I’ve always liked Marx but hated Marxism. Growing up, I identified mostly with anarchism, and was moved particularly by its critique of power and hierarchy, and the violence that undergirds them. And where Marxism was severe and joyless, anarchism to me seemed playful and creative. In critical sociology, of course, Marxist and Marxian perspectives — I know, I know there’s a difference in the two — have been dominant, and the influence of anarchism has been marginal at best. I don’t write about anarchism either, and sadly don’t think of it very often, but I’m heartened to see that it’s finally making some waves in the academy. First, James C. Scott wrote the marvelous The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia and Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. And now anthropologist David Graeber has been getting a lot of press for his work with Occupy, and for not getting tenure at Yale. See this piece in the New Yorker. (I don’t really know Graeber or his work, so I can’t say much about it). In any event, it’s nice to see scholars take this political philosophy seriously, both as a topic of study and as an analytic perspective (especially given that it’s been proven exactly right in its critique of Marxism over the years).
The magazine n+1 recently published an article about the rise and inefficacy of critical sociology. It’s a strange piece which, i think, accords sociology way too much influence. but it does have some salient points, particularly relating to the balance between structure and agency in sociological writing. The editors write: “In spite of the strenuous attempts by sociologists to preserve some autonomy for the acting subject — Bourdieu’s “habitus,” Latour’s “actor-network” theory — popularization has inevitably resulted in more weight being thrown on the structuring side of things, the network over the actor.” I teach at Lehman College in the Bronx where the majority of students are working class. To put it simply, they are fed up with the overemphasis on structure, they find it deeply tiresome and profoundly disempowering. Continue reading “too much sociology…?”