Read Graham Crow’s feedback below. What do you think? Email judith.mudd@britsoc .org.uk by 18 September.
The delineation of the scope of Sociology has been a matter of on-going debate since the foundation of the discipline. The latest effort of the REF 2021 sub-panel 21 criteria group to describe Sociology is more extensive than the 2014 descriptor in terms of word length, but the result is a more narrowly circumscribed conception of what the discipline is. Of the three sentences added to the new version that is out for consultation, it is the second that narrows the field. The statement that “It is a critical discipline which focusses on and is concerned with issues of social inequality, division and justice” may appear unexceptionable until it is asked what such wording omits. Pondering this took me back to my 2006 inaugural lecture which set out to ask ‘If Sociology is the answer, what is the question?’ Taking inspiration from influential publication titles, I argued that Sociology’s defining questions were ‘Who are we?’, ‘Can we live together?’ and ‘Who gets what?’ The sub-panel’s specification of Sociology as a discipline concerned with ‘social inequality, division and justice’ confirms the value of the third question which John Westergaard used as the title for his 1995 book, but it sidelines the second (to my mind equally-important) question which Alain Touraine used for his 2000 book. Societies and other social entities are made up of both divisions and unities, of separation and togetherness, of conflict and cohesion, of schisms and solidarities (as David Lockwood’s 1992 book Solidarity and Schism flags as a key conceptual pairing). It is ironic that solidarity should be lost from the sub-panel’s view in the year that the BSA Annual Conference theme was ‘Identity, Community and Social Solidarity’. It is to be hoped that the wording of the sub-panel’s proposed descriptor can be revised to include both halves of the sociological tradition. Conflict sociology has its place, but it is not synonymous with Sociology as a whole.
Graham Crow, University of Edinburgh