For the past two years, I have been having an on and off conversation with my colleague Christopher Muller on the topic of solidarity, a concept made salient by recent political shifts in the US and throughout the world . Metaphors of societies infected by pathological organisms, fraying at the seams, imploding from the center, or on the verge of erupting into open conflict easily fill our disciplinary imagination as we try to make sense of the contemporary social and political environment. Our times feel unusually precarious and unpredictable, roiled by economic and technological disruption, widespread defiance and divisiveness, and shifting power plays across the globe. What is it that will hold individuals and groups together in the future?
Sociology has, until now, managed to skirt many of the messy academic realities that Anthropology was forced to face, given its position as the academic discipline devoted to studying ‘the Other’. Sociology, which defined itself as the discipline that studied ‘modern societies’, escaped scrutiny precisely because of how colonial structures of knowledge positioned it vis-a-vis Anthropology. And yet, this day of reckoning is finally here. Sociology must also face whether, how, and to what extent its interpretive frameworks, core analytical categories, methods of analysis, and data have been impacted by the colonial encounter.
Larissa Buchholz reviews Andy Clarno's Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994 (University of Chicago Press - 2017).
Andy Clarno’s book Neoliberal Apartheid is not an obvious choice for me to write about . I am a sociologist of culture and my work engages with the dynamics of cultural production and art markets in a global context. I am not a specialist of the political economy of the Global South, let alone, of South Africa and Palestine. Nonetheless, through my substantive global research, I have developed a strong interest in what I call transnational/global theorizing. After years in which global and transnational sociology has primarily focused on the critique of methodological nationalism, we need more work that interrogates the distinctive challenges and strategies of constructing concepts and theories across borders per se in-depth. It is from this angle, that is, the angle of transnational/global theorizing, that I want to discuss Andy Clarno’s book.
To foreshadow my argument, I would like to suggest that Clarno’s book offers us an exemplary study of how comparative and global analysis can be articulated to pursue a unique path to concept formation—which George Steinmetz and Phil Gorski have discussed under the heading of a “real type,” which they contrast with Max Weber’s well-known “ideal type” .
In Neoliberal Apartheid, I analyze political-economic restructuring in South Africa and Palestine/Israel since the early 1990s . When I present my research, someone in the audience usually comments that the analysis could apply to the place where they live or work. More often than not, the person is an activist or politically-engaged scholar. They express a sense of familiarity, a recognition that the dynamics reshaping social relations in Johannesburg and Jerusalem are not entirely different than the dynamics in Chicago, Los Angeles, the US-Mexico border, or southern Europe. When the book was released, a scholar/activist in the Bay Area read the title and exclaimed: “Finally someone wrote a proper book about San Francisco” .
Theory for the Dark ages
But soon I start backtracking. It would be an irresponsible move, I reason –a disservice to my students, who are expected to know this stuff. Any new choices would be just as arbitrary as the old ones, and after teaching them for so many these years I have grown fond of these writers. And so, I tone down my radical fancies. I make some additions on account of personal curiosity, student interest, intellectual fad, or the urgency of events. But making room for incoming authors by dropping syllabus fixtures is a painful process. I have trouble letting go of my past infatuations, even as I embrace new ones.
SEEING THE WORLD: HOW UNIVERSITIES MAKE KNOWLEDGE IN A GLOBAL ERA
Perspectives editors sat with Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss to discuss her new book Seeing the World: How U.S. Universities Make Knowledge in a Global Era (with Mitchell Stevens and Seteney Shami - Princeton UP). Their book draws on interviews with scholars and university leaders to understand how international research is perceived and valued across American social sciences.
Perspectives Editors: Your book on area studies and the social sciences foregrounds the distinction between context and decontextual work. Could tell us about the sorts of institutional practices that sustain this separation between the contextual work and theoretical social science?
Cynthia Miller-Idriss: Sociology, out of the disciplines that we studied, was the wariest of international contextual work. The debate is often framed as “this deep rich context is not worth it, if it’s done overseas” unless you can relate it back to the U.S. I think that the discipline of Sociology has clung to its core interests for good reasons. It really is oriented around race, gender, social class, and it has been for really long time focused on these key issues of inequality. That’s core to the discipline and always will be, but for some reason that I don’t fully understand myself even though we’ve tried to trace it in this book, that interest in inequalities doesn’t really extend to inequalities outside of the U.S. in a systematic way. In terms of labor markets and publications, Sociology does worse in terms of how much time and energy it devotes to regions outside of the U.S. According to the department chairs that we spoke with, in part because they believe that the market demands it, they don’t believe that students should spend their time on it - a self-fulfilling prophecy in some way. They believe that unless you already have the language -if you come in already speaking it, that may be a different story- that you’re never going to get good enough in the language while in graduate school or on the tenure track for that to be a good investment of your time. One of the department chairs said that he could never in good faith even recommend that an undergraduate starts taking Mandarin, because Chinese sociologists will just run circles around any Americans sociologist who tries to study China.
Letter From the Chair
ASA Virtual Sessions
COVID Should Make us Rethink...
Junior Theorist Symposium Schedule
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