Twelve Favourite Living Sociologists On twitter a
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Twelve Favourite Living Sociologists On twitter a few months back I ventured a list of ‘top ten' living sociologists. What I meant of course was my favourites, meaning those who had most impressed or influenced me during my intellectual travels. Without revisiting that list I am in this blog offering for consideration a top twelve that, I guess, bears a close resemblance to my original selections. Ranking them is a step too far so there come ‘in no particular order'. Attached to each is a publication I have personally relished. I hope it goes without saying that I welcome dissent, however irrational or bombastic. Louis Wacquant is not here as a proxy for his mentor and colleague Pierre Bourdieu. It is not coincidental, however, that he shares the latter's virtues, at least in my estimation. Chief amongst them is his straddling of what are too often well-patrolled borders between the theoretical and the substantive. Wacquant is a reflexive practitioner. His studies, often of outsiders, from boxers to abandoned Afro-Americans subsisting within a largely subterranean network of informal markets on the outskirts of Chicago, (a) bear testimony to a pragmatic blending of methods beyond the new post-quantitative/qualitative orthodoxy of ‘mixed methods'; (b) at every juncture speak of a genuine dialectic of theory and research; and (c) present a bold case for macro-, meso- or micro-social change. And the publication of choice? It's Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Urban Marginality (Polity, 2008). John Goldthorpe may be a surprise inclusion, at least for those familiar with my own efforts. After all, he is best known as an empirically scrupulous neo-Weberian researcher of social mobility in the UK, and am I not a professed neo-Marxist guilty of formulating a vulgar-sounding ‘greedy bastards hypothesis' in relation to health inequalities? What would he think? But he is surely our premier post-war English sociologist? His contribution extends well beyond his series of studies and reflections on social mobility to encompass theoretical interventions ranging from a critique of ethnomethodology (with which I agreed) to the support of rational choice theory (with which I disagreed). The thoughtfulness, subtlety and clarity of his writing are exemplary. My favourite interjection: On Sociology (2nd ed, Stanford, 2007). Eric Ohlin Wright's appearance may be less surprising. He is probably best known for his - I think telling - neo-Marxist theories and studies of the continuing salience of social class in what I prefer to call ‘high' rather than ‘late' modernity (hindsight will adjudicate on the terminology). But he has added another string to his bow: he has proffered and interjected ‘alternative futures'. A number of sociologists have lamented the reluctance of our ‘community' to enter this domain of non-utopian envisioning of possibilities, what Giddens has called adventures in ‘utopian realism'. Has the need to do so ever been so plain? My own, and my family's (http//:Cost_ofLiving.com), sense of the case for an action sociology sits well with this emphasis. The chosen work is: Envisioning Real Utopias (Verso, 2010). Manual Castells, progenitor of the ‘network society', is someone I encountered late. Simon Williams was quicker on the draw, accenting his potential for medical sociology in my ‘Contemporary Theorists and Medical Sociology', published earlier this year. Having dipped into his triad on the network society, I moved more recently onto his network-informed analysis of social movements. Incorporating empirical analyses of activism during the ‘Arab Spring' via Iceland and assorted city-based occupations to resistance in Spain, his latest book captures much of the present. He portrays it as theory-lite, but I don't see it that way. It represents a new take-off point for thinking about digital-age social movements: Networks of Outrage and Hope (Polity, 2012). Emmanuel Wallerstein is the progenitor and principal advocate of the neo-Marxist ‘world systems theory'. I came to his largely historical work because an old friend and colleague from Emory University, Terry Boswell, who died prematurely from, but was in no way a victim of, motor neurone disease, was an enthusiastic convert (he tried to persuade Emory to recruit EW but to no avail). Wallerstein's theory might seem dated post-1989/91, but he anticipated Marxism beyond the nation-state and points to the future. His work is a reminder that agency and culture alike
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