Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

The Missing Memory of Canadian Sociology: Reflexive Government and "The Social Science."

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

The Missing Memory of Canadian Sociology: Reflexive Government and "The Social Science."

Article excerpt

THE MODEST LITERATURE ON THE development of sociology in Canada focuses on the entry of a named discipline into the academy. It pays little attention to the active process through which disciplines are made, despite the fact that sociology was and remains an unstable way of carving up a larger field of epistemological, ontological, and methodological practices and assumptions (Carroll 2013). That larger field was known to earlier practitioners as "the social science," and it was visible in colonial Canada from the early nineteenth century. By attending to the social science, this article provides a richer account of sociology's Canadian lineages than is commonly done.

I begin with an overview of the Canadian literature, and then sketch the general development of the social science. I outline and exemplify three of its interrelated dimensions in colonial and early post-Confederation Canada: first, inventory-making, which involves activities and techniques of classification, categorization, observation, recording, and representation. Reflection, especially on large-scale inventories, often leads to the emergence of abstract concepts, among them, "population," a foundational concept for the social science and sociology. The second dimension, thinking in terms of population, leads both to the emergence of new phenomena (e.g., what are later called demographic facts, part of the novel reality of "the social") and lays the groundwork for various forms of political policy formation and practical intervention in social relations and conditions. Among the practices anchored in population-thinking is "reflexive government," a self-critical moment in liberal democracy where state servants draw upon the social science to address questions of why, to what ends, and by what means government should be conducted. Reflexive governmental activity commonly extends the social science.

THE HISTORY OF SOCIOLOGY IN CANADA

In the existing literature, Canadian sociology is treated as a foreign import whose local roots were planted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century concerns of Social Gospel and Social Catholicism with misery and degradation in the industrial capitalist city. Canadian secular and religious intellectuals, the story goes, adopted European and American theoretical tenets and the practices of the social survey movements to document urban conditions and to agitate for reform. Eventually, the social service departments of Protestant churches and the supporters of Social Catholicism managed to establish university footholds, and the teaching of sociology was institutionalized. The story is augmented by accounts of American capital using McGill University to probe Quebec society, the organization of a Sociology Department at Laval in 1943, and the 1960s "liberation" of sociology at Toronto from immersion in political economy (Campbell 1983; Fournier 2014; Hiller 2003, 1982; McKillop 2003; Shore 2003, 1988; Warren 2003, 2004, 2009).

Accounts differ somewhat on the timing and substance of these developments. On the one hand, R.J. Brym and B.J. Fox (1989) have suggested that, while there were some sociological currents as early as the 1890s, "the first major sociological research project in the country" was a Rockefeller-funded study of unemployment in Montreal in the 1920s (p. 17), and it was only after the 1960s that sociology came into its own. By contrast, Rick Helmes-Hayes' (2016) examination of the relations among Protestant sects, Social Gospel, and university teaching provides a catalog of the many sociology courses taught, and of the professors teaching them, in Canadian colleges from the late 1880s. He insists that the religious concerns of Social Gospel do not disqualify its teaching as "sociology." In the Quebec case, J.-P. Warren (2003, 2009) holds that the adoption and subsequent modification by Leon Gerin and his circle of the investigative methods of Le Play and de Tourville from the late 1880s qualify Gerin as a "father" of French Canadian sociology. …

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