Book by: Julian Go
Timothy M. Gill,
In his excellent new treatise, Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory, Julian Go places sociology in dialogue with postcolonial theory and pursues an explicit aim of reconciling the two. This no easy feat; as Go points out, “social theory was born from and for empire, post-colonial thought was born against it” (p. 1). Yet, despite sociology’s imperial origins, Go argues that the solution is not to sideline the discipline—or social science more broadly, as some postcolonial scholars have suggested. Instead, he believes individuals can repurpose the sociological enterprise by taking inspiration from postcolonial thinkers and overcoming the epistemological, methodological, and onto-logical deficits that continue to distort the field. What is more, he argues that postcolonial thought remains premised upon a sociological minimalism and can, likewise, renew itself by more directly engaging with social theory.
Although sociology has largely become the progressive poster-child of academia, the discipline indeed possesses imperial origins. Not only was sociology birthed during an aggressively imperial moment within Europe and the United States (the mid-to-late 1800s), but many of the discipline’s progenitors championed imperial endeavors. Franklin Giddings, for instance, received the first full sociology professorship in the United States and served as president of the American Sociological Society. Giddings believed that sociology should, in part, concern itself with “rule over alien peoples.” Other prominent sociologists of the day maintained similarly imperial visions, including Charles Horton Cooley and Lester Ward.
Sociology and Postcolonialism, Where Are We Now? A Review of Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory, by Julian Go
Newtonianism lurks every-where in social science today. Most forms of conflict theory and political realism, whether in sociology or political science, are Newtonian, as is analytical sociology’s theory of mechanisms, processes, and networks. For Wendt, these familiar features of the discipline rest on a flawed ontological foundation, one which does not adequately measure, interrogate, and wrestle with the quantum foundations of social life, such as the sentience, sociality, and spontaneity of human beings equipped with the faculties of consciousness that Wendt calls “quantum mind.”