas of Rights and Dignity have an important role to play in sociology?
Fagan, Andrew The Atlas of Human Rights 2010 Myriad
Morris, Lydia ed Rights: Sociological Perspectives 2006 Routledge
Freeman, Michael Human Rights 2002 Polity
Ishay, M.R. (2004) The History of Human Rights: From ancient times to the globalization era, California: California University Press
Ishay, Micheline R ed The Human Rights Reader ( 2nd ed 2007 Routledge)
Lukes, Steven ‘Five Fables About Human Rights’ in On Human Rights ed Stephen Shute and Susan Huxley (1993: Oxford)
Kay Schafer and Sidonie Smith Human rights and Narrated Lives: The ethics of recognition (2004) Palgrave
Ken Plummer Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues (2003)Washington
What is a Good Life?
See Lisa MacFarquhar Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity
See also my thoughts on this book:
It is the story of ‘extreme do – gooders’, obsessed altruists who push their lives to ‘moral extremity’, wanting above all to solve the world’s problems in a directly practical way – and to be a good person. They shun worlds of comfort, self indulgence and money, and engage with an extreme ethical commitment that means they must do good above all else. They show little interest in anything other than maximising their behaviour to have a good impact on the world. This ‘driveness’ largely come out of childhood experiences, and often religion. They lack the ability which most (?) of us seem to have to shut out the unbearable sufferings of the world- so we can just get on with our own life! Yet whilst these people face many difficulties, they are sort of happy. I wondered as I read the book if this was perhaps the start of a new field of enquiry: the sociology of ‘goodness’?
Larissa MacFarguahar is a journalist at the New Yorker and her book constructs intriguing third person accounts throughout – bringing her seemingly extraordinary people alive in their complexity; and at the same time she weaves through the book a much wider reading of the philosophers, social scientists, self help advocates and novelists who have been critical of such a stance of the world. It all makes for compelling reading.
Let me sample some of the key unusual and maybe uncommon people who tell their stories in this book. Here is Aaron who devotes his life to animal’s rights and has done a great deal to reduce the sufferings of chickens in the world. Here is Dorothy originally a nurse and now in her mid-80s, who has devoted her life to women’s health and midwifery in Mulukuku, Nicaragua. Her former husband, Charles, was impressed by Ghandi and had devoted his life to peace protests. (He also devised a scheme called the World Equity Budget (WEB), which allowed him to calculate, and live on, his fair share of the world’s wealth: $12,000 a year). We meet a couple, Sue and Hector, who adopt some 20 children, many with profound disabilities and troubled lives. They face one problem after another, but have no reservations at all about doing this. There’s Baba, a risk taker if ever there was one, who found a leper colony in India (and tests his son’s courage by sending him to fetch water at a well where a tiger has been heard roaring. And then there is Kimberley, a devoted church goer, who ends up as a missionary in Mozambique. She donates a kidney to a stranger, even as her act inspires hostility from others. And then there is the Buddhist priest in Japan who counsels people who want to commit suicide only to have them turn on him in his hour of need.
The book takes its title Strangers Drowning from Peter Singer’s ideas on ‘effective giving’, and charity as a purely rationalistic, utilitarian act. Human beings are really morally required to reduce the suffering of others in the most effective ways they can. Hence: if you saw two groups of people drowning – your mother, and two other people, who would you save? Saving your mother has less value than two other people. For me this is a non-starter as an ethical puzzle: I would save my mother. But not so for Singer – and most of the people in this book- for whom a refined moral calculus depends upon a highly rationalized counting system.
Of course, the big issue is whether will go along with this long standing tradition of rational utilitarianism, developed by Jeremy Bentham; and Peter Singer has to be the major and most well known of modern proponents. But this view raises a lot of problems. To start with, what might the world look like if everybody did these extremes acts for others, forsaking their own? As MacFarquhar puts it so pointedly: What would the world look like is everyone thought like a do gooder? (p300). This world would be a very different place from the one we live in now. Indeed it is hard to imagine. In part this is because the human problems of suffering and poverty etc would no longer be here; if the problem is solved , what is to be done? And partly because the very thing we take to be humanity – the muddled, vulnerable, frail little animal – would be no more. Suffering and dealing with problems is actually a key feature of our very humanity. A world where everything gets solved in one way only would not be a very human world.
Life in a Day
Page 234 : Inspirations? New Approaches? Looking Ahead?
And so to end with: here are some writings, talks and ideas to get you talking about where sociology is heading…..
John Holmwood Re-Imagining Sociology after the public University
Universities in Crisis: Markets V Publics
Max Haiven Crises of Imagination and Crises of Power
Max Haiven and Alex Khasnabish The Radical Imagination (2014)
David Beer Punk Sociology (2014) Palgrave
David Bollier Think like a commoner: A short introduction to the life of the Commons (2014)
To hear what the idea of the commons see, click
Listen to the sociologist Roberto Unger who sets an important image of what sociology could become:
His critique is mainly of economics but he argues it applies to all the social sciences.