By Professor Lynn Jamieson, BSA President
It has been an odd year. As sociologists, we rightly problematize the scale of time or place behind declarations of 'momentous event' but no need with Trump and 'Brexit'.
As BSA president, I have been woefully low key in response, but this is a charge that I actively repudiate if made against the discipline of sociology or the BSA. The narrative of 'wake-up call to the out-of-touch who must mend their ways' has been stretched by the occasional sociologists, young and 'senior', to sociology. Self-critical reflection is a key part of our discipline but not all versions of this are helpful. I found myself at an ESRC Centre for Population Change gathering asking the meeting why the body of work on European migration was not higher profile during the referendum campaign, feeling enormous self-dissatisfaction at my failure to help engineer this.
More bizarrely unhelpful is the suggestion that sociologists have no angle on what has happened or that there is some dire falling away in production of good quality detailed sociological work on relevant topics. There is recent research on anything relevant you care to think of: the lives of working class people or those labelled 'the squeezed middle'; the genesis of anti-immigrant rhetoric/attitudes and racism; the resurgence of misogyny; and the attractions of right wing social movements. Much includes work by early career sociologists.
There is also relevant 'public sociology' drawing from published work. Many sociologists and sociology departments participated in public debate in the build up to and the aftermath of these fateful votes. The BSA, through its 'Latest News' webpages and Network, and the brain child of former BSA presidents, Discover Society, carry pithy and well-evidence copy. Another former president, John Brewer, is instrumental in the 2017 launch of a new Public Sociology monograph series; while the BSA is also launching a cross-over series with Policy Press aimed at a public audience: 21st Century Standpoints. The postgraduate forum and early career event 'Public Sociology and the Role of the Researcher' (2017) exemplifies the trend. Then there is our teaching tweaked to address momentous events (also see posts on the ASA blog). At the more mundane local level in higher education in the UK, the tightening of government control and facilitation of privatisation proceeds, while talking 'academic freedom' and 'student experience' as the Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 completes its passage through parliament, TEF shapes up and Scottish universities decide to opt out.
The BSA joins forces with other professional associations and responds as best it can on such issues. This is not a time to talk down sociology but to get out and do. If you find yourself losing faith in the discipline, read the shortlist of the BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize for the best single authored book of an early career sociologist. The quality and range remains fabulous.