Peace process

Sociology is shifting from studies of class to forgiveness, and John Brewer, the next president of the BSA, is in the vanguard

March 26, 2009

Now is a good time to be a sociologist, according to John Brewer. "Sociology is no longer the butt of people's jokes. It's no longer the new kid on the block, it's taken very seriously. America's first lady (Michelle Obama) is a sociology graduate. We have got sociology graduates in politics and in government. It makes for interesting times."

Professor Brewer, sixth-century professor at the University of Aberdeen's department of sociology, has been named president-elect of the British Sociological Association (BSA). As its former chairman, he believes he is in a good position to push the discipline.

He described himself as the "archetypal public sociologist": he is already a member of the Royal Irish Academy, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an academician at the Academy of Social Sciences.

"I see my position as making the BSA relevant both to its members and to higher education broadly," he said. "I need to show that membership of the BSA is not just about advancing the interests of members - it's about playing a role within the higher education system."

It is not surprising that Professor Brewer talks of "an exciting time intellectually" within sociology - his research is among the most ambitious work in the field.

"Some of the work I'm doing at the moment is beginning to create the sociology of hope and forgiveness. These are the sorts of intellectual concerns that have emerged as sociologists' subject matter has moved away from issues of class, power and inequality."

Early in his career, Professor Brewer travelled to South Africa to research a book on the transformation of the country's police force. He is now an expert in the sociology of peace processes and of religion.

He spent 25 years at Queen's University Belfast, focusing on sectarianism in Northern Ireland, specifically anti-Catholic feeling. He was made a professor at Queen's in 1990 and by 1993 had been appointed head of school. "All through my career I have worked in places that have been subject to quite a lot of communal violence."

Professor Brewer said that in the past he was intellectually stimulated by such environments, so joining Aberdeen in 2004 was something of a change of pace.

He believes he can make a difference to the focus and achievements of the BSA. "There is potential here for a contribution to policymaking. I think there is a serious lack of engagement with senior British sociologists."

Professor Brewer will take up his three-year presidency in June.

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