I recently had a paper published with Journal of Sociology titled Moral Decline Sociology: Critiquing the Legacy of Durkheim. You can view the abstract and full-text here.
I promise it’s not as boring as it sounds.
Although looking backwards to Durkheim, this paper is fundamentally about how us sociologists can help make sense of contemporary moral life. One of the anonymous reviewers described the paper as a ‘discussion that has long been overdue in Sociology, and is fundamental to it’s philosophical core, as least the Durkheim branch’. Nice praise, indeed.
I argue that starting from Durkheim, sociology tends to be dominated by accounts of moral ‘decline’ or breakdown. I then go on to identify and critique a set of key assumptions within the Durkheimian tradition and show how they map onto more recent diagnoses of moral decline by the theoretical likes of Rieff, Bell, Lasch, Etzioni and Bellah. Australian authors Clive Hamilton, Hugh Mackay and John Carroll also get a mention.
What happens off the field stays off the track and the dais but plays OK at the press conference – that is the rather convoluted message from International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach in the face of potential political protests at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Bach is trying to narrow the scope available to dissenting Olympic athletes. They face punishment if they make their move when medals are being contested or dispensed. The local Games organisers want to go further by confining shows of activism to a “Speakers’ Corner” somewhere in Sochi city.
Such is the complexity of life for the activist athlete at the “Prolympics”. And Sochi and Russia have certainly given the politically aware athlete plenty to work with. Last year, Russia passed laws making it an offence to discuss homosexuality with minors.
To avoid any awkward ambiguity, Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhamov recently fouled the welcome mat of his Olympic city when he stated that:
[homosexuality] is not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city.
Much has changed since the days when officials could rule their young athletic charges with a rod of iron. This does not mean that the balance of power has shifted entirely. But today’s “blazerati” are required to negotiate with athletes who can create a storm of controversy with a brief gesture on live television or a single tweet.
When the end came to the Ashes, it came quickly on the third day at the Sydney Cricket Ground – five-nil to Australia.
After ten Ashes tests in seven months, 2015 will be well advanced before Australia and England again compete for the urn. The object of copious coverage and commentary across broadcast, print and online media, what lessons can be drawn from this latest expenditure of sweat and toil under burning sun, television lights and midnight desk lamps?
First, and most obviously, the colonial embrace is forever. Although technically the relationship between the competing countries is now postcolonial, the Ashes’ emotional power derives from reviving, however banally or stereotypically, the sting of colonial history.
Before the on-field action commenced, excellent sport was made with the elaborate dietary demands of the English team, ridiculed in the Australia media as effete wannabe aristocrats. When England was vanquished despite all the prescribed pak choi and puy lentil, the result reaffirmed for beer-bellied old-school cricketers and their followers that eating and drinking unhealthily – and even irresponsibly – are integral to sporting success.
Symbolically, Australia’s beer, fat and sugar-fuelled triumph would have come as a relief for some of Cricket Australia’s more conspicuous commercial partners (formerly known as sponsors), including Victoria Bitter, KFC and Coca Cola, purveyors of consumables not readily associated with healthy living.
Sociology in the Anglophone world has been in the doldrums for some time. Since the heady days of poststructuralism and postmodernism, until very recently few advances had been made in theory or method. British sociology, however, is seeing a renewed impetus and vigour, with several sociologists beginning to talk about a move from ‘zombie sociology’ to ‘live sociology’ (Back, 2012) or ‘inventive methods’ (Lury and Wakeford, 2012), in which creative approaches and different ways of communicating are suggested to move the discipline out of its doldrums.
Punk Sociology, by British sociologist Dave Beer, is a welcome contribution to this new and exciting approach. As its title suggests, Beer attempts in this short book (part of the Palgrave Pivot series, itself an innovative approach to academic publishing) to show how sociology might be shaken up and re-energised. Punk sociology looks outward, is subversive and willing to try new approaches and also ready to engage with alternative forms of knowledge outside sociology. It means investigating forms of research and representations of social life that are beyond the textual, such as audio-visual material, and, as Beer puts it, ‘to coach ourselves to see sociology in sources where we may not be expecting to see it’ (p. 38). It also includes working with, rather than on, participants in sociological research, and experimenting with different approaches to writing about one’s work: blogging, podcasts, YouTube videos and tweets, for example. Beer encourages sociologists to take courage in conveying ideas that may still be raw and engaging with others’ responses to them, a practice that social media avenues encourage.
I am no fan of punk rock, but I very much like the concept of punk sociology. The term itself denotes a fresher approach to the sociological canon and accepted assumptions of what sociology is and should be. I would have loved to have read a book like this as an undergraduate in first-year sociology in the early 1980s, when unfortunately I found myself bored rigid by the dry and dull way in which the discipline was taught. I suspect that undergraduates and even postgraduates in sociology today would also welcome Beer’s thoughts on enlivening sociology. (more…)
The cultural sociology group is under new leadership and that means new plans for 2014.
So without further ado, I introduce the NEW CONVENING TEAM (kinda weird to introduce yourself!)
Nicholas Hookway is a cultural sociologist who’s main research interest is contemporary moralities. His interest in morality forms part of a research agenda focused on analysing the tensions and creative possibilities between personal life and wider cultural changes, particularly individualism, consumerism and changing community. Nick’s theoretical hero is Zygmunt Bauman. Nick is also interested in innovative research techniques, having pioneered the use of blogs in social research. His article ‘entering the blogosphere’ has been cited over 200 times. Nick is currently working on a survey project on kindness in Australia (with Daphne Habibis and Anthea Vreugdenhil) and a study of book clubs in Tasmania (with Dr Robert Clarke). You can follow Nick on Twitter @HookwayNicholas. Nick’s academic publications can be found on Academia.edu
Sara James’ research interests are in the sociology of work and cultural sociology. Her PhD research, using in-depth interviews, looked at the significance of work in the lives of individuals, with a focus on vocation and the work ethic. She is particularly interested in the ways in which people find meaning in a secular society. Sara is currently teaching introductory sociology.
As outlined in our welcome email, our key goal for 2014 is to organise a 1-day symposium (held around TASA) that interrogates ‘cultures of authenticity’ across a range of domains, from new media, tourism, health and environment to ethics, religion and therapy. Our aim is for the event to culminate in the production of a special issue of a journal (M/C journal is a possibility) and/or an edited book collection (Ashgate is a potential). If successful with securing TASA funding, we suspect the call for papers will be around mid-yearish. Thanks to Brad West, Nick Osbaldiston and Theresa Sauter for the inspiration and brain-storming around event ideas.
Please contact us if you have ideas for the group and send any items of interest for the blog. Whether it’s short posts (eg., 100 word summaries of posted articles), cross-posts (eg., links to Conversation pieces or book reviews) or longer posts (posts that pursue an idea/argument in some depth) we encourage members to use the blog to communicate research and ideas.
After losing three Ashes series on the bounce and following much soul-searching about the decline of its national sporting prowess, Australia is giving England a pounding in the cricket. For many, all is right again with the world.
Recently, I sat at Melbourne Airport as Australia’s resurgent fast bowler Mitchell Johnson – the butt of some cruel humour by visiting Barmy Army fans during his erratic, neurotic last home series – terrorised the English batsmen. Many people were watching the cricket on screen, with one fellow traveller loudly proclaiming:
There is no greater pleasure than sticking it to the Poms in the cricket!
On 25 November 2013, we held a one-day symposium on Cultural Sociology Today at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Tim Graham reflects on the event below.
Several weeks ago I had the great fortune of attending the ‘Cultural Sociology Today’ Symposium. This well-attended event was hosted by La Trobe University and organised by the TASA Cultural Sociology Thematic Group and the Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology. As a newcomer to Cultural Sociology, the Symposium served as somewhat of an introductory tour. Well, it left quite an impression on me! The depth and breadth of scholarship was astounding, with topics that included: the nature of culture itself; academic cultural pub crawls; teaching cultural sociology through music; mourning the dead on social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube; the ‘minimal self’ as a tool for charismatic empowerment; the threat of a meaningless death and the search for meaning in modern literature; why Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is not indeed great; the hidden anxieties of the American middle-class revealed in pop TV shows; the complexity and meaning of ‘class analysis’ in Australian history; and the search for a meaningful life as expressed in popular film and television narratives such as Toy Story and The Sopranos. I was not aware that such stimulating, and ultimately entertaining, topics constituted the basis for cultural sociological inquiry; nor was I aware of the scope and impact that Australian cultural sociology seems to be having with respect to key contemporary debates.