Avoiding the questions

April 2, 2009

According to John Brewer, president-elect of the British Sociological Association, "sociologists' subject matter has moved away from issues of class, power and inequality" towards concerns like "the sociology of hope and forgiveness" ("People", 26 March). Such developments are hardly something to celebrate.

Should sociologists really be giving up on the analysis of capitalism, its institutions and associated systems of social stratification? Rather than examining the causes and consequences of the current economic crisis, should we be studying how to forgive the bankers instead? Perhaps we should also avert our attention from the devastation that deregulated markets have caused to so many lives, as jobs and homes are lost and public services are cut.

How much more positive to have a sociology of hope, no doubt oriented to that day in the far future when the debts finance capital has left to us all have been repaid.

Since so many practitioners of sociology have abandoned its central concern with understanding macrosocial structures and their associated relationships, thereby ceasing to be social critics in any really challenging sense, could this be the reason why the discipline is now "taken very seriously"?

Sociology's problem is not a "lack of engagement" with policymakers, but a lack of engagement with its proper object of study. Is there no such thing as society in sociology any more?

David Rose, Visiting research professor of sociology, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex.

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