Revisit legacy of the fathers

Journal of Classical Sociology
October 21, 2005

The Journal of Classical Sociology has established itself in less than five years as an essential resource for sociologists committed to building on the achievements of their predecessors. It appears three times a year, has high standards of scholarship and is consistently interesting. The journal is impressively serious and sober, from its plain cover in shades of grey to its focused, carefully argued articles.

It could be interpreted as part of a backlash against postmodern excess that rejected sociology's forebears as "dead white males"

and embraced a promiscuous relativism when it came to theory. Time was that the great tradition of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim was seen as hopelessly Eurocentric, hence of little help when it came to understanding matters such as migration, feminism and Asia. "Classical" once conjured not the great founders of sociology but rather accusations from poststructuralists, much influenced by Michel Foucault (a classic in spite of himself), about the naivety of those trapped inside such legacies.

From the start, the Journal of Classical Sociology was more than a matter of reasserting the importance of the classics. It was convinced that there was a canon in sociology, but one under constant scrutiny. Accordingly, the journal presents itself as a continuing dialogue with the classics. Here, the giants figure prominently, but they are not granted an unquestioned admission. To judge from these issues, Weber sits comfortable, and Durkheim is receiving a well-deserved re-evaluation, while Marx remains somewhat on the sidelines. Weber even gets an entire issue in 2004 given over to celebration of the centenary of the publication of The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism . This is merited, and all Weber scholars will want to read and reassess such articles.

Plenty of other thinkers get serious reconsideration - the likes of Georg Simmel, Herbert Marcuse and Pierre Bourdieu might be expected to find a place, but here, too, is a refreshing analysis of the claims that octogenarian Philip Rieff might make for canonical inclusion.

Moving away from individuals, Chris Rojek contributes an intriguing interview with Eric Dunning about Leicester University's School of Sociology. Dunning, who has been at Leicester since 1956, discusses the school's growth under Ilya Neustadt in the 1960s, when it brought together some of the most important sociologists in the UK (including Anthony Giddens, Martin Albrow, Richard Brown and John Goldthorpe). He reflects on the world sociological community's belated discovery of the school's Norbert Elias in the 1970s and the irony of Leicester's breaking up its sociology department soon afterwards. It is good to read articles about institutional as well as individual sociologists.

The journal is edited by two leading thinkers, Bryan Turner of Cambridge University and John O'Neill of York University in Canada. Their editorial board is composed of the great and good, from Margaret Archer to Neil Smelser. Not surprisingly, but commendably, the journal has persuaded stellar names to contribute:Hans Joas, Peter Baehr, Stephen Kalberg and Barry Smart are just some of the leading contemporary theorists who appear.

Reviews are a weak point: in a dozen or so issues, the journal offers only a couple of review articles and no pieces around the standard 800-word length that one expects in journals. When it comes to classical sociology, there is so much secondary literature that close attention and rigorous evaluation of this should be a priority. Nonetheless, the Journal of Classical Sociology is a must for all serious sociologists.

Frank Webster is professor of sociology, City University.

Journal of Classical Sociology

Editor - John O'Neill and Bryan S. Turner
Publisher - Sage. Three times a year
Price - Institutions £313.00, Individuals £41.00
ISSN - 1468 795 X, Online ISSN 1741 2897

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