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BEYOND PROFESSIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL GOALS, what are we trying to do in sociology and why do we do it? Why is this work relevant for nonsociologists, for the "society?" These fundamental questions have been raised since the beginning of the discipline. However, in a world where sciences are contested, it is probably wise to come back to those questions in order to find relevant answers not only for ourselves and our students, but also for the skeptical ones. In this issue, we propose two sections of texts dealing with the issue of the relevance of sociology. The thematic section presents the views of B. Lahire, R. Connell, and O. Pyyhtinen. In the section Committing Sociology edited by Tracey Adams, we have six short texts coming from a Canadian symposium organized by A. Doucet and J. Siltanen in 2016. These texts are completed by one short presentation of the work of a colleague (K. Preibisch) who tried during her career to combine science and politics.

On different topics, we also present two articles related to labor relations.


Bernard Lahire is arguably one of most important French sociologists of his generation. Among other things, he recently defended the relevance of sociology against antisociological statements made by several voices in France in a book entitled Pour la sociologie. Pour en finir avec une pretendue 'culture de l'excuse.' He also edited A quoi sert la sociologie? in 2004. In the article published in this issue, B. Lahire explains what sociologists can do by revealing "logics" happening in multiple social worlds. Sociological knowledge can "historicize," "desessentialize," "desubstantialize," and compare social phenomena that otherwise could appear to be "natural" or eternal. Sociologists reformulate social realities that are poorly told (mal dites) by others insisting on abstract freedom, for instance. By doing so, we fight against lies and distortions produced elsewhere; and by being more realistic, by operating an "imaginary variation of perspective," we gain some power since we can imagine other reasonable options. In this respect, as B. Lahire showed in his previous publications, sociology is much more than the study of "cold statistics" and averages. It is the science of distinct individuals shaped by past experiences, who make choices by dealing with networks of internal and external constraints. For B. Lahire, a relevant sociology is a relational one, which favors democracy by challenging poor understandings of social life, and by opening new possibilities within the limits imposed by constraints.

Raewyn Connell is another well-known sociologist. She is representative of this generation of colleagues who found sociology in the middle of "student activism contesting the US war on Vietnam, the oppressiveness of (...) society, and the narrowness of university curriculum." She is part of this group of sociologists who quickly rejects founders such as H. Spencer and E. Durkheim. She also connects the relevance of sociology to its capacity to correct "distortions." More precisely, R. Connell criticizes "specific social knowledge" claiming to be "universal." For her, one example is curriculums of schools and universities that would be "grounded in the historic culture, language and learning practices of the privileged classes in European and settler-colonial society," and which would be "fundamental to the powerful social selectivity of formal education." By talking about poverty, violence, and exploitation, sociology is inevitably criticized by "established powers." R. Connell notes that this work against falsehood is even more important today, in a world where powerful forces (Russia, R. Murdoch ...) use media to make the life of scientists and serious journalists difficult. R. Connell defends a sociology moving beyond what someone else called the "fetichism of the method." In her words: "The fact that a piece of sociological research looks rigorous, or actually is rigorous, need not mean that it illuminates anything that matters." Referring to J. Dewey and echoing K. Marx, for her a relevant sociology does not only describe the world as it is, even if it relies on good descriptions. "Under the shadow of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe," we need to challenge fundamental hierarchies and hegemonies.

Olli Pyyhtinen's article is about the basic conceptual tools relevant sociology needs to make sense of this complex world. As the world has become more complicated, we need a "new sociological imagination" to cope with it, as he argues in his recent book More-Than-Human Sociology. In brief, O. Pyyhtinen proposes a processual sociology challenging sociological categories such as "micro" and "macro" and "individuals" and "society," and where "scales are produced in action" by human and "more-than-human entities and materials" which are also "active." The author uses the example of a stock trading disruption at the New York Stock Exchange to illustrate the relevance of his "scalar imagination." Inspired by G. Deleuze and B. Latour, he argues that thinking in terms of "levels" should be replaced for the study of detailed "connections" between "heterogeneous elements" like "software, computers, traders, companies, risks, trust, and money." O. Pyyhtinen also advocates for an involved sociology about central issues, such as the economy, the future of humanity, and the organization of the society. He is looking for another sociology that could compete in "public discussions" with the "psy" disciplines and the market logic.


Once again, the section Committing Sociology presents short texts coming from a symposium that happened at the annual congress of the Canadian Sociological Association in Calgary in 2016, and which raised similar issues. In the first text of this section, A. Doucet and J. Siltanen briefly introduce the readers to the symposium and the related texts.

Readers will also find a general presentation of the work of one of our Canadian colleagues, Kerry Preibisch, who died from cancer in 2016. In a nutshell, Gerardo Otero explains that K. Preibisch tried to bridge "the tension expressed by Weber between science and politics, between value neutrality and value relevance. Her work conformed to the established cannons of sociology as a social science while taking a clear standpoint."


Outside of the thematic's and the Committing Sociology's sections, W. Magee and L. Upenieks studied anger at work thanks to quantitative research based on data collected from 642 individuals from the Greater area of Toronto. These people participated to telephone interviews in late 2004 and early 2005. In brief, they show that anger is more frequent among workers "in the middle of supervisory hierarchies" and "front line supervisors of service workers in the commodified sectors." The authors provide more detailed discussions but, overall, their results would be "partially consistent with the idea that broad processes tied to contradictory class locations"--a concept developed by the neo-Marxist E.O. Wright.

C. Fanelli, D. Laliberte Rudman, and R.M. Aldrich present some results coming from a larger research on the "precarity in the nonprofit employment services sector" in London, Ontario. The data come from a "multisited, cross-national collaborative ethnographic (...) and community-engaged study of long-term unemployment." The authors highlight the negative effects of phenomena such as "neoliberalization of the nonprofit employment services sector," the increased pressure to meet "outcomes-based measures," "organizational insecurity," and the "redirecting funding away from services delivery to data collection."


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Author:Depelteau, Francois
Publication:Canadian Review of Sociology
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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