Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Modernist Radicalism, Postmodernization and Orderings: The Work of Stephen Crook

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Modernist Radicalism, Postmodernization and Orderings: The Work of Stephen Crook

Article excerpt

Stephen Crook's work reflects its early influences. Indeed, while in middle career he moved away from his original position, then came full circle and returned to it at the end of his career.

As in the case of many theorists, Crook began his career as a philosopher, taking an honours degree in philosophy, but like at least one great theorist he discovered its poverty and moved on into sociology. He did a DPhil with Barry Sandywell at York and his first publication was co-authored with the new criminologist, Laurie Taylor (Crook and Taylor, 1980). That paper focused on the work of Goffman and it tried to find in Goffman's frame analysis a route between two apparently incommensurable methodological paradigms. Tracing that route was a theme that repeated itself throughout his opus. The first paradigm is the descriptive study of everyday life. At the time of writing, the 1970s, the main theoretical movement in descriptive study was ethnomethodology. The second methodological paradigm is the unhappy cold war then taking place between grand theory and radical empiricism. Within this conflict Crook was particularly focused on grand theoretical meta-narratives and their political implications, including functionalism and Marxism. He was later to call these two paradigms mundaneity (atheoretical studies of everyday life) and foundationalism (general theorizing on the basis of a single central explanatory principle).

Finding a way between mundaneity and foundationalism became the basis both for Crook's own methodological position and his substantive sociology of advanced societies. Within this, he retained a young-Marxian insistence that sociology should be a radical project. It should be a project aimed at remaking, at least reforming, but possibly restructuring society, if only in a piecemeal fashion. He retained that commitment throughout his life and career.

In tracing out these themes, I want to identify three related phases in his career. Crook would not himself identify these as phases--I am employing them as a heuristic that allows us better to understand the work.

The first phase might be described as the statement of methodology. This can originally be found in the DPhil written in the late 1970s and then completely rethought, rewritten and republished as a book called Modernist Radicalism and its Aftermath. The book was published in 1991, but it was fairly long in the gestation so it was really a product of his original work on the DPhil even though it was published much later. We can call this the 'York' phase.

The second phase of his work is the period in which he diagnosed advanced society and culture. The key work is Postmodernization on which he collaborated with Jan Pakulski and Malcolm Waters (Crook et al., 1992). The book, though not its title, was originally conceived by Crook-Pakulski and Waters were invited into the project. This phase also includes the important empirical work on environmentalism in collaboration with Pakulski and Bruce Tranter. We can call this the 'Hobart' phase.

The third and most undeveloped of the phases is that which focuses on the future of society and of sociology. Here he introduces a new master term 'orderings'. We can call this the 'Townsville' phase.

We can now examine these phases in detail. We begin with the York phase, the phase in which Crook introduces the crucial term, post-foundationalism.

The York phase

In Modernist Radicalism (1991) Crook poses two positions that correspond with the paradigms outlined above. The first position is foundationalism. In foundationalism the analyst works on the basis that he or she has direct and privileged access to a self-evident truth. The theorist assumes or theorizes that ordinary people in everyday life do not have access to that truth and only the sociologist is privileged to have such access. Crook's primary example of foundationalism, somewhat surprisingly, is found not in the work of Marx but in that of Durkheim, particularly the work on social facts. …

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