You may have noticed we've completely redesigned the Theory Section website. Please let us know how you like it in the comments!
Greetings! We write to introduce ourselves as the new editors of Perspectives. This is an exciting time to be a member of the Theory Section, and we look forward to continuing the great work that Claire Decoteau and her predecessors did in making Perspectives into a vibrant hub for theoretical discussion. We’re also working to find new ways to make the newsletter more interactive and engaging for our membership, and in this letter, we lay out our plans for making that happen, including a new online format for accessing newsletter content, efforts to create and sustain dialogue, and a preview of this issue's great content.
A New Format
In concert with the launch of the completely redesigned section website, we have teamed up with our new section webmaster, Neha Gondal, to introduce a new format for the newsletter. Inspired by “early-access” models which roll content out in advance of print publication, we will now deliver the newsletter in both a traditional compilation version, and also online. This new format will allow us to provide for embedded content, subject searching, real-time publishing, and online commenting, all of which we hope will contribute to a vibrant and engaging dialogue. In addition, our online format will contain direct links to authors’ new publications for easy access.
Sustaining and Supporting Dialogue
One of the opportunities we hope that this new format will permit is greater discussion and dialogue about theory within our section. One of our goals during our term is to build conversations from one issue to the next, between section leadership and section membership, and between faculty and graduate students. To this end, we plan to emphasize certain content over our tenure as editors.
First, we hope that if you find an article in this or any subsequent edition of Perspectives particularly compelling, inspirational, or problematic, that you will consider writing something in response. You can comment immediately on each piece in our new online format, or submit more extended thoughts as stand-alone essays for future issues. We aim to prioritize this kind of intellectual dialogue, to make Perspectives a forum for friendly exchange and debate on topics of interest to the section. Of course, we continue to welcome and solicit content from all section members on a wide range of topics—this is, after all, how these dialogues get started!
Second, we encourage contributions that build upon the stated theme for the year from the section chair. In this issue, you can read Andy Perrin’s “Note from the Chair," in which he lays out three different kinds of theory—“theory of,” “theory and,” and “theory for,”—and considers their distinct and complementary functions within our section. Perrin’s piece calls on us to reflect on what it is we are theorizing, and how our theories speak to the interests and concerns of other sections. We would particularly welcome essays that take up this theme for the Spring 2015 issue.
Third, we hope to use Perspectives as a forum to help integrate graduate students into the life of the section. In the spring issue, we will continue the tradition of presenting “dissertations in the pipe” to present the promising theoretical work being conducted by graduate students. We also encourage graduate students to get in touch with us, to propose reviews of recent books of interest to the section. We also plan to incorporate a new dialogue feature that puts graduate students and senior scholars into conversation with one another. We thus particularly welcome graduate student contributions, and look forward to the intergenerational dialogues that will ensue.
This issue, we devote the bulk of our newsletter to the Junior Theorists’ Symposium. As Jordanna Matlon and Dan Hirschman describe in their review of the event, this year’s symposium drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Berkeley campus and treated attendees to a thematically diverse program that demonstrated the breadth and power of sociological theory to illuminate the social world. The Symposium will be held again next year: see the call for papers.
This year’s Symposium concluded with a lively and thought-provoking afterpanel on “The Boundaries of Theory,” and we are pleased to include several of the panelists’ contributions in this issue of Perspectives. Claudio Benzecry's essay queries how sociological theory in the United States bounds itself against theories from other disciplines and other countries. Tracing these boundaries to scientism and provincialism, he calls both for provincializing the American case and for recovering the lyrical and aesthetic in sociological theorizing.
Julian Go's essay inquires into the boundaries of the theoretical canon, and asks why theoretical traditions such as feminism, queer theory, and postcolonialism are so often excluded from our conception of “theory.” He traces this exclusion to misperceptions about the generalizability of those theories, on the one hand, and to misunderstandings about the objectivity of “theory” itself, on the other.
Stefan Bargheer's piece asks what makes a text “theory,” and argues that this classification inheres not in the text itself so much as in how it comes to be used by sociological audiences. Noting that many of our most cherished “theories” were once viewed as mere empirical contributions, he argues that sociological theorists should read more broadly beyond the conventional boundaries of “theory” in search of theoretical insights that might enrich their own work.
After you read Bargheer's piece, submit your own suggestions for your favorite theories by use and theories by design.
Which other ASA sections are the most theoretical? Vote now.
Finally, Margaret Frye's essay considers why certain subdisciplines are more likely to be seen as “theoretical,” and argues that these differences reflect the degree to which the baseline assumptions of those subfields are stable or contested. She argues that a reassessment of the theoretical presuppositions of “crystallized” subfields might help make them more central to the development of cutting-edge sociological theorizing.
We hope you will find both the form and content of this fall’s newsletter stimulating. We look forward to your feedback, and wish you all a wonderful holiday season.
Erin Metz McDonnell & Damon Mayrl