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Discipline, field, nexus: re-visioning sociology.

FOR SOCIOLOGY, THESE may be both the best of times and the worst of times. Sociology's identity is in question, if not in crisis. The questioning is wide ranging and multifold. It extends from sociology's claim to disciplinary coherence, through concerns about the integrity of sociology's putative object, to the very question of the value of sociological knowledge. The question posed by Robert Lynd (1939) in the Great Depression--knowledge for what?--has in the hands of Dorothy Smith, Michael Burawoy, and others been conjoined to the question "knowledge for whom"--for ruling elites and ruling relations, for subalterns excluded from power; for mainstream publics and radical counter-publics?

Sociology's crisis has been variously described; indeed, "crisis" has been a recurrent metaphor in reflections on sociology (Hollands and Stanley 2009). Craig Calhoun (1992), writing two decades ago, characterized sociology as an "archipelago of poorly connected islands of specialization" (p. 25), and the concern about sociology's internal coherence has only grown in the years since. Donald Levine (1997) considers sociology to be in a state of "pluralistic confusion." For Jack Porter (2008:xx) the decline, and possible death, of sociology issues from sources that include a "disciplinary fragmentation" through which sociology has become polycentric, lacking in any centered core. Some writers observe that, beyond its internal challenges, sociology faces a decreasing demand for its knowledge (Brante 2001) due to the decline of the welfare state, the rise of postfordist fields such as interdisciplinary applied social studies (Holmwood 2011) and even a "rebiologization of the social world" embraced by strands of ecological and neoliberal thought (Fuller 2006:5, 138).

For John Urry (2000), the crisis arises out of the increased mobilities afforded by globalization, which decompose sociology's traditional object--the bounded society--casting the discipline adrift and washing away "the tentative certainties that sociology had endeavoured to erect" (p. 17). Other epochal developments, such as the postmodern expansion of the cultural field, have also been cited as having destabilized sociology's object. For some (Zanotti 1999:451), sociology has become "essentially a postmodern discipline in the sense that it currently emphasizes the study of cultural differences," yet this very tendency is decried by others as a "decorative sociology" privileging the cultural over the social and economic and replacing analysis of social relations with literary-textual readings and esoteric debates about the disappearance of reality (Rojek and Turner 2000:639). The upshot may be that "sociology now lacks a stable research agenda, responding slavishly and uncritically to social change with more and more paradigm shifts in theory" (How 2003:159).

Canadian sociologists differ in judgments of the nature of the crisis and its remedies, and these differences bear directly upon the prospects for sociology in Canada. For instance, Neil McLaughlin (2005) has described Anglo-Canadian sociology as a "dominated discipline" whose subservience to more established fields is reinforced by the sharp competition between the humanities and sociology, itself intensified by the Canadian educational system's institutional flatness. McLaughlin (2005) fears that Canadian sociology could become "a shell of a discipline," whether as a junior partner servicing the research needs of the state, or as "a 'grab bag' discipline with no intellectual coherence or scholarly status" (p. 32). Among the remedies he cites is the creation of "a professionalized critical sociology" constructed through open debate (McLaughlin 2005:25). (1) Joe Michalski (2008), in contrast, mounts a spirited defense of positivism and "pure sociology," purged of politicized rhetoric and of all that is extraneous to "the social": "the individual, the psychological, the ideological, the meaning of the human condition, the subjective goals and ends toward which human actions are believed to be directed, and deconstructive and contemplative interpretations of reality" (p. 541). For him, globalization, far from deconstructing sociology's object, "offers a unique opportunity to develop an exciting, groundbreaking science of social life" (Michalski 2008:526), but such a prospect hinges on sociology's re-establishing a disciplinary core around which a value-free, explanatory, universal science of the social can be developed. Despite sharp differences in vision, McGlaughlin and Michalski share a concern that sociology's lack of internal coherence threatens its future, and an abiding commitment to (re)establishing sociology's disciplinary integrity.

Yet, to come back to our opening sentence, contemporary sociology might also be said to inhabit times of great promise. Sociology's identity crisis may be seen as a microcosm of a world in crisis (Bankston 2008), a world in which the practices of capitalist modernity are failing economically and ecologically, a world of proliferating "failed states," of recalcitrant militarism, social dissensus, and cultural malaise. In these times of crisis, the theoretical and practical insights that can issue from a critical, reflexive sociology are of growing significance. Indeed, as Jurgen Habermas (1984:4) has observed, sociology thrives in and on crisis. After all, crisis disturbs doxa; it denaturalizes social reality, opening space for critical reflection. In its Comtean casting, sociology was forged out of the crisis of postrevolutionary French society, as "industrial society's reflection upon itself" (Bankston 2008:323). It was amid the crisis of the 1930s that Talcott Parsons (1937), in many ways Comte's twentieth-century heir, assembled the conceptual resources for the structural-functional sociology that would, in the United States, help inform New Deal liberalism and postwar technocracy.

What is striking in ruminations on sociology's contemporary crisis and its possible remedies is how little space is accorded to what Mills called the sociological imagination. Close readers of Mills' classic will recall that his vision of sociology was not a disciplinary one. As a bulwark against the liberal practicalities and bureaucratic ethos of his day, he encouraged morally autonomous "intellectual craftsmanship" that would "avoid the arbitrary specialization of prevailing academic departments," drawing upon the full range of ideas, methods, perspectives, and materials "of any and all sensible studies of man [sic] and society" (Mills 1959:225). For Mills (1959), the sociological imagination is what enables us "to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society" (p. 6). Such a transdisciplinary vision might, for those worried about disciplinary coherence, subservience, and the like, be problematic. Yet today, alongside and within sociology, are scholars whose work displays such imagination, who call for a transdisciplinarity (including the participation of extra-academic stakeholders) that can address humanity's interwoven crises (Carew and Wickson 2010; Dickens 2003; Hollands and Stanley 2009; Holmwood 2011; Hoyer and Naess 2008).

More than half a century after its publication, The Sociological Imagination remains a touchstone for practicing sociology in an open, critical, reflexive manner, with an interest in social scientific knowledge from all quarters. But it is not enough to reiterate a half-century old position. One of the key differences between Mills' and our time is that the crisis of capitalist modernity has deepened and become, with globalization, planetary, and recognizably ecological, though spatially quite variegated in its expression. Another contrast lies in the intensification of reflexivity, whether in the political and cultural fields or in the practice of social inquiry. Any vision of sociology's future that does not acknowledge these shifts and their implications is bound to be inadequate.

Here, I will first problematize the claim that sociology is a discipline in any ordinary sense of the term, indeed, that social science can be reasonably cleaved into separate "disciplines" on the model of natural science. I will then explore the more reflexively sociological thesis that sociology and kindred pursuits such as anthropology and political science have been constituted as fields. Finally, I will argue that among the fields of social scientific inquiry, the sociological terrain is of great import, not as a self-contained discipline but as a nexus, a field whose permeability, dense connectivity to other fields and "critical interdisciplinarity" (Holmwood 2011:543) are prime assets. By implication, the remedy for centrifugal tendencies that worry some sociologists is greater clarity on matters of social ontology and, on that basis, a coherent methodology (critical realism) that can strengthen sociology's capacity to understand our troubled world and to defend and enrich practices that may portend a better future.


The disciplines that comprise contemporary social science, and even the boundary between natural and social science, are of more recent vintage than is often supposed. It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, in Europe and North America, that "the distinctive function of the key biology/society, nature/culture, behaviour/action, cause/meaning dichotomies" fully established and legitimated an intellectual division of labor between natural and social science (Benton 1991:9). Within social science, in the account offered by Immanuel Wallerstein and his colleagues (Wallerstein et al. 1996:14), sociology is one of five disciplines that were institutionalized in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, between the French Revolution and First World War--the other four being history, economics, political science, and anthropology. Up until 1945, they were practiced mainly within the five countries of origin and all but anthropology "were largely concerned with describing social reality in the same five countries" (Wallerstein et al. 1996:20), ensuring a Eurocentric parochialism that has not been fully transcended today. Anthropology alone grew up as a by-product of colonialism, employing, with history, an idiographic explanatory lens but training it upon the "people without history" (Wolf 1982), fixed in time, outside of western modernity. Encoded in this five-fold disciplinary division of labor were powerful antinomies reflecting the dominance of imperial core over colonized periphery, past versus present, the philosophical dilemma between idiographic and nomothetic explanation, and the shape and form of capitalist modernity (Wallerstein et al. 1996:95). Sociology, economics, and political science were institutionalized as kindred nomothetic disciplines, focused on the contemporary condition of western modernity and predicated on the assumption that the non-western world was moving along the same tracks.

Auguste Comte coined the term sociology in the 1830s, yet the discourse of a science of society had already been constructed in the latter half of the eighteenth century, by the Scottish Historical School (Eriksson 1993:252-65), in the work of Adam Smith, John Millar, and especially Adam Ferguson, the last of whom developed a rich concept of civil society alongside the political economy of competitive capitalism. In this sense, thinkers foundational to political economy--and thus eventually to both political science and economics--were also foundational to sociology, avant la lettre. What the Scottish School prefigured was an analysis of the core states of the world system in which the three component parts of capitalist modernity's anatomy, recognized by Ferguson and dissected two centuries hence by Urry (1981)--the state, the economy, and civil society--became objects for distinct disciplines. It was in the latter half of the nineteenth century that these disciplines became clearly differentiated as their practitioners staked out separate terrains that would be essentially different from each other, with economics--the most nomothetic and a historical of the three--studying market operations, political science focused on the formal institutions of government and sociology "insisting on an emergent social terrain ignored by the economists and political scientists" (Wallerstein et al. 1996:31).

Although Comte's substantive contribution to the formation of sociology was modest, his wedding sociology with positivism was significant for other reasons. In assigning to sociology the task of uncovering "an invariant natural order, independent of our action, in which our intervention can occasion none but secondary modifications" (Comte [1842] 1974:829), Comte sought to invest the new discipline with absolute authority, as sociologists would discover and proclaim the natural laws governing society. For Comte, the actor's acknowledgement of the authoritative character of sociological laws implied "the necessity of bolstering the social authority of sociologists, which he attempted to do by proclaiming a new religion, even serving a term or two as high priest himself" (Martin 1997:102).

Comte's authoritarian project was never fully realized. At most, sociologists have assumed the role, through applied and policy research, of "advisor to the king," as Mills (1959:180) put it, not as members of modernity's royalty. And if Comte's brief was to take Enlightenment thought in a conservative direction, we can say that Marx, combining Enlightenment thinking with a critical reformulation of Hegelian dialectics, broke a different path: the pursuit of positive knowledge of the social combined with unflinching social critique. In his 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge he announced, as the project of critical social science, "the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be," a project that would contribute to "the self-clarification ... of the struggles and wishes of the age" (Marx 1843). Five years later, just as Comte's General View of Positivism appeared, Marx and Engels published the Manifesto of the Communist Party. From the mid-nineteenth century on, sociology would take shape not only vis-a-vis its companion disciplines within liberal social science, but in tandem with radical movements and thought, most significantly, historical materialism.

As Irving Zeitlin has shown, early twentieth-century sociology, more than any other branch of social science, developed in debate with Marx's ghost. Historical materialism was important both as a source of ideas and as a target for critical intellectual response (Zeitlin 1968:322). But whereas academic social science became segmented into disciplines, historical materialism, located outside of the academy, in movements and parties, did not generally embrace disciplinary divisions, beyond mere matters of convenience in analysis and presentation. Excluded from western European academe until the formation of the Frankfurt School in the brief hiatus of the Weimar Republic, and from North American universities until the openings afforded by the sociocultural transformations of the 1960s and 1970s (Manza and McCarthy 2011:157), historical materialism remained largely on the margins of professional social science. However, its refusal of disciplinary division was hardly a sign of intellectual backwardness. Even as practiced within the academy, historical materialism has shown a skepticism toward disciplinary divisions; many of its key exponents--from Luxemburg and Gramsci through Marcuse and Adorno to Harvey and Jameson--defy such categorization. Marxism's most academic school of thought was from the start entirely interdisciplinary, even supradisciplinary (How 2003:19). Historical in approach and interested as much in psychology, culture, and social institutions as in political economy, the Frankfurt School was driven by the need to grasp the human condition within modern capitalism in its fullness, rather than reproducing, in social analysis, the fragmented character of alienated social relations (How 2003; Jay 1972).

There is, in fact, a tension between disciplinary division and the dynamic, reflexive holism emphasized in dialectical historical analysis. Compartmentalization of knowledge of the human condition into disciplines always risks what Bertell Ollman (1998) has aptly called the Humpty-Dumpty problem:
   After the fall, it was not only extremely difficult to put the
   pieces of poor Humpty together again but even to see where they
   fit, This is what happens whenever the pieces of our everyday
   experience are taken as existing separate from their spatial and
   historical contexts, whenever the part is given an ontological
   status independent of the whole. (P 340)

From this vantage point, the disciplinary segmentation of social science appears not as a progressive development of abstract knowledge but as a fragmentation that may limit our capacity to understand capitalist modernity; and crises such as sociology's may themselves be deeply inscribed in the disciplinary structure itself. Marx's own disparagement of "vulgar economy" was in part an objection to the cleaving of the political from the economic in the mainstream scholarship of his time, a schism (as noted above) foundational to modern liberal social science.

The most compelling example of the fragmented knowledge that results from parceling the human condition into disciplines is the field within social science that is least reflexive about its object, and most committed to nomothetic explanation on the model of Newtonian mechanics. I refer of course to economics, whose language has purged history and elevated to natural law the historically specific dynamics of markets. (2) Nearly a century ago, Georg Lukacs ([1923] 1971) recognized the pseudo-scientific character of such reified thinking, which refuses any problematization of capitalism as a way of life. Among other difficulties, liberal economics, with its abstract equilibrium models, represses capitalism's structural contradictions and its periodic crises. When the crisis comes, as Queen Elizabeth II complained in 2008, (3) the equilibrium models fail--exposing their ideological character. The "science," unwilling to historicize capitalism and to conceptualize contradiction, only works when the system is not in crisis.

If the construction of an a historical nomothetic science of "the economy" has yielded such dubious results, we might ask just what is the basis for dividing the world of science into distinct disciplines in the first place? From Comte forward, a major claim has been that they form a hierarchy of knowledge, building from basic sciences of physical reality to, in Comte's case, sociology as the pinnacle. There is, I believe, a grain of truth in this, yet its ontological premises and entailments need to be clarified, particularly as they affect the status of social scientific disciplines.

Key to such clarification is the critical-realist insight that reality is emergent and stratified, "from the 'bottom up'" (Creavan 2002:135). (4) Let's begin the story at the beginning. Our current knowledge holds that roughly 13.8 billion years ago, the universe expanded from a singularity in a Big Bang, originating space-time and matter/energy. Cosmologists speculate that that in its first instants (during the Planck epoch, up to [10.sup.-43] seconds after inception) the nascent universe operated according to principles quite distinct from general relativity (Coles 2005). Modern physics, in contrast to Newtonian mechanics and despite its remarkable mathematics, employs what is ultimately a narrative account of a singular universe of limited temporal and spatial extension. In recognizing that the universe is finite (though expanding) and the arrow of time irreversible, physics holds that the universe is historical and particular, not universal. It has a reasonably well understood origin, its own current operating principles, and the entities that comprise it (as in the heavier elements, precipitated through nucleosynthesis in stars) are entirely emergent. On this very particular third stone from an ordinary star, some 10 billion years after the Big Bang, physio-chemical conditions developed to support the emergence of life. Life science is about an emergent, historical reality; indeed, all science necessarily entails historical understanding; the objects science endeavors to understand, including humanity, emerge in natural history. Reality is in this sense stratified, with the more basic, simpler levels providing preconditions for the more complex ones that have emerged subsequently (Danemark et al. 2002:203). Each level contains its own entities, including relations, with distinct causal powers or potentialities. Living systems--life forms, ecosystems--need to be understood on their own terms and not reduced to the chemical or physical, yet they are dependent on and function consistently with chemical and physical processes. It is this stratified character that provides the basis for the main disciplinary divisions in natural science (Dickens 2003:99).

The point I want to press here is how different the situation is for social science. All social science is premised upon a crucial ontological emergence--that of Homo sapiens, of labor and language, and of the distinct causal powers--what Marx called species being--we have, within human communities, for conceptual reasoning, reflection, intentionality, symbolic interaction, and creative activity that purposively transforms the world, including ourselves (Archer 2000). It is these unique causal powers that make us transcendent beings and provide the ontological basis for social science.

Other animals cannot liberate themselves and become something new because they lack these powers. People, as language-using, meaning-creating beings, are able to change themselves, their social relations and their environments, and hence are able to transform the ways of acting, relating and thinking they hold at any particular time. This is an essential feature of human beings. (Sayer 2000:97)

Grasping how these emergent features are actualized within human and natural history is integral to any science of the social (Nowotny 2005:17-18). (5)

What is striking, when we compare the major disciplinary divisions of natural science to those of social science, is how the latter refer not to different emergent levels, but to different aspects of a singular, emergent level of reality, the social or human. We might agree with Carol Gould's (1978) ontological reading of Marx that that level includes individuals and their various social relations (cf. Callinicos 2006:186). Thus, the individual did not emerge before the social-relational; they emerged together, dialectically. Indeed, as George Herbert Mead argued, mind, self, and society are continuously involved in a dialectic of co-constitution. (6) Similarly, despite Parsons' grand theoretic cultural determinism (Calhoun 1992:154), culture--the primary focus of anthropology--does not refer to a level of reality, nor do politics, markets, spatiality--the focal points for political science, economics, and geography.

To put things bluntly, what are called disciplines within social science lack a firm ontological basis. There is a category error in the analogy between natural-scientific disciplines, which concern themselves with stratified levels of natural reality, and social scientific disciplines which have formed on the basis of the specific, spatialized, and institutional patterns of capitalist modernity. To be sure, the rise of modern capitalism as a way of life, itself an historically contingent development, did separate system from lifeworld (Habermas 1987b) and, within system, material production/consumption (the economy) from state--creating an ensemble of social relations unknown in precapitalist formations (Marx 1964; Wood 1995). And, as noted earlier, the European colonization of most of the rest of the world--an integral aspect of capitalist development--created the initial conditions for cultural anthropology as a study of the non-European exotic, hinged upon the cultural and separate from the scientific study of "modern" social life--that is, sociology.

Most certainly, the disciplinary categories of social science are doxic--they gain persuasiveness and obduracy as they are continually validated by the practices of a specific way of life, taking on an aura of universality. Yet the segmentation of knowledge to fit the anatomy of capitalist modernity has imposed grievous costs, with regard both to the production of positive knowledge and to the possibilities for negative social critique. I will take up the latter further below. As for the former, the actual processes of social life are continuously breaching the disciplinary boundaries, which is why, in sociology, we find subdisciplines such as economic sociology, cultural sociology, social psychology, and political sociology, why political scientists are increasingly preoccupied with the social movements that purportedly belong to sociology, and why some economists, having reduced human experience to rational choice in the marketplace, believe they can explain the entirety of the human condition on this deracinated model. The problem is not that categories such as "the economic" or "the political" are specious. What they refer to, however, are not levels of reality requiring distinctive theories and methods of analysis, but historically specific facets of social science's object--the human condition, in all its diversity. Any given human phenomenon may be analyzed in terms of its cultural, political, and economic aspects, as well as its history and spatiality, but there is no reason to suppose that real causal mechanisms, at the level of human phenomena, will respect the boundaries social science has erected within itself. In fact, to understand a human phenomenon in its fullness, all these aspects need to be taken into account, recommending a strategy that, within the current state of affairs, is plainly transdisciplinary.

A piece of sociology's crisis, shared with other branches of social science, issues from developments in the latter half of the twentieth century that challenged the lines of cleavage that have constituted the disciplines: the rise of area studies and interdisciplines, the growing overlap among the social sciences, decolonization and the emergence of postcolonial perspectives, and developments in natural science that moved, beyond the Newtonian model, into more complex, nonlinear, and natural-historical formulations (Wallerstein et al. 1996:36ff). To these, we may add the boundary-weakening effects of late twentieth and early twenty-first-century developments on capitalist modernity's anatomy. To telegraph two of the most salient, colonization of culture by the commodity form has blurred the boundary between the economic and cultural (Jameson 1991) while globalizing processes--in eroding national sovereignty and blurring state boundaries--have rendered the received objects for sociology (national societies) and political science (states) less obdurate (Urry 2010). Taken as defining objects for free-standing disciplines, "the economic," "the social," "the political," and "the cultural" increasingly appear as zombie categories (Beck 2003) that social science has unconsciously inherited from past practices.

As Good notes, "discipline" has a double meaning. "Disciplines bestow legitimate authority upon practitioners and submit them to disciplinary procedures when they stray from the fold" (Good 2000:384). Or, most succinctly,

Disciplines discipline disciples. A commitment to a discipline is a way of ensuring that certain disciplinary methods and concepts are used rigorously and that undisciplined and undisciplinary objects, methods and concepts are ruled out. (Barry et al. 2008:20)

The problem, for social science, is that disciplinary procedures that police the borders may actually limit our capacity to comprehend a complex reality that is always social, psychological, political, cultural, economic, historical, and geographical. The result is fragmented knowledge that may be useful for managing and reproducing an institutional order organized around a capitalist mode of production and a state bureaucracy (Habermas' "system"; Smith's "ruling relations"), but that is incapable of informing the transformative practices needed to move beyond that deeply problematic way of life. This is where the deficiencies of disciplinary practice as a means of producing positive knowledge of the social meet the barriers such narrow inquiry erect against negative, critical thinking. In effect, social science gets captured by Comte's positivist project; the capacity to produce negative critiques of existing reality dissipates, as knowledge is siloed into the very reified categories that presuppose, stabilize, and reproduce capitalist modernity. More on this below.

Greater "discipline," then, is not the solution to sociology's (and social science's) malaise; it is part of the problem. Consider Pierre Bourdieu's trenchant critique of the antinomies that (mis)define social science disciplines. A quarter of a century ago, in "Vive la crise" he did not lament the crisis of social science disciplines; he celebrated it. Among the most problematic antinomies, in Bourdieu's (1988) view, were
   the oppositions between disciplines. Take the opposition between
   sociology and anthropology: this absurd division, which has no
   foundation whatsoever except historical and is a prototypical
   product of "academic reproduction," favors uncontrolled borrowing
   and generalization while forbidding genuine cross-fertilization....
   The same argument could be made about the divisions between history
   and sociology, or history and anthropology, not to mention
   economics. I think that the inclination to view society in an a
   historical manner--which is the hallmark of much American
   sociology--is implied by this simple division. (Pp. 778-79)

Why do disciplines persist, when social science should, on strict ontological grounds, be on a trajectory toward integrated inquiry into the human condition? Thinking further with Bourdieu can help provide an answer, and a better comprehension of social scientific knowledge.


For Bourdieu, whose conception owes much to theorists as diverse as Antonio Gramsci and Kurt Lewin, the social consists in an assemblage of distinct though articulated, socially constructed fields of practice, each with its own agents, entry conditions, and social logic. In 1975, Bourdieu advanced the idea that "the scientific field, like other fields, is a structured field for forces, and also a field of struggles to conserve or transform this field of forces" (Bourdieu 2004:33). The same may be said of social science, and of sociology. Within universities, the "gradual institution" of disciplines as "relatively autonomous fields" has been the product of struggles for independence aimed at imposing the existence of new entry conditions and the boundaries intended to protect them (cf. Barry et al. 2008:27; Bourdieu 2004:49-50; Lamont and Molnar 2002:177). The epistemic authority of any discipline rests, in this sense, on the success of "boundary-work" (Gieryn 1999).

In sociology, the most striking instance of boundary work can be found in Durkheim's (1951) Suicide, wherein he established, as a foundational condition for sociology, a boundary between psychology and sociology. (7) The sociological literature on science and boundary work is extensive; here, I can only take up three exemplary investigations, centered on American sociology, which show how the field of sociology was constituted, in the decades bridging the turn of the twentieth century, so that by the 1940s it had acquired the characteristic form of American sociology, and how post-1960s erosion of boundaries began to pose challenges to disciplinary identity.

Michael Evans (2009:19) has examined how early American sociologists, in their quest for scientific credibility, broke the nascent discipline's ties to religious-reform publics and worked to create a "sociological public" that would appeal to academic scientists while excluding religious audiences from participation in sociological debate. Due to the efforts of a small group of actors, "by 1920, 'sociology' had emerged in American universities as the scientific study of society conducted by academic specialists committed to objectivity and scientific method, able to draw on an institutional base, organized into a professional association, and represented in print by a flagship academic journal" (Evans 2009:7). Evans' study shows that as boundary-work delimited the "sociological public" it also established the boundaries of sociology. A century later, the question of sociology's publics has been reactivated, as an indication of the unsettled character of the field itself.

As sociology's public was being constructed, the boundary work of a few key academics--Franklin Giddings in sociology, Franz Boas in anthropology, James Cattell in psychology, and Henry Moore in economics--primarily at Columbia University--set the stage for "the sweeping movement to quantification in the 1915 to 1930 period" (Camic and Xie 1994:797) by giving Columbia a lead over rival universities in statistical methodology, considered at the time to be the model of scientific practice. Determined to cultivate this reputable scientific identity, University administrators recruited quantitative researchers, supported their statistical work, "and thus effectively established statistical methods as the model of legitimate scientific research for later thinkers in sociology and economics" (Camic and Xie 1994:797).

As a third instance of foundational boundary-work, the border between sociology and economics, and the importance of economic sociology as a field spanning that divide, has been interrogated by Geoffrey Hodgson (2008), among others (see especially Clarke 1982). It was only after theoretical interventions in the 1930s by Talcott Parsons (1937) and Lionel Robbins (1935) that a new consensus was established concerning the identities and boundaries of sociology and economics.

Basically, economics resolved to concern itself with the rational choice of means to serve given ends, and sociology with the explanation of the social origin of those purposes or ends.... Neither economics nor sociology defined themselves in terms of distinctive and mutually exclusive sets of objects of analysis. Instead, the subjects were separated in terms of core concepts and approaches to analysis. Economists would emphasize individual rationality. Sociologists would emphasize the roles of structures, culture and values, (8) (Hodgson 2008:136)

The disciplinary division between Parsons' structural-functionalism and Robbins' marginalism survived with little challenge until the 1970s, but subsequently broke down, without any new consensus forming. As terms such as "economic" and "social" have lost clear boundaries and meanings "there has been widespread trespassing by practitioners from each discipline on territory formerly occupied by the other," and any clear demarcation between "sociology" and "economics" has disappeared (Hodgson 2008:146). For this very reason, Hodgson (2008) sees economic sociologists as positioned to challenge obsolete disciplinary boundaries, opening the prospect of "a less compartmentalized and more unified social science" (p. 147).

The boundaries that construct social science disciplines are not only fragile; they vary in their porousness. In some fields, such as sociology, "entry conditions, measured in academic terms, are very low," in comparison with natural science (Bourdieu 2004:47), contributing to a relatively weak autonomy, and extensive heteronomy within. Yet apart from difficulties in securing the boundaries, social science, and especially sociology,

have an object too important (it interests everyone, starting with the powerful), too controversial, for it to be left to their discretion, abandoned to their law alone, too important ... for them to be granted the same degree of autonomy as is given to the other sciences and for them to be allowed the monopoly of the production of truth. (Bourdieu 2004:87)

Sociology's difficulty in creating and maintaining a strong, autonomous field whose products are widely recognized is not in any simple sense a failure of sociologists themselves. Indeed, Bourdieu (2004) held that sociology is condemned to be contested and that
   sociology is socially weak, all the weaker, no doubt, the more
   scientific it is. Social agents, especially when they occupy
   dominant positions, are not only ignorant, they do not want to know
   ... (P. 88)

a statement that exactly characterizes the position of Canada's current federal government.

Yet against the forces that subvert disciplinary identities, the fields of contemporary social science are nevertheless stabilized vis-a-vis each other by forms of cultural and structural cohesion; and if (as we have seen) the cultural axes of cohesion have been eroding there remains a social structure that serves to reproduce the fields through credential systems dictating disciplinary labor markets (Abbott 2001:140). Structurally, the fields stabilize each other, within faculties and departments, as each protects its turf, advances its own language, literature, and techniques and produces credentialed labor power for itself and for "applied" fields. Neoliberal governance has only intensified disciplinary rivalry, muting possibilities for breaking out of siloes as each unit competes for funding under increasingly market-based conditions (Hoyer and Naess 2008:205).

There is, to be sure, a hierarchy in the way these fields articulate with applied domains. Economics and psychology mesh closely with instrumental needs associated with accumulation and social reproduction; in functional terms, they produce the technicians that fine-tune capitalist modernity's machinery on an ongoing basis. Sociology's products, however, are rather more suspect; indeed, as Bourdieu (2004) suggested, the more scientific sociology becomes--in the sense of reflecting fully on its object the more its products (including credentialized sociologists) may pose problems for the smooth functioning of that machinery, and the weaker sociology appears as an authoritative discourse. Sociology may adopt all the procedural trappings of a discipline---the closure around peer review, specialized techniques and language, and so on--yet it remains essentially contested in its claims, especially as they challenge ideological positions in which dominant institutions and agents are heavily invested.

Thus, while it may be correct to characterize sociology as a "dominated discipline" (McLaughlin 2005) and the sociological field as heterogeneous, porous, and lacking in the autonomy enjoyed say by physics, the problems seem to run deeper. Sociology's putative object--"the social"--lacks a clearly delimited institutional referent within late capitalist modernity, raising the perennial question: what in instrumental terms, is sociology good for? Moreover, "the social" is penetrated, indeed co-constituted by "economy," "politics," "culture," and so on. From a disciplinary standpoint, "the social" appears as a residual category--what is left over once we factor out the economic, political, and other aspects of the human condition (Magnusson 1992)--bereft of grounding in any particular institutional reahn. (9) It is hardly surprising that sociology, euphemistically termed a "multiple paradigm science" (Ritzer 1980), appears as a bricolage, a cobbling together, an unruly "discipline," a collection of formulations about an indistinct object, increasingly susceptibility to "hollowing out" as its contents are pulled onto new interdisciplinary fields such as cultural studies, or as sociological researchers working within state-targeted areas (e.g., health) and other emergent "communities of practice" (Lave and Wenger 1991) discover that they have more in common with fellow researchers than with fellow sociologists.

If, however, the disciplines of social science lack deep ontological bases and are increasingly at odds with emergent realities, if "the economic," "the social," "the political," and "the cultural" are zombie categories that reproduce, in discourse, a reified capitalist modernity and that impede a full comprehension of the contemporary human condition, might it be that sociology's unruliness, and its promiscuity in continually breaching its own indistinct borders, offer resources for developing a more adequate knowledge of the human condition and its possibilities? Might sociology be positioned at the nexus of contemporary social science's fields, and could this be why some of the most significant, wide-ranging formulations in social science have come from sociology--from Habermas' (1984, 1987b) and Bourdieu's (1990) remarkable theoretical syntheses in the 1970s and 1980s to Wright's (2010) real utopias project today?


Ironically, the very features that make sociology such a dubious, unruly discipline, such a weak field--its porous boundaries, its unclear focus and sprawling interests, its theoretical and methodological heteronomy--make it the nexus that social science desperately needs. The need will only grow as already well-advanced processes of late capitalist modernity such as commodification of culture, colonization and politicization of lifeworlds, time-space compression, globalization, and climate change further erode the historical bases for narrowly disciplinary knowledge of the human condition.

Once we acknowledge that the boundaries that fragment social science are barriers to good science, to comprehensive, reflexive knowledge, we begin to see the field of social science as a relational network which is becoming less clustered into disciplinary cliques as transdisciplinary initiatives (some of them state-driven, some driven from within, some from below) proliferate. We are able to recognize the structure of the field as rhyzomic rather than hierarchical on the Comtean model, and to find virtue in sociology's permeability and in the many spaces it shares with other fields of social science. All this positions sociologists as potential leaders in the move toward a transdisciplinary social science.

Yet, as we have seen, the practices that discipline social science are caught up in formidable struggles for authority. Thus, even as the bases for deceptively pristine "disciplines" are progressively eroded, scholars rooted in disciplinary identities worry that their chosen field, and perhaps social science as a whole, will be robbed of the claim to veridical social knowledge. It is not difficult to understand the "circle the wagons" response: police the boundaries, make sociology a "real" discipline, and so on. Such a retrograde move might for a time protect the status of sociologists within academe and vis-a-vis political and economic power, but at cost to scientific integrity. One is reminded of Mills' (1959) acerbic critique of grand theory and abstract empiricism--the twin forms of American sociology that accorded status to sociologists yet presented such barriers to good science half a century ago.

The most widely understood alternative to disciplinary traditionalism is the embrace of relativistic social constructivism. This is what the circle-the-wagons advocates fear, and with some reason. The nominalist fantasy that the human world is discursive "all the way down" tends to flip from traditional empiricism to a defeatist idealism suspicious of all concepts of truth and falsity, and thus "into an antirealism, which makes truth relative to discourse" (Sayer 2000:71). (10) Once nominalism is embraced, the claim to science becomes at best tenuous, and is continually subverted by an inescapable performative contradiction: the postmodern nominalist puts forward ideas with the intent that they be considered seriously as claims about the world, while rejecting the very notion of developing relatively veridical knowledge of that world (Habermas 1987a).

Perhaps critical realism can offer an escape from circling the wagons or celebrating the semiotic fragments, a third option, a re-visioning of sociology, and of social science. I want to suggest that with its realist ontology and its method of explanatory critique of human affairs, critical realism represents such a middle course, between traditional views of science and social constructivist nominalism--not a conflation of or compromise between these perspectives, but "a standpoint in its own right" (Danemark et al. 2002:202). Insisting that the world precedes the word, but granting that language and textuality play a constitutive role in understanding and in human affairs, critical realism can include within social science the important postpositivist insights from the discursive turn without lapsing into antirealist nominalism, all the while holding onto the crucial lessons of historical materialism, social science's original critical paradigm. (11)

Critical realism addresses the crisis of sociology, and related crises in other social science fields, not by shoring up spurious divisions nor by retreating into nominalism, but by offering a coherent social ontology from which we can ground a transdisciplinary science of humanity in nature. In my view, it is precisely within such a unified, nonreductionist science that sociology can play an especially integrative role. We saw earlier that critical realism views reality as emergent and stratified. From this perspective, at the level of social reality, there is no ontological basis for separate scientific disciplines. Rather, the disciplines of social science have the character of socially and politically constructed fields that, to the extent they are reified in siloes, actually pose barriers to comprehension of the human condition. As complexity theory makes clear, higher levels of reality, especially living systems and human systems, are open: they are relationally dynamic and complex, so that the outcomes of specific processes are subject to extensive contingency (Hatt 2009).

Let me now emphasize that the object of social science is open in a way qualitatively different from other levels of reality, by virtue of the role of human agency in partially constituting the social, as people make their own history within relations and circumstances transmitted from past practice (Marx [1852] 1968:97). If our social world has been produced by the past actions of people, it must be approached as a continuous bringing-into-existence, a becoming whose future (actually, multiple possible futures) is already contained, as potentiality, within the present (Ollman 1998). For this reason, "social facts" can never have the same ontological status as "facts" pertaining to natural processes that are devoid of human agency (Carroll 2004:2). (12)

This means that, contra Comte and contemporary Comteans such as Turner (1992) and Wallace (2010), the task of social science is not to discover universal laws abstracted from history. Such approaches--couched in scientistic language that squeezes out human agency--do not achieve objectivity; rather they objectify, yielding a deficient, ahistorical knowledge of the social. Instead, the task is to understand the social forces, embodied practices, identities, discourses, and relations that have come to prevail (or that have become marginalized)--to trace out why they have come to prevail, the emergent structures that sustain them, the consequences for our lives, and the prospect for alternatives. This is an interpretive, diagnostic project that seeks to understand the causal linkages between past, present, and future, so as to clarify for ourselves "the struggles and wishes of the age." For if social reality is constituted by people making history, this can only mean that the future is open to various possibilities that may be already discernible in contemporary life.

In comprehending social reality, then, social science must be attuned to the prospects for change; it must refuse to reify that reality into the dead weight of "inevitable" facts (Marcuse 1971:186); it must integrate its analysis of what exists--positive science--with critical, negative analysis of what might be brought into existence, to realize possibilities already immanent in the contemporary world, and often to negate what currently exists. In social science positive knowledge must be sought together with the negative. The two are dialectically related, as Marcuse ([1941] 1973) insisted: "the real field of knowledge is not given in the given facts about things as they are, but in the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form" (p. 145). Positive knowledge of the social shows us how our world has been put together, but our own social ontology tells us that the result to date is only provisional, that we must approach contemporary social reality not as a collection of facts but as a work in progress, open to alternative futures. Analysis of the social that is only positive is premised on "a fear of any conceptualization going beyond what already exists: beyond it not into a transcendental world, but into history, so far as history is already heralded in the present" (Marcuse 1971:185). (13)

Explanatory critique, an aspect of critical realist analysis, gives us some purchase on linking positive and negative knowledge. As a radicalization of the Enlightenment project, inspired by Marx's ideology critique, "critical realism questions not only social ideas but the social processes that generate such ideas" (Joseph 2002:38). As Danemark et al. (2002) explain,
   Since social practice is concept-dependent, practice may build on
   false beliefs. Insofar as false beliefs have social effects, we
   must examine them and see what caused them--thereby criticizing the
   false beliefs in themselves, as well as the structures that cause
   them and are legitimated by them. In this way social science
   obtains an intrinsic critical dimension, and the explanations are
   an explanatory critique. We can hardly explain racist actions
   without considering conceptions about races and their
   characteristics--and in the explanation there is a critique of
   these conceptions.... The critique arises when social scientists
   not only show that some beliefs are false, but also
   explain why people believe as they do, and how these ideas have
   developed. Social criticism is intrinsic in social science. (P.195)

Explanatory critique--whether of racism, of homophobia, of "tough on crime" retributive thinking, of the liberal denial that capitalist accumulation itself generates class inequality, or of climate-change denial--involves more than redescription; it explicates how a social process of mystification actually works in securing the replication of problematic ways of life. Such critical explication, as Bhaskar (1989:175) notes, can inform action "directed to transforming, dissolving or disconnecting the structures and relations" that generate or sustain social and ecological ills. Clearly, explanatory critique has much in common with the procedure of explication at the heart of institutional ethnography (Campbell and Gregor 2002; Smith 2005). Both push beyond the immediacy of experience, to uncover the problematic relations that shape the experienced world; both accord to social science an ethical-political role that goes beyond mere interpretation of the world, toward changing it. (14)

This commitment opens sociology to the crucial challenge of public engagement, and to another sense of what sociology-as-nexus might mean. If as Evans showed, sociology-as-discipline was formed by creating a public detached from ethical-political movements and currents, a postdisciplinary sociology--a sociology-as-nexus--needs to extend its communicative relations, dialogically, to publics whose practices press up against and challenge capitalist modernity's reified structures. I am speaking of a "sociology for people" (Smith 2005), a "sociology for changing the world" (Frampton et al. 2006), a sociology "directed first and foremost to the decolonisation and further rationalisation of the lifeworld" (Scambler 1996:579) in the Habermasian sense of creating the conditions for a reflexive, participatory-democratic way of life. The possibilities for opening the field of sociology to the lifeworld run in both directions: social movements--feminist, ecological, anticapitalist, and so on--have influenced and can influence what sociology takes up and how; sociology in turn can, through research strategies such as institutional ethnography and participatory action research, contribute knowledge of value to the democratic currents that live within movements. (15)

For sociologists to take the side of the lifeworld means thinking and practicing sociology outside of Michael Burawoy's (2005:11) famous boxes containing the professional, critical, policy, and public genres of the discipline. It means recognizing the critical aspect of sociological analysis not as an elective pursuit--relegated to a specialized domain of reflexive auto-critique--but as requisite to good social science, yet also holding that critical and public sociology intermingle, that "critical sociology provides a way of thinking about the connections between sociologists and the various publics they study" (Hollands and Stanley 2009:3.12).

To envision sociology along the lines I have sketched is to advocate for a reflexive, critical sociology, aligned more with lifeworld than with system, guided by the metatheoretical perspective of critical realism and consciously committed to moving beyond disciplinary siloes. As Hoyer and Naess (2008) point out, "critical realism can play a very important role as an underlabourer of interdisciplinarity, with its maximal inclusiveness both in terms of allowing causal powers at different levels of reality to be empirically investigated and in terms of accommodating insights of other metatheoretical positions while avoiding their drawbacks" (p. 205). The critical realist conception of reality as stratified and emergent--as a multilayered ensemble of open systems--and of human phenomena as constituted in an ecologically embedded dialectic of agency and structure offers the possibility of an integrated, nonreductionist science of humanity in nature. Set within this broader context, the virtue of sociology resides in its porous boundaries, its broad scope and its unsettled character, all of which entail a critical transdisciplinarity that breaches the enclosures of disciplinary social science. Sociology becomes comprehensible as a nexus that offers a point of leverage toward a unified, postpositivist social science. Critical transdisciplinarity gets impetus from the obvious and growing interrelations among the social sciences but also from the increasing awareness of the internal relations linking humanity with the rest of nature--whether in bio-technological advancement, in ecological crisis, or in human embodiment itself as inescapably natural and historical. (16) "No longer is it possible to treat external nature as an 'other', something entirely distinct and separate from ourselves. The sciences of nature and those of society again need combining" (Dickens 2003:95).

Indeed, to envision sociology as nexus is to recognize its reach not only across fields of social science, and extending dialogically to various publics and movements, but also downward to the biophysical, to inquire most momentously into the relation between ecology and humanity. In his analysis of sociology's crisis, Carl Bankston (2008) concludes that "thinking about sociology both as the study of interconnections in a society and located within those interconnections means that we need to locate what we do within its setting, to take an ecological approach" (p. 332). As nexus, sociology's power resides in the sociological imagination--not the possession of a self-contained discipline, but a "quality of mind" (Mills 1959:4), a transdisciplinary sensibility that can guide critical investigation into the social condition of a humanity whose footprint now covers the globe (Carolan 2005:403). To connect history, biography, and ecology, in inquiring into their formation and future prospects, (17) is a worthy project for sociology and for social science.

Plenary address to the annual meeting of the Canadian Sociological Association, May 31, 2012. I thank Pat Armstrong, David Coburn, Elaine Coburn, Ken Hatt, Bob Stirling and Rennie Warburton, and two CRS reviewers for comments on an earlier version. The usual disclaimer applies.


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University of Victoria

(1.) McLaughlin's essay provoked extensive debate, which this article will not rehearse. See Baer (2005), Curtis and Weir (2005), Johnston (2005), Murphy (2005), Warren (2006), White (2005), and McLaughlin's (2006) response.

(2.) This critique applies to the mainstream of liberal economics. In Canada, the work of a minority current of economists can be accessed at the Progressive Economics Forum (, accessed June 6, 2012).

(3.) "During a briefing by academics at the London School of Economics on the turmoil on international markets, the Queen asked: 'Why did nobody notice it?' Professor Luis Garicano, director of research at the London School of Economics' management department, ... told the Queen: 'At every stage, someone was relying on somebody else and everyone thought they were doing the right thing'" (Pierce 2008).

(4.) Space does not permit an exposition of critical realism as a philosophical framework for social science. See, for example, Bhaskar (1989), Sayer (2000), Danemark et al. (2002), and Pearce and Frauley (2007).

(5.) Implicit in the stratified character of reality is an asymmetry between the biophysical levels and the social (the former can exist without the latter but the reverse is not possible, Carolan 2005:394), yet mechanisms at the different levels interact in an open system I Dickens 2003:102). What Marx called the forces of production--the aspect of practice that purposively relates humanity to the rest of nature--consist in putting biophysical mechanisms in the service of human needs, and thereby transforming the world and ourselves.

(6.) The division of psychology and sociology into separate disciplines can be compared to the situation in physics, where the "exciting connection between microscopic quantum physics and large-scale cosmic dynamics is one of the biggest unexplained mysteries in modern science" (Coles 2005:251). Both domains are recognized as subfields of physics, not, as with psychology and sociology, separate disciplines. In physics, the challenge is not to silo but to integrate. This particular challenge is, in terms of scale, the limit case of the micro-macro problem in all science.

(7.) It is perhaps ironic, in view of his foundational work at one boundary, that Durkheim is claimed both by sociology and anthropology. If the original division between anthropology and sociology marked the deep impact of western colonization on social science's order of discourse--compellingly charted by Edward Said (1978)--in today's postcolonial world, sociologists and anthropologists study much the same phenomena, but they conduct their investigations within distinctive intellectual traditions. The differences are of genre and habitus, not of "discipline" in any ontological sense. Parenthetically, we should note that the concept of field used here, defined in terms of practices, social organization, and (strategic) relations to other fields, is distinct from the sociologically weak concept of discursive field (formation) used by Foucault in his archaeological period, namely, "the general enunciative system that governs a group of verbal performances" (Foucault 1972:116). Foucault brilliantly interrogated the ontological status of the human sciences and questioned such already-given "unities" as economics (Foucault 1972:26), although his idiosyncratic division between empirical and human sciences relegated sociology, oddly, to the domain of "representation" in the modern episteme (Foucault 1970:355). Space does not allow engagement with Foucault; see Joseph (2004) and Hardy (2010) for relevant discussions.

(8.) As Clarke (1982) perceptively argues, "despite the fact that modern sociology has developed in opposition to the naturalistic reductionism of marginalist economics, it nevertheless rests on the same ideological foundations. These ideological foundations are not necessarily formulated explicitly, for the intellectual division of labour that separates sociology from economics and assigns the task of analysis of the social relations of capitalist production to economics, establishes the ideological foundations of sociology outside its own domain.... Parsons extended the marginalist naturalisation of capitalist social relations from the sphere of the economy to that of society, treating the State, religion, the family and the personality as rational expressions of the natural and technological conditions of existence of industrial society" (pp. 204, 206).

(9.) Magnusson's point can be reversed, which is precisely an intent of this essay. Habermas (1984), for one, points out that "sociology originated as a discipline responsible for the problems that politics and economics pushed to one side on their way to becoming specialized sciences" (p. 4).

(10.) If Mills's (1959:27-33) "translation" of Talcott Parsons's tortured socspeak into plain English stands as one of the most embarrassing critiques of Comtean modernism, Alan Sokal's (19961 hoax against postmodern gibberish accomplished a similar feat in demonstrating the folly of the free play of signification in social analysis.

(11.) Space does not permit a discussion of the key insights afforded by critical realist and historical materialist approaches to issues of discourse and textuality. Elder-Vass (2012) has recently made a particularly significant contribution. Smith (1996) and McNally (2001) offer thoughtful critiques of poststructuralist theories and develop materialist, dialectical alternatives from the work of Bakhtin and Voloshinov. Efforts to develop critical discourse analysis within a critical realist perspective have also been fruitful (see Fairclough 2009; Sims-Schouten et al. 2007).

(12.) Bhaskar (1989) puts this point well: "facts are real, but they are historically specific realities.... Fetishism, by naturalizing facts, at once collapses and destratifies their generative or sustaining social context and the mode of their production, reproduction and transformation in time, ipso facto dehistoricizing and eternalizing them" (p. 9).

(13.) In view of the enormous challenges of social justice and ecological sustainability we face today, the latter, critical moment will often put sociologists at odds with hegemonic practices and dominant groups. As Marcuse (1968) commented elsewhere, "thought in contradiction must be capable of comprehending and expressing the new potentialities of a qualitatively different existence" (p. xx).

(14.) More recently, Bhaskar (2010) has argued that in full-fledged explanatory critique, "concrete utopianism plays a crucial role. It involves thinking how a situation or the world could be otherwise, with a change in the use of a given set of resources or with a different way of acting subject to certain constraints. This mode of thinking forms the basis of an ethics oriented to change, in which we think alternatives to what is actualized on the basis of given possibilities, possibilities which were actualized in one way but could be (or might have been) redeployed or actualized in another" (pp. 22-23).

(15.) Interestingly, the relatively interdisciplinary character of sociology in Canada and its permeable boundaries, entailing a generous conception of the social, have offered resources along these lines. After all, here, until the 1960s sociology cohabited with political science and economics within a single omnibus journal, and even today a number of joint anthropology/sociology departments are dotted across Canada. Important analytical strengths within social science in Canada--the continuing pursuit of critical, interdisciplinary political economy, the development (often in concert with other social science fields) of participatory action research, the remarkable contribution of Dorothy Smith and her many students and colleagues in developing a sociology for people--are signal contributions, reaching beyond disciplinary borders, that a more canonized sociology, as in the United States, is less able to produce, or fathom. Despite the anxieties about sociology in Canada, which typically take the U.S. brand as the gold standard, the practice of sociology here--eclectic, transdisciplinary, and critically engaged as it often is--is arguably ahead of the curve in social science.

(16.) The issue of embodiment and its relationship to agency and structure is a central one in social science, to which feminists have made crucial contributions. See Archer (2000), Clegg (2006), and Orzeck (2007) for some theoretical discussions grounded in critical realism and historical materialism.

(17.) John Urry's (2010:1.6) efforts to situate sociology within the policies of climate change are exemplary in this regard. He traces the historical development, in societies of the "west," of high carbon systems and of a carbon-military-industrial complex and assesses possible future scenarios that may issue from the impending ecological crisis. Noting that "central to climate futures is human behaviour" and that rational-choice economics has been dominant in framing the human dimensions of climate change, he concludes, among other points, that "the social sciences need to displace economics because of its undesirable performative nature. And this has to happen fast since systems need to change speedily so as to create positive feedbacks upon each other taking them away from existing patterns being performed by utility-maximising individuals as modelled by economics." For critical-realist discussions of interdiscipiinarity and climate change see Bhaskar et al. (2010). Historical materialism has, since the 1990s, produced an impressive transdisciplinary literature on capitalism and ecology, often building on Marx's original insights. See for instance Harvey (1996), Burkett (2006), and Foster (2009).

William K. Carroll, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3050 STN CSC, Victoria BC, Canada V8W 3P5. E-mail:
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Author:Carroll, William K.
Publication:Canadian Review of Sociology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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