Canadian Sociology in Uncertain Times: Reflecting on the Past/ Confronting the Future
This session seeks to examine the future of Canadian sociology. It asks the question: “What can Canadian sociology’s unique past tell us about the kinds of substantive issues, theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches, and political causes that are likely to take centre stage in Canada and Canadian sociology in the near and not so near future?”
Over the past fifteen years, Canadian sociologists, French- and English-language alike, have engaged in an intense debate about what the nature and purpose of the Canadian discipline is – or should be. Contributions to the debate have ranged widely: from a heated assessment of Michael Burawoy’s advocacy of ‘public sociology,” to arguments about the wisdom of trying to maintain sociology as a “disciplinary silo” against the incursion of unbridled interdisciplinarity, to a critical consideration of the idea that national sociologies, Canada’s included, might not have a legitimate intellectual space in an increasingly globalized “field of science.” While the discussions have been respectful, feelings run high and opinions have been expressed in strong language because so much is at stake. We want to use the opportunity provided by the ISA meetings to bring these debates to an international audience. A session on the future of Canadian sociology framed in terms of insights gained from theoretical, political, methodological, etc battles we have fought in the past would both benefit Canadian sociologists and stimulate sociologists from other countries to think about the ‘state of the union’ in their respective national sociologies – regardless of the specialty area in which they work. We suspect that in some instances our foreign colleagues would see considerable overlap between the history and horizon of Canadian sociology and the past and future of sociology in their respective nations - and in others not.
Sociology in Canada has some unusual characteristics. It has not one but two large and somewhat insular national sociological communities, one English, one French, with very different histories, intellectual touchpoints, and ‘objects of analysis.’ It has a strong radical political economy community and a large and vibrant political-intellectual feminist community that have made the discipline less ‘liberal’ or mainstream in orientation than might be the case in other countries. As well, of course, Canadian sociology shares many features with the sociologies of other countries (intellectual ‘dependence’ on an American, scientific model of the discipline, vibrant “nationalist” sensibilities, a strong community of scholars interested in postcolonial thought, many close ties with government research and policy bodies, a growing interdisciplinary culture related to the growth of cultural studies, etc.). We would hope that the session would spur some international dialogue on the history of sociology in various countries and stimulate some cross-national debate and comparison of themes, practices, etc. as we move into the future.