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Theory Stream 2011



As well as the usual ‘open-response’ mode, where you are welcome to submit abstracts on any area of ‘theory’ that you might currently be working on, the Theory stream at next year’s conference will be organising a number of themed sessions. You are requested to submit abstracts as usual to the BSA office for both the open response mode and themed sessions. For open response submissions, please mark your abstract ‘Theory’; for the themed sessions, please mark your abstract ‘Theory – Elias’ or ‘Theory – The Wire’ etc.

For details on how to submit your abstract, see:

The deadline for submission of abstracts is October 15th 2010.


Theory Themed Sessions:

(1)    Norbert Elias and British Sociology

The organizers invite the submission of abstracts for a session on the reception and continuing influence of Norbert Elias in British Sociology, covering the period from his arrival in London in 1935 to the present day. Themes to be covered include: (1) the early years at the LSE to his eventual appointment at the University of Leicester, (2) Elias's relationship to the British sociological establishment, (3) the development of the sociology of sport and the 'Leicester School', and (4) the current status of his legacy in British Sociology in the broader context of globalization.

For information, contact: Jonathan Fletcher ( and Katie Liston (


(2)    The Wire as Social Science Fiction?

The Wire has been widely critically acclaimed not just as a complex piece of ‘entertainment’ but also as a profoundly ‘sociological’ piece of TV. Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, for example, has the following to say: ‘The Wire’s exploration of sociological themes is truly exceptional. Indeed I do not hesitate to say that it has done more to enhance our understandings of the challenges of urban life and urban inequality than any other media event or scholarly publication, including studies by social scientists … The Wire develops morally complex characters on each side of the law, and with its scrupulous exploration of the inner workings of various institutions, including drug-dealing gangs, the police, politicians, unions, public schools, and the print media, viewers become aware that individuals’ decisions and behaviour are often shaped by—and indeed limited by—social, political, and economic forces beyond their control.’ This is a near perfect statement of what we take to be the sociological imagination. We invite papers examining The Wire as social science fiction and other papers examining the sociological imagination as popular culture.

For information, contact: Roger Burrows (


(3)    Interdisciplinarity or Inter-culturality? Comparative & Historical Sociology & The Re-Imagination of the Sciences

The modern university was —and remains— characterised by processes of atomisation. The late postmodern academy, by contrast, features numberless attempts at interdisciplinary dialogue. There is a gap between the plights pervading our contemporaneity —financial inequity, climate change— and the guidance offered by our sciences. Yet, does this mismatch lie in the division of knowledge or in the very framework that empowers and codifies these fragmented sciences? Most of them are reformist, the social and natural sciences alike are geared at managing the patterns drawn by processes of Wersternized globalisation. The reigning internationalism, far from deflecting provincialism, intensifies and naturalises it. Similarly, it is misleading to assume that Western-inspired knowledge shall ever be a universal medicine. Science should be urgently dissociated from the Western, logocentric tradition and regain its etymological meaning –as knowledge resulting from disciplined inquiry. To guide emancipatory processes, the sociological imagination should not so much consist in mapping out inter-culturality as in letting inter-culturality –plural worldviews, religious beliefs and myths, modes of organisation of the public sphere, systems of provision and sustenance— lead and re-organize the sciences. On this historical, comparative and diverse basis, we can build the architectonics of an enduring global polity grounded in peace and equity.

For information, contact: Ruth Thomas-Pellicer (


(4)    Realism and its Others

Critical realism has been seen by some as a more plausible post-positivist framework for the social sciences than the various strands and heirs of postmodernism. It is often counterposed to apparently anti-realist alternatives. Realism has been contrasted, for example, to social constructionism, poststructuralism, and actor-network theory. But are these traditions really anti-realist? And if so, what exactly are they anti-realist about? This session provides an opportunity to debate the relationship between critical realism and competing frameworks: are they in conflict, and if so how should we assess their relative merits? 

For information, contact: Dave Elder-Vass & Bob Carter (


(5)    Putting Realism to Work

One measure of theoretical and ontological frameworks is how relevant and useful they are to empirical work. Increasingly, sociologists have been seeking to apply the critical realist framework to concrete research problems. This session is designed for researchers applying realism to specific empirical cases. Does it provide a fruitful framework or resource for such work? How flexibly can it be combined with existing methodologies and what, if anything, does it add to them? In the end, does such work validate or undermine critical realism as a component of research methodology?  

For information, contact: Dave Elder-Vass & Bob Carter (


(6) Whither Postmodernism?

Does postmodernism have a future or is it withering away? Postmodernism sought to post modernity to the past (Tate), but under the rubric of
globalization modernity has acquired a new lease of life (Jameson). Many key figures identified with postmodernism have since repudiated the term and/or the approach associated with it (Foucault, Rorty, Butler, Derrida, Bauman, etc). Nevertheless, its critical stance towards Western modernity remains a key feature of contemporary sociology (as evidenced by postcolonialism, multiple modernity and critical race theory). Politically postmodernism has been a discourse of the left, questioning the hubris of Western modernity and its claim to bring reason to the world. Nevertheless, modernity's defenders (Habermas, Benhabib, Beck, Wolin, etc) argue postmodernism is an anti-modern perspective (derived from Nietzsche and Heidegger), which Trojan horse fashion allowed reactionary ideas to infiltrate social theory.

For information, contact: Bob Cannon (

The Theory stream will also host a session on ‘Feminism and Social Theory’. Further details on these sessions will be announced in due course.

For information on any of the above, please contact: Gurminder K Bhambra (


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