Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

From S11 to September 11-Implications for Sociology

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

From S11 to September 11-Implications for Sociology

Article excerpt

Prior to September 11, the year 2001 had been marked by mobilizations and action against corporate globalization, which had accelerated following the actions against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in November 1999. July saw a mobilization of some 150,000 people against the meeting of the G8 in Italy, and there was an increasing sense that emerging globalization conflicts represented the development of new forms of social movement culture and action (McDonald, 2002, forthcoming). In Australia, this movement was evident in the s11 blockade of a World Economic Forum regional meeting at Crown Casino in Melbourne on 11 September 2000, involving some 10,000 people.

Twelve months later the Twin Towers were destroyed. Their destruction confronts us as sociologists, as everybody else, with the reality that we are living in a new context. But it is not obvious that the discipline of sociology can offer us concepts to attempt to explore this new world, whether it can help us in the struggle to name what is happening. In the period immediately following the destruction, the language most widely used to attempt to make sense of what was happening was essentially the language of politics. The unintelligibility of the event seemed framed by the language of the `clash of civilizations', with its themes of conflict and distance between civilization unities (Huntington, 1996). Critics of the response of the American government also adopted a political language--Noam Chomsky (2001), for example, argued that terrorism needed to be understood as a response to and a product of United States foreign policy. The matrix to understand these events was the language of states and their strategies of power.

The response of sociology, by and large, was one characterized by silence. At one level this may represent a recognition of the seriousness of the issues at stake, and the fragility of our interpretative tools. But, in the context of the extraordinary social demand for ways to think about what happened and its implications, the capacity of the political language of Huntington or Chomsky to engage in public debate contrasts with the general reticence of sociological analysis, to an extent that we need to ask whether our discipline possesses interpretative tools, no matter how fragile, that are capable of constructing meaning out of the chaos of the events of September 11.

Sociology emerged in the context of European modernization, and has been wedded to models of social evolution that are a product of western modernity. These models have structured the major debates around which sociology has been organized, such as the opposition between Functionalism and Marxism, while social evolution has arguably been the language of movements of critique within the discipline as well, as in the case of feminism.

Social evolution in fact meant westernization. And in a sense this was the paradigm of the 20th century: it was the lens that we could use to make sense of decolonization, the emergence of nationalism as a modernizing ideology, and the rise of the modernizing state (see Touraine, 2000). The collapse of the Berlin Wall saw a reassertion of this idea in the work of Francis Fukuyama, for whom the extension of globalization and the market leads inexorably to democracy and westernization. In a sense, much of the anti-globalization movement could be read as an extension of a global paradigm.

The events of 11 September 200i underline the anachronism of the model of social development associated with Fukuyama's `end of history'. But do they also point to the anachronism of sociology, to a discipline that increasingly finds itself in a world that it does not understand?

Sociological approaches to terrorism

In the 1970s it could be argued that terrorism was an extension of state action, an instrument to achieve goals that could not otherwise be achieved. …

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