Welcome from the Editorial Team
Tuesday 19th June 2018, 09.30-11.00
Dr Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths, University of London, Managing Editor for the Sociological Review)
Dr Emma Jackson (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Professor Marie-Andrée Jacob (Keele University)
Professor Greg Martin (The University of Sydney)
Dr Tom Slater (The University of Edinburgh)
Chair: Professor Bev Skeggs (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Opening Keynote by Dr Ayona Datta: ‘Undisciplining urban futures: Imagining, governing and living in a smart urban age’
Tuesday 19th June 2018, 11.30 -13.00
Visions of the future have been fundamental in shaping the modern city. With the onset of a global urban age, the future is now also a major strategy of governing sweeping urban transformations in the global South. These have three basic articulations – first to retrieve longitudinal data about the past, second to unravel changing trends till the present and finally to extrapolate and project these trends into the future. If the past is measureable, then the claim goes that this would make the future calculable, knowable and hence governable. Underpinning this approach is a relationship to time that is linear, as a sequence of anticipatory actions and interventions that are intended to manage urban transformations in the present in order to control urbanization in the future. Set amidst ongoing calls of an urban awakening, South Asian nations capture these visions and strategies by focusing on digital technology, infrastructural improvements and corporatisation as a panacea for addressing wider anxieties around future urban crises. This paper takes India’s national initiative to create 100 smart cities to ask whether this opens up a distinct postcolonial urban future driven by speed. Crucially whose urban future/s are we referring to in imagining and governing these futures? Through an exploration into India’s aspirations for a smart urban future, I will examine the discourses and practices of the future in imagining and governing the creation of 100 smart cities. I will suggest that India’s urban future paradoxically manifests by urbanising a mythological state in the image of smart cities, while smart cities themselves are mythologised as India’s smart urban future. The contradictions across imagining and governing urban futures suggest how they reflect a paradoxical partnership between mythology and technology that has impoverished the imaginary and progressive potential of the future.
Dr Ayona Datta (King’s College London)
Respondent Dr Emma Jackson (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Plenary: Undisciplining the Anthropocene
Tuesday 19th June 2018, 14.00-15.30
The naming of the Anthropocene marks a claim on a new geological epoch in which human engagement with the rest of nature has reached the point where the possibility of sudden and catastrophic environmental change can no longer be excluded. Part geoscience hypothesis, part global alarm (Clark and Yusoff 2017), the Anthropocene thesis remains a matter of debate amongst climate, earth and geological scientists. It has nevertheless gathered momentum in political and cultural imaginations, and has sparked the curiosity of social scientists. Indeed if it is taken seriously, then it gives pause to rethink some of Sociology’s core axioms and implicit foundations. Rather than taking planetary stability for granted or else viewing it as the mere background and stage for processes of social ordering, it demands that Sociology pays greater attention to the earth. It lends traction to ecological politics, inviting a focus on the consequences of capitalism and modernity. It provides shorthand for thinking about a unique historical condition characterised by increasing planetary uncertainties and asks questions about how future societies might look, and what it might mean to live well, in light of these crises. Perhaps its greatest challenge to the mainstream of sociological thinking is to decentre the Anthro as the primary locus of change in order to consider the liveliness and vitality (cf. Haraway 1991, Bennett 2010) of the earth. Moving beyond the long-standing concerns of environmental sociology and governance, this calls forth more-than-human theories, methods and modes of engagement. Opening ‘the sociological’ up to deeper understandings of natural and ecological processes – or meeting the universe halfway (cf. Barad 2007) – requires engagement outside of the social sciences and beyond the academia. This session brings together a diverse panel of experts to begin the work of undisciplining and seeing where it then leads us.
Professor Amita Baviskar (Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi)
Dr Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé (Sociological Review Fellow of 2017)
Professor Alice Larkin (University of Manchester)
Plenary Convener and Chair: David Evans (The University of Sheffield)
Annual Lecture 2018: Unthinking Sociology and Overcoming its History Deficit
Professor Satnam Virdee (University of Glasgow)
Tuesday 19th June 2018, 16.00-18.00
Over the past three decades or so, sociology has been increasingly dehistoricised, and accompanying its growing obsession with presentism has been a certain ‘narrowing of its vision’ (Back 2014). Given this accelerating ‘retreat into the present’ (Elias 1987), now seems like an appropriate moment to take stock and consider the possible returns that might accrue from a more thorough-going engagement with Immanuel Wallerstein’s call to ‘unthink sociology’ of this present-oriented kind in favour of that which is more historically-inflected.
First, I will seek to demonstrate how a stronger historical consciousness can help to stretch the postcolonial project of ‘reconstructing modernity’s past’ (Bhambra 2007), and particularly the place of racism within it. In correctly drawing attention to Sociology’s pervasive eurocentrism and the constitutive part played by colonialism and racism in the making of modernity, postcolonial accounts have at the same time, a disposition to homogenise the West. The consequences of this are that it leaves no analytic room to identify and make sense of racisms within the European interior (e.g. antisemitism). How can an approach more attentive to history help us understand the production of racism within the European exterior and the interior simultaneously?
Second, I will consider the rise of reactionary populism, particularly within the US and UK. Many sociologists have been left flat-footed, unable to think race and class together when making sense of Brexit or Trump. I will demonstrate how such social processes are better understood over the longue durée, arguing that capital, both historically and contemporaneously, has maximised its returns through the social production of racial difference. My suggestion here is that to some extent these contemporary manifestations of populism are path dependent, which of course is why history matters.
Keynote: Professor Satnam Virdee (University of Glasgow)
Respondents: Dr Sivamohan Valluvan (University of Warwick)
Respondents: Professor Bev Skeggs (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Chair: Dr Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths, University of London)