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What’s happening to sociological imaginations?

Liz Stanley

What’s happening to sociological imaginations in present circumstances? Having been to lots of other university sociology websites recently, the dominant trend appears to be that sociology folk have fallen into research mode, and research mode of a fairly standard kind. Nothing wrong in that, of course, and in a sense it is what sociology is for. At least there is a response to present circumstances. But it is interesting that there is little highlighting or consideration in any depth of the kind of things friends, colleagues and I have been communicating about over the last few weeks. What is happening is not standard, so sociological responses should hopefully become far wider. Brainstorming on this, and rereading emails and thinking about conversations in Skype, Zoom and Teams meetings, the kinds of things that have come up in discussions I’ve been party to include, for starters:

  • The oddities of how time is being experienced and some stark differences in this between differently situated people
  • Reconfigurations of outside and inside, both outside and inside the lockdown location, and outside and inside the body
  • ‘Shielding’ and, when some people are defined as inherently vulnerable, what that does to ideas of autonomy, independence and agency
  • The changing relationship between mind and emotions, between rationality and emotional responses to the powerful feelings that the deaths of so many people are engendering
  • The rush of many social scientists as well as medics and others to claim expertise and control, in the face of something so far not amendable to anything other than being entirely cut-off from human hosts
  • The different ways in which sociality and relationship are being remade and how this might continue, including in relation to teaching and researching, as we enter a ‘social bubble’ context
  • The increased proactive role of the state and extension of its powers and responsibilities, and possible new conceptions of the citizen and theirs, including migrants and other non-citizens within
  • The loss of a sense of a definite ‘after’ and what this is doing to conceptions of both the future and before
  • [added 16 May] The work/leisure/domestic relationship is undergoing potentially seismic change. Is employment and the relationship between workplace and home-place for some more privileged sectors of the workforce experiencing an accelerated reconfiguration, but with a more traditional separation remaining for the majority?
  • [added 21 May] What an organisation is, because of stetches in its formal boundaries, is undergoing accelerated change, with many more people working remotely – and working more than when ‘at work’.

What are other sociologically-minded people feeling, thinking, talking about? Contributions on any of these or other aspects are welcomed and can be as brief as you like and take the form of a paragraph, short essay, photograph, poem…

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Liz Stanley

Liz Stanley is Professor of Sociology @ University of Edinburgh, email I’m a feminist sociologist who works on everyday documents of life, particularly letters, to research social change over time.

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