University of Notre Dame
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important collection. I am really pleased to have had a good excuse to make reading all these essays my highest priority, and I learnt a lot. It’s great to feel a little bit closer up to date to than I can usually claim.
The goals of the collection are to introduce and map the field of major theoretical traditions currently in circulation, to offer reflection about limitations and directions to proceed from within each tradition, and hopefully to create a platform for dialog and debate (2). I am going to focus my remarks on the first and third of these goals, as more feasible to address in brief remarks. It is impossible to do justice to the particularities of each of the many excellent chapters: suffice it to say that they do indeed offer critical introductions and articulate new lines of inquiry within each of the perspectives they address, and they will be influential for that.
Still, there is something alluring about this problem. This is, partly, rooted in my biography. I came into American sociology steeped in the study of meaning. Like many products of Israeli academia, I read more Bourdieu and Foucault than was probably good for me. I also arrived committed to ethnography, and to a study of interaction and experience. This was a matter of intellectual conviction, but probably more so of aesthetics. I conducted an ethnography of New Age in Israel and realized that I felt most alive when I try to make sense of the fleeting, reconstructing social worlds from the minutiae of interaction. I was thus lucky to get into UCLA for graduate studies (it was also the only program where I was accepted). Working with Jack Katz, Stefan Timmermans and Mel Pollner, I got a healthy dose of interactionism and ethnomethodology. More importantly, they helped me transform a philosophical proclivity for pragmatism and phenomenology into the tools of a working sociologist.
To observe and document this social phenomenon – hidden beneath ideological layers of masculinity and the private family – Ferrato unavoidably finds herself between the reality and its representation, literally at the nexus between the subjects and their mirror images. Ferrato is located multiply in this encounter – she is an observer of the events, she is commanding the method of documentation (the camera), she is intervening in the situation by documenting it, and in so doing she finds herself permanently placed in the center of her representational project. Like any photograph, these tell us both more and less than what is there. We cannot see the context of this man’s violence, for example, or the vulnerabilities in the woman’s social situation, or her negotiation tactics and options for escape. Even Ferrato’s exit plan is unclear to us. What we can see, though, is something typically invisible to us: the place of the analyst in the representation.
This year, as in past, admission to JTS was highly competitive. We received 107 précis for only 9 slots. We were surprised by the diversity of interpretations of what it means to ‘do’ theory. Not only that, we received many methodologically innovative papers. As it is the mission of JTS to provide a space for critical engagement, we chose papers that were not only theoretically informed, but explicitly aimed to extend, critique, or add precision to how we understand the social world. Our chosen presenters grappled with phenomena that existing theory does not seem to cover.
August 10, 2018
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Letter from the Chair (Hall)
Breaking Down the Iron Cage (Chen)
It's the Political Economy, Stupid (Pacewicz)
What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution? (Swedberg)
Ethnography and Theory (Shestakofsky)
ASA Section Sessions