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PhD research

My PhD research into the self-understanding of sociologists in England allowed me to reconcile my major research interests – social science studies,
sociology of knowledge, and the sociology of work.
Start Date: 27th September 2005; Submission: 16th December 2008; Viva Voce: 6th March 2009
(examined by Prof. John Holmwood, University of Birmingham and Dr. Carol Wolkowitz, University of Warwick)

sociologiststalking.jpg Photo: with courtesy to Les Back.
This picture stems from an i
nteractive exhibit 'Sociologists Talking' that I conceptualised together with Cath Lambert in 2008, based on research I had carried out in relation
to my doctoral research.


A Study on the Self-understanding of Sociologists in England'

This thesis is a theoretical and empirical investigation into the self-understanding of thirty sociologists in England and their relationship with the discipline. It investigates sociologists’ aspirations and how they unfold and are compromised in sociological practice. Based on the work of Alvin Gouldner, the thesis both examines the changing shape of sociology as a body of knowledge and institution as well as sociologists’ changing relationships with their theories and practices. At the core of this study is the recognition of a close intertwining of our ontological states, epistemological outlooks and actual practices as sociologists.

The three-part analysis of the empirical research reflects a Gouldnerian understanding of sociology as the inextricable link between theory and practice. In ‘Part I: The Calling of Sociology – Sociologists’ Claims and Practices’ I analyse sociologists’ processes of sociological becoming and what they consider to be the key features of the discipline – synthesis, the social and critique. These key features and my respondents’ aspirations are the point of departure against which the realities of their sociological practice are measured in ‘Part II: Sociological Practice – Realities and Tensions’. Analysing social theory as a sociological practice, I illustrate how the social as an analytical key category in sociology becomes frequently compromised. Furthermore, Part II encompasses an analysis of the RAE in its overemphasis on research and publications at the expense of teaching, and shows how this fractures sociologists’ initial disciplinary aspirations. Thereafter I demonstrate sociologists’ dilemmas in practising sociology in a synthetic way, and how they face the disciplining nature of the discipline within the current political economies of research and publishing. This is followed by a discussion of how sociologists’ claims of contributing to critique and public discourse are practised and compromised. Against the background of the analysis in Part II, the question of what is left of sociologists’ aspirations and the discipline’s aims in being critical, analysing the social and being a synthetic discipline, is raised. Finally, in ‘Part III: Living Sociology’, I revisit my respondents’ initial aspirations in the light of their practices and analyse how they live and practise sociology’s key moments – critique, synthesis and the social. The last part of the analysis draws an outline of how sociology can be practised against current constraints, living the synthetic and critical character of the discipline in the 21st century.



Steve Fuller Tony Elger

Contact Details: Contact Details:

  • Department of Sociology Department of Sociology
    Room R. 2.23 Room R. 2. 35
    University of Warwick University of Warwick
    Gibbet Hill Road Gibbet Hill Road
    Coventry Coventry
    CV4 7AL CV4 7AL
  • Tel.: 024 76... Tel.: 024 76523091 
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