Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Whither the Future of Canadian Sociology? Thoughts on Moving Forward (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Whither the Future of Canadian Sociology? Thoughts on Moving Forward (1)

Article excerpt

There is no crystal ball or scientific formula to allow us to conclusively predict how things will turn out for the discipline of sociology in English Canada over the next several decades. We will just have to discuss the issues, hopefully with evidence and professional civility, while waiting to see how things turn out in our lifetimes. The debate that has been playing out in response to Curtis and Weir's "The Succession Question" essay in Society/Societe, Robert Brym's critique of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (CSAA) in the Canadian Journal of Sociology (CJS), and my own "Canada's Impossible Science" suggests both good news and bad news lies ahead (Brym 2003, Curtis & Weir 2002).

The discussions I have been involved in over the past couple of years with many scholars around the country have been inspiring. While it is obvious that a number of Canadian sociologists are not particularly pleased with some of my views, conversations with scores of others suggest to me that there is real support for new directions for the discipline. Some of the responses to my essay in CJS give me new optimism. The essays authored by Baer, Warren, and Johnston, in particular, raise important analytical questions we can debate with evidence, reason, and a common commitment to our craft. It is clear that there are many scholars in Canada who care deeply about the institutional health and intellectual vibrancy of sociology. Our future holds opportunities as well as challenges.

At the same time, the relative lack of professionalism central to our problems is evident in the tone and quality of some of the interventions in the debate. There is empirical evidence suggesting that we do, in fact, face a potential "crisis" despite the self-serving pep talks recently published in CJS. My response will address elements of the discussion that lead to both optimistic and pessimistic predictions, build on constructive criticism, and discuss three central issues raised that move us forward in positive directions: the question of national sociological traditions, how to determine excellence in scholarship, and the larger normative context of the debate. What does it mean to be a Canadian sociologist, who gets to decide how our standards are set, and what is the larger social purpose for our collective enterprise? I will conclude with eleven specific suggestions for the future.

Let us start with the bad news, focusing on whether or not Anglo-Canadian sociologists have something to worry about. We are told that there are important structural realities undermining disciplinary practises and professional associations throughout the contemporary academy. In contrast to my perspective, a number of scholars suggest that any problems in Canadian sociology are no worse than ones faced by Canadian political science, history, or economics, or in sociologies in other nations. We are seeing institutional transformations in our universities, changes that are leading to more and better interdisciplinary knowledge production. We live in the best of all possible worlds, suggest some of my critics.

Is there really anything to be concerned about? In answering this question, focusing exclusively on the CSAA would be a mistake. The health of the association and professional meetings for any discipline will ultimately depend, if I can draw on a perhaps outdated but still useful terminology, on a material base created by strong departments and tenure-stream hiring. A vibrant professional association is ultimately the result of a discipline's healthy institutionalization within a research university system not a cause, even if we can do many things to improve the CSAA. Tenure stream hiring at the most prestigious PhD-producing institutions is an indicator of such health, since this plays a pivotal role in the inter-generational reproduction of disciplinary research programmes. A discipline that is producing and hiring its own young scholars is in a good institutional position. …

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