(how) does the sociological speak to/with/from the earth?

How, why, when and where might the sociological speak to or with the earth, the biological or the ‘environment’? This is the question that’s enlivened me through this last morning of the conference.

Questions around the uses and abuses of science were sparked off at the Fireside Chat this morning, discussing the work of Ros Edwards, Val Gillies and Nicola Horsley. The authors spoke so evocatively of the ‘new speak’ of good parenting and the uses and abuses of the ‘biosocial’ in legitimating neoliberal parenting ideologies: Training for “good” parenting “skills” of making eye contact, stimulating synapses and developing learning strategies will produce good little bundles of social capital, fit and productive contributors to the nation and economy. Bringing to light the role of “biosocial” discourse in disciplining, demonizing and individualising parents – and mothers in particular – is vital. But does the sociological have a role beyond defending the social?

I didn’t raise my hand fast enough to ask the question I had rehearsed on paper: Given the racist, neoliberal and misogynistic uses of biology – do we (who think sociologically) have a responsibility not to ‘leave biology to the biologists’ – to paraphrase Elizabeth Wilson?

To me, this morning’s speakers – including Jenny Reardon – invite us not to dismiss the biosocial, the quantitative, geology, biology and environmental sciences outright – but to critically engage and redefine.

What might biology, neuroscience or environmental sciences do and look like if they drew on the critical, feminist matters of care of de la Bellacasa or the scientia of Sylvia Wynter? What would the sociological look like if it spoke to and with radically redefined science?

These are questions that I’ll carry from the conference back into my work – teaching, defending and perhaps re-defining ‘the social and cultural’ within a School of Applied Sciences.

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.