Legacy for a New Millennium: Canadian Sociology in the Twentieth Century as Seen through Its Publications

Article excerpt

A millennium change is in many ways an arbitrary division of history for the first day of the new century was hardly different from the last day of the old one. Nevertheless, the fact that we do divide time into precise segments gives us the sense of beginnings and endings and commonly identified units of history. The rarity of a millennium change in most people's life course elevates the importance of closing one era and beginning a new one for divisions of time have always been important units of analysis.

There are two basic responses to this kind of calendric change. One is to look forward and speculate about the future. The other is to look backward and to review accomplishments, failures, or turning points. Sociologists as a professional group and sociology as a discipline have not been exempt from such ruminations. The American Sociological Review (65:1, 2000), for example, does not normally publish thematic issues but its editors felt that the new millennium warranted a special examination of the state of society (rather than the state of sociology). Contemporary Sociology (29, 2000), on the other hand, ran a year long symposium on the state of sociology and its future. The British Journal of Sociology (51:1, 2000) took yet a different tack in arguing that the new millennium represented a social-material transformation which marked a definite break in the development of human societies and which provided new challenges and opportunities for sociology which they attempted to explore in their special issue. Sociology (34:1, 2000) focused particularly on developments in British society and then reflected on what these developments meant for the discipline. Sociologie et Societes (32:1,2000) celebrated thirty years of publication as a journal and decided to debate how the changing environment was changing the practice of sociology in Quebec. And yet still another contrast is found in Acta Sociologica (43:4, 2000) which celebrated the pioneers and classics of the last millennium in Scandinavian sociology. In each case, the dawn of a new century stimulated discussion and debate about the past and the future, and attempted to assess and evaluate the meaning of the present moment in societal and disciplinary terms.

Another publication using the new millennium theme is entitled Sociology For The Twenty-First Century edited by Janet L. Abu-Lughod (1999). The goal of this book was to report on the "continuities and cutting edges" in sociological thinking in North America, and I was struck by this explicit geographical reference to North America as though sociology there displayed its own unique character. In this volume, selected sociologists based in Canada and the United States (there is no representation from Mexico) discussed important sociological ideas and themes but with little sense of how these discussions would be different from sociological work in other parts of the world or how national or continental contexts shaped that sociological enterprise. Of striking interest, there was little awareness of the sociology of sociology in which Canadian and American contexts actually might make a difference. While intellectual globalization may have much in common with economic globalization, the globalization literature has reaffirmed the role of the local and national in these broader processes (sometimes referred to as glocalization) because this is the context where life is lived. Thus while global forces may erode some national powers, nation-states are still significant containers both for social action and as a unit of analysis. Sociological thought may cross international boundaries but the shape, character, and form of sociological research will always be influenced to a considerable degree by issues of local/national significance. The appropriate question might be then, what issues gives sociology in Canada its unique character and how might we assess its accomplishments and its evolution at the millennium change. …