Un-mining, (under-mining?) disciplinarity

By Anna Davidson

Maybe this will be a blog post on forms of failure – failing to ‘live post’ (how do you listen, think, and write coherently while typing on a phone? How do you reference – to Halberstam on failure, for example, above – and link up ideas – while on the move, without your books, your Endnote references?). I am sited on the edges of sociological thought (as a human geographer and early career researcher) and perhaps failing to cohere, and failing to buy in to particular terminologies, or disciplinary discourses.

A question asked by an audience member in the opening session bound together some of my responses to the notion of Curating Conversations from the Edges. The question, paraphrased, was: What other, allied, disciplines can be mined for the sociological? Suggestions included: Geography, anthropology, medical studies, criminology, cultural studies, cognitive neuroscience..

But what is the purpose and implication of thinking about disciplines to be ‘mined’? I was immediately struck by the spatial imaginaries conjured up. I was made to think of Povinelli in E-Flux, writing on frontiers and horizons, and the liberal, colonial, capitalist attachments and violence of these spatial imaginaries.

Aside from the problematic metaphor of exploiting raw materials, there is a risk of extracting concepts, terms, notions from one discipline to become ‘the new frontier’ of an other, but without the ground – the contextual work that has already been done within a given discipline.

This question goes to the heart of the issues discussed in that first plenary session: What is the purpose of having conversations “from the edges”? Is it to add novelty to the ‘sociological corpus’ to ‘extend’ and ‘expand’ its scope and remit, readership and status? Or does the question need to be reframed – what would sociological thought from the edges (of ‘acceptable’, ‘successful’ scholarship) look like? What does sociology owe to the edges? (To riff of a question Ruth Pearce asked in her workshop yesterday).

Maybe facing and embracing forms of failure is a way for sociological thought not to mine its way to new frontiers, but undermine extant hierarchies of thought.

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