katrina quisumbing king
University of Wisconsin
The 11th annual Junior Theorists’ Symposium met a day before the ASA Annual Meeting. Composed of work presented by graduate students and recent PhDs, JTS brought to light some of the most exciting theoretical work currently underway. The Junior Theorists’ Symposium is sponsored by the Theory Section, as part of the section’s mission to support scholarship in social theory within the discipline. This year, we were generously hosted by the Université du Québec à Montréal.
For the past eleven years, JTS has provided an opportunity for early career sociologists to share their creative works-in-progress. Junior scholars receive feedback from and enter into conversation with both established theorists and an engaged audience. Through this one-day symposium, scholars sharpen their contributions and refine their works-in-progress.
As with previous years, we did not set a predetermined theme, but chose discussants to set a general tone for the symposium. One of our main criteria for discussants was breadth of theoretical and research interests, in order to allow for a wide range of submissions to fit JTS. At the same time, we recruited discussants who have pushed the boundaries of what has classically been considered ‘theory.’ The considerable experience each of our discussants has had on the editorial board of various journals provided additional value to their conversation with the presenters. Richard Biernacki (UC San Diego) works on culture and labor, on ethnicity, and on research methods in sociology, as well as on classical and contemporary theory. He is on the boards of the European Journal of Sociology and the American Journal of Sociology. Raewyn Connell (The University of Sydney) covers a broad range of topics in the sociology of knowledge, gender, social movements, education, and global north-south relations. She has served as Senior Editor at Theory & Society and as editorial board member of numerous other journals. Julian Go (Boston University) conducts empirical and theoretical work on colonialism and post-colonialism, and has contributed to theorizing global fields and their effects on politics and culture. He edits the journal Political Power and Social Theory and sits on the boards of several others. Together, our discussants offered a broad umbrella for different types of theoretical papers.
After a breakfast of Montreal bagels from the famous St-Viateur, Pablo Gaston (UC Berkeley) started us off with a paper called “Conflict and the Moral Economy: The Moral Dilemmas of Economic Conflict in California Hospitals, 1946-1974.” Gaston examined how moral orders influence contentious practices, using historical data on nurses strikes, demonstrating how moral order constrains contentious practices and how practices can, in turn, rework moral constraints. Till Hilmar (Yale University) continued the discussion of morality with his paper, “Knowing what it’s like: Theorizing Moral-Economic Reasoning and Notions of Deservingness in Newly Capitalist Societies.” Hilmar used theory in social memory to add a temporal dimension to the notion of moral economy, thereby helping to account for the ways actors perceive economic agency and answer questions like who is responsible for economic success or decline, how should one conduct oneself economically, and what lessons should be drawn from past experience. Allison Ford (University of Oregon) then presented her paper “Self-sufficiency: Emotional-Cultural-Material Trajectories of Environmental Practices,” in which she theorized the emotional and cultural underpinnings of environmental practices. Using theory in the sociology of risk and cultural sociological theory, she pointed to the central role of strong feelings and their cultural interpretation in support of certain environmental practices over others, resulting in material changes to individual and household practice. Richard Biernacki provided elaborate comments on these three papers, noting that all three authors aimed their theorizing at naming mechanisms that existing literature has missed.
On our second panel, Paige Sweet (UIC), in her paper “Ideology, Bodies, and Trespass between Feminist Theory and Critical Realism,” argued for a confrontation between feminist theory and critical realism. She suggested that both paradigms would be improved by theorizing ideology as part of social ontology by considering the interactions between social context and social ontology. Eric Royal Lybeck (University of Exeter) traced the historical origins of the social sciences in German legal science in his paper “Ajuridstiction and the Fragmentation of Academic Sociology.” Lybeck offered that ajrudistiction explains sociology’s status as a “remainder discipline.” Finally, Michael Roll (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presented his paper “Movement Emergence in Weak-State Contexts: Peripheral Spaces and Vigilante Movements in the Global South.” Roll used interviews and anthropological accounts from Peru and Nigeria to argue that analysis of yet-underexplored vigilante movements can offer analytical insights for the study of mobilization. Raewyn Connell approached each presenter and paper as an advising session, asking them critical questions on their empirical claim and providing suggestions for sharpening their theoretical contributions moving forward.
Following lunch, Ricarda Hammer (Brown University) opened the third panel with her paper “Decolonizing the Civil Sphere: History, Colonial Difference and the Promise for Inclusion.” Through analysis of Algerian petition for French citizenship, Hammer argued for the decolonization of theories of the civil sphere. Amanda Shriwise (University of Oxford) continued the consideration of transnationalism in her paper “Field Theory and Welfare State Regimes: Moving Beyond the Domestic.” Using foreign aid for welfare as an example, Shriwise illustrated how national welfare state regimes contribute to the emergence of global fields of aid. Finally, Ben Merriman (University of Kansas) closed by asking how fields emerge. In his paper, “The Violence of Party: On the Role of Honor Culture in the Genesis of Political Fields,” Merriman used the case of duels to argue for the extension of field theory. Julian Go encouraged the analytical shifts made by each presenter and also asked generative questions intended to sharpen the contributions of each critique.
We followed the tradition of organizing an after-panel, which we called “Theory, the Good Society, and Positionality.” We invited Gabriel Abend (NYU), Seth Abrutyn (UBC), Hae Yeon Choo (Univ. of Toronto), and Claire Decoteau (UI-Chicago) to explore how researchers’ social and academic positions shape their views about the good society, and how those views might be reflected in their theoretical assumptions and claims. Even though explicit theorizing about the good society has been left, by and large, to philosophers, sociologists do harbor ideas about the social good that are often left implicit in their work. Our aim with this panel was to bring to light these implicit assumptions and their relationship to theorists’ own identities. The panelists shared different perspectives on this topic – Gabi Abend invited us to consider the logical underpinnings of a conversation about theory and ethics; Seth Abrutyn drew on research that ranged from ancient Israel to modern-day teenage suicide; Hae Yeon Choo asked us to recognize the contingency of our social positions and to reflect on how this shapes our work; and Claire Decoteau shared insights on the topic from her research on vaccine resistance.
Next year’s JTS will be organized by by Allison Ford and Linsey Edwards. JTS will be held on Friday, August 10 at the University of Pennsylvania (see the official call in this issue). Advance donations, which will greatly help in organization efforts, can be made to the juniortheorists@gmail account on paypal. We would like to thank the community of Junior Theorists--past, present, and future--and the Theory Section for continued support. We hope to see you in Philadelphia!