Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Critical Nexus or Pluralist Discipline? Institutional Ambivalence and the Future of Canadian Sociology

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Critical Nexus or Pluralist Discipline? Institutional Ambivalence and the Future of Canadian Sociology

Article excerpt

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY arguments over the years for enhanced transdisciplinary scholarship that moves beyond the limits of traditional disciplinary borders (Klein 1996; Wallerstein 1996). At the same time, there have been arguments for more politically engaged research practices, in which sociologists might better connect with the publics they serve and strive to bring about progressive social change (e.g., Burawoy 2005). These ideas were creatively brought together by William Carroll (2013), who argued that sociology should embrace its potential as a transdisciplinary "nexus" of ideas in the wider social sciences and humanities, guided by the philosophical foundation of critical realism, to solve pressing social problems of the twenty-first century. We consider this argument and provide a two-pronged critique; first, of the unquestioned virtue of transdisciplinary knowledge, and second, of the narrow emphasis on critical realism. This critique enables us to present an alternative vision for sociology that is intellectually diverse, yet often caught in the tensions of competing and contradictory roles and demands that result in a state of "institutional ambivalence" (Merton and Barber 1976). (1) By taking these competing pressures seriously, we argue that a more realistic institutional strategy of knowledge production in sociology can be achieved.

Inspired by Michael Burawoy (2005), we sketch out four different and competing institutional aspects of knowledge production in sociology, and highlight each of their functions and pathologies when taken to the extreme. These include the tension between (1) interdisciplinary versus discipline-based research, (2) political versus analytical scholarship, (3) professional versus public/policy sociology, and (4) local/national versus global audiences. Envisioning the future of sociology requires understanding these conflicting pressures and the trade-offs that accompany the resultant institutional strategies. Too much of a strategic push to any one side of these continuums at the expense of the other will lead to problems. We argue that recognizing the ambivalence of our discipline and keeping these conflicting strains in tension is the best way forward at both the individual and collective levels of our field.

More importantly, reflecting on the institutional ambivalence of sociology enables us to develop an alternative model for integrating the discipline that is not rooted in any particular philosophy of science, political ideology, theoretical paradigm, or methodological approach. The sociology we have in mind is built around a pluralist commitment to intellectual diversity, respecting the "chaos" that ultimately drives our research forward and reshapes the intellectual parameters of our field over time (Abbott 2001). To maximize the value of this intellectual diversity in content we must push for increased knowledge integration through convergent institutional norms in form. To enable this, a balanced and transparent reward structure is necessary to assure professional competence, fair standards of practice, enhanced knowledge integration, and credible scholarly and public communication. We outline what this might mean for sociology in a more global and universal context, as well as for how we do sociology "here at home" in Canada. We conclude with a set of guidelines for how to best reward the diverse forms of research we do given the complexities and trade-offs identified throughout.

SOCIOLOGY AS A CRITICAL NEXUS

Drawing on Immanuel Wallerstein's (1996) argument for "opening the social sciences," William Carroll (2013) argues that unlike the natural sciences, the social science disciplines are not demarcated from their neighboring disciplines because they reflect natural reality, but are instead politically and socially constructed. In brief, empirical reality consists of a variety of ontological levels, starting from the level of basic physical laws, and moving to higher, emergent levels that cannot be reduced or explained fully with reference to the level below. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.