University of Virginia
It has been an honor to serve as Chair of the Theory Section over the past year, but it surely has been an unusual experience: by the time the Chair-elect takes on this position, my job will have been fully virtual, bookended by two online ASA meetings, and consisting exclusively of virtual engagements—from email announcements to zoom meetings. This will not surprise any of you, as academia as a whole has moved online for the duration of the pandemic. And I am tempted to add, perhaps this is just a harbinger of things to come—as we rethink our carbon footprint, consider equity of access to conferences, and negotiate the increased role of technology in our research and professional lives, among many other things, virtual engagements will be here to stay.
But, much as I enjoyed this opportunity to focus our attention on a set of analytical questions pertaining to crisis, one of responsibilities that comes from serving as Chair is to keep the section going, so to speak—to provide the theory community with a sense of continuity and ongoing engagement. And to this effect, I want to highlight one such element of continuity: a new initiative that Theory Council first, and a smaller working group later, have been discussing and preparing over the past few weeks—a survey of our members’ pedagogical approaches to graduate seminars in classical theory, that I hope we will be able to launch before the beginning of the ASA meetings, and then analyze and discuss during the fall. The idea for a survey of how classical theory is taught springs from ongoing conversations about the canon and its exclusions that emerged in the context of racial justice protests last summer. The survey will be a means of collecting data on our teaching practices—who do we include in our syllabi? How do we contextualize classical sociological insights? How do we teach/contextualize/reframe (or reject) the canon? How do we think about canonization? There will be questions to assess the degree to which our syllabi have changed in the wake of last year’s mobilization; and to get a sense of the institutional aspects of teaching theory—how does theory fit in the broader graduate curriculum? What does the teaching of theory look like in different departments? I hope you will participate in this exercise—it will be both a moment of collective self-reflection, and a way of better fleshing out and appreciating our multiple ways of teaching theory, gaining systematic insights on the state of our pedagogy. And, if the exercise is successful, this is perhaps something the Theory Section will repeat in the future, focusing on different courses, undergraduate classes, or other aspects of interest to our community. I’ll send out more details soon in an email announcement. I look forward to “seeing” many of you at the ASA and I hope you enjoy this new issue of Perspectives.