"Sociologists Without Borders" a misnomer? (1)

António Pedro Dores*

(brief of discussions) 1) It is not rational to mix political and professional toughs as being a continuum, as if there were not different issues, different ways of reasoning and different opportunities to act. Society differentiates professional, scientific, political, family, sport and other social spheres of social influence and social behavior.

2) Aneta, as other colleagues, will to change the world in a better place. This is OK. They hope (wrongly) sociology can do that. They know sociologists they know won't to that. They solve the contradiction between their won will and reality they experience in a non scientific way: they force the reality they dream of to become real and the people who do not fit with it, they are bad people, false people. That is why they look for "real"and "true" sociologists.

3) This kind of wishful thinking has been used by XIX century positivism. And it continues to be used today, in sociology. Mainstream sociology support modernization, which is today a panglossian theory. That is why Risk society becomes a famous concept. Many things are falling apart (including social theory). What means to be in favor of modernization? It means to be neo -liberal form the left, supporting the façade of Social State does not contain any more no solutions for the social problems.

4) This kind of wishful thinking, in politics, support terrible social secrets, such as Gulags and genocides and ethnic transportation to other territories and ecological disasters and political failures and corruption.

5) As professionals of sociology we must support priority to social issues (not psychological or economic ones). Of course, we can - as a citizen - be against that kind of priority. The problem is: why a sociologist should be attracted to SSF to support inside priority to psychological or economic themes? Why s/he would not go to discuss the matter with economists without borders? Or why the question of disciplinary priorities is not discussed openly instead of being brought only at the end of the discussion?

6) My feeling is that sociology needs to free it self from inferiority complex facing economics, politics and other more important sciences. Or sociology will dye of fear of being attacked, instead of fighting back. This is crucial: to go forward sociology needs to believe (as Durkheim teaches us) that moral issues are crucial when it comes to profound structural changes, such as we are living these days.

*Professor auxiliar at the Department of Sociology of ISCTE, Lisbon University.


David Fasenfest said...

While there is much to agree with in Antonio's post I want to draw some distinctions:

1) there are political systems and then theoretical approaches...Gulags are gulags no matter who and I fear there is a conflation of socialism and extremism in this reference. That the former SU failed, and indeed has done some terrible things, does not by itself damn socialism.

2) While Durkheim tells us that society must be moral, it is Marx who argues that the way in which a society organizes itself both politically and economically drives the social relations--which in turn reinforce the political and economic moments. That is why so many focus on what Antonio calls the economic--and I think rightly so. Regardless of what kind of state (and perhaps the left has been very weak in defining what a progressive or as Antonio calls it a social state should look like) we cannot speak of changes in the social realm without also changing the economic and political realms at the same time.

3) there is a danger when engaging with the other social "sciences" because they have achieved that status in large part because of a shift to extreme empiricism. Sociology moves in that direction but things remain messy. I do not think there is much to be gained by seeking this status other than increasingly meaningless analyses of minor things...counting legs on the bees does little to help us understand how the hive works!

4) where I agree is that it is a mistake to assume "professional academics" qua academics can act like doctors in MSF...we pay a professional price if we leave for two years to practice (never mind what that means) in some other place--at best we have a grant, or perhaps sabbatical and unpaid leave, but the work we do is not connected to our "professional" lives. But we can engage in politics of change where ever we are--to return to Marx, the purpose is not to understand society as much as it is to change it (though, we need a theory of what sort of society we hope to create).

aneta said...

I am strongly convinced that sociology in general and SSF in particular should work to make this world a better place for everyone. In my view, sociological research, theory, and teaching should all be conducted with this objective in mind. I do not think that our desire to change the world through sociology is a blasphemy. On the contrary, I do not see what the purpose of gathering knowledge about society could be, if this knowledge were not to be utilized to improve its functioning? (What would be the purpose of learning about the properties of antiseptics, if we were unwilling to use them to fight infections, and instead continued to apply dung and mud to wounds?)

I always find it puzzling when people say they are committed to human rights, but are not interested in changing the underlying economic structures. If we agree that human rights include the right to work, quality healthcare, education, clean air, water, and so on, how can one expect to successfully extend these rights to everyone without changing the structures that contribute to their violations in the first place? We endlessly work to reform capitalism forgetting that integral parts of this system (pursuit of profit, private property) are directly responsible for the problems we try to eradicate. We should keep this simple fact in mind when deciding on our future plan/s of action. The longer we continue to treat the “fever” (as David has put it) and the more successful we are at it, the longer the “infection” itself will remain hidden from our view, and the longer it will continue to undermine all our efforts.

Antonio maintains, if I understand correctly, that our scholarly interest in economy and politics is a sign of our “inferiority complex”, and that economic and political questions should be left for economists and political scientists. I disagree. Research has shown time after time that economic and political issues are EMBEDDED in social structures and that social relations affect economic and political activities – hence their relevance to sociology. The denial of this will only push us backward instead of moving us forward as a science. Likewise, all attempts to separate the disciplines will only contribute to a false view of society, and ultimately impair our attempts to change it. Instead of isolating ourselves and fighting for our “turf”, we should reach out to scholars in other disciplines who share our goals.

Finally... I think that the main problem we face as an organization today is that while most of us are critics of capitalism, we seem to lack a viable plan for our future economic system. Most of the existing proposals, as far as I know, are based on the assumption that economic activities can only be integrated through the market or through central planning. I am convinced there must be other ways to organize the economy. I think it is important that we challenge ourselves to move beyond this dualism in our thinking and work.

Our efforts to create a better society are not quite the same as the efforts of our 19th century predecessors. We have the advantage of 100-150 years of knowledge construction. More importantly, we not only have more empirical knowledge about capitalism, but we also have direct knowledge about state socialism – something they did not have.

Ali Tayefi said...

The main question on the mission of SSF is that who are we and what are differences of SSF with other sociologists and sociology associations? I tried to offer a draft to answer that:

1. Theoretical approach (internal-subjective function). SSF ers is the academic and critical assembly which their core duties are critic any conservative theories and schools in the sociology and ever social theory and they debate many discussion and establish some courses to teach radical and critical sociology for their audiences.

2. Trade union approach (internal-objective function ). SSF ers are sociologists who want to defend their colleagues in the world without any borders from geographical, national, political and working or studying aspect to religious, ethnic, class status and gender division ones! This approach is now under force by the resolution and other ways.

3. Social alliances approach (external-subjective function). We all SSF ers, as I understand that, have come together for some common values: resistance against neo-liberal globalization, peace, social justice between people, and strengthening of civil society in front of government and etc. Therefore our duty has value grounds and biases and I think it is inevitable. In the globalization process, SSF and other without borders are the unavoidable reflexive and trans-borders organizations which can alliance with other TBOs in the other disciplines and fields.

4. Social issues approach (external-objective function). SSF ers are sociologists who want to walking and watching on the borders to propound and beware all international ORGs and NGOs about social issues and problems whether at present or in future such as massacre (Darfur), hunger people, women and children smuggling, discrimination against immigrants, minorities, militant abuse of children, oppression of intellectuals and freedom activists, censorship, digital abusing and etc. In this approach we can use some Medias to broadcasting our protest and warning or recalling to alliance.

In finally, I think we can get all of above orientations, but as Rodney told we are drop, although we can ripple ocean, and we must be preference them. As I want to prefer are 2 and 4!

Judith said...

Sociologists should occasionally, in my view, spend some time in the trenches. Otherwise our consciousness and conscience become sterile. We cannot be organic, public intellectuals from our university offices.

But another question: When we make the military obsolete, as we must, do we advocate a universal public service obligation where all citizens devote a year or two on public projects - e.g., restoring a wetlands or housing construction in poor neighborhoods?

Aram said...

this discussions are so interesting. I saw your blog in the first time and I like that be cause of my favorite discipline on the sociology. Really how is the ralation between sociology and human rights or other applied acts?

APD said...

Dear Dave,

Let's talk about morals and economics.
1. Adam Smith economics was full of morals and political considerations. It was not technical and aseptic economics we have today at schools for producing professionals. Why it changes so dramatically. Hirshman (Albert O. Hirschman (1997) As Paixões e os Interesses, Lisboa, Bizâncio.) gives us an answer: because it is different situations if we are fighting for our rights or we are in charge. And when bourgeois entrepreneurs take State political power in their favour, what was morally wrong before becomes less wrong today and what was morally right becomes less urgent. That is why bourgeois economics becomes free of morals discussions.

2. Nevertheless, the modern economic sectors are full of moral issues. Take the biggest sectors, such as trafficking guns, people, drugs, oil or pharmaceutics. Depending on regulation mechanisms and politics (and media and social understanding of what is going on) it is possible to organize very different ways of regulating and controlling warms these economic activities do to ordinary people and to the State government institutions autonomy of judging and accessing their own performance.

3. It is possible for people to control better the economy morals? Yes, of course, as the history of nuclear industry can show us.

4. Why people do not do it more often? Because it lacks the spirit and the nerve needed to take it through. It lacks morals; the same morals are out of academic economic questioning and even sociological mainstream questioning.

5. Why economics and sociology put morals out of their reasoning? Because they give priority to spread their institutional power, as disciplines, providing good (amoral) professional to work without moral questioning at the different economic sectors. The same do working class and families: locking for jobs, they do not care about business morals.

6. There is no economics without morals. Giving priority to economics means to underestimate moral issues. For instance, arguing that war is needed to preserve “our” way of life, meaning our western political superiority that warrantee we can continue to explore other lands under other´s formal political control. Other way around, arguing that Gulag is a bad thing but SU was under political and military attack and it grow GDP and they have to preserve their way of arranging socialist economics, what makes the experience half bad and half good.

7. That kind of reasoning (priority to economics) is dominant and makes sense to defend conservation of what is going on. It is used by neo-liberals and communists as one (is not it funny?).

8. At big corporations, in order to adapt to anarchic social and economic environment (network economy, casino economy, flexible economy, globalization economy) they use philosophers to develop strategic management blueprints. At lower levels, QI has been changed by emotional intelligence psychological tests. Meaning they want to control the moral resilience of people to stressing information and experiences. Exoterical and new wave social interaction techniques are doing succefully to relax and to help people to change their moral behaviour faster and faster, adapting to every “strange” situation.

9. IBM, for instance, is developing a big world wide research program on Service Sciences that joins together technical, economics and social scientists in order to design universal service products concepts adaptable to every culture around the world. They have the experience of working transnationally and they know that it is very important to present (and hide) themselves to each kind of culture (media produced moral ambience) to prevent boycotts and to develop selling proposes.

10. Big business gives priority to morals (and finance) and public economics gives priority to technical and abstract parameters? What that means? That means (as it happens before bourgeois takes power, XVII and XVII century) oppositions elites (as dominant elites) argues morally but working people do not understand what is at steak. That is why it is so important, at the moment, to control media and why main function of media is to produce public fear of any social change. What kind of power will tell people, in order to attract voting, that things are getting worse and we do not see how to get better: so, please, accept living worse and worse?

11. That is why I approve Judith reasoning when she says that capitalism is not compatible with Human Rights developments. That is why I do not approve any kind of socialist program that do not care about moral issues and justice issues in special. For me, priority to economics is many times (nor always) an excuse to not considering human dignity. Human dignity is my main concern, since it is easy to say when it is broken and is not so easy to say what is a good political plan to subvert capitalism.

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