- Comment on "Canada's Impossible Science:Historical and Institutional Origins of the Coming Crisis in Anglo-Canadian Sociology"
Do grand visions and preoccupations with how we ought to be doing our work have a place in the contemporary world of Anglo-Canadian sociology or should we avert our gaze from the flood of imperatives that we are implored to take seriously and just get on with it? Get on with the teaching? Get on with the scramble for resources and recognition? Get on with the construction of our world, the consensual observations that once on the page are us, the texts of sociology? Recognition and reputation do flow from publication and engaged teaching. That much we know or should know.
So why not just do it and, thereby, perhaps, banish or, at least, reduce the innervating gloom of collective self-doubt that seems to be so much with us these days? So why not stop wringing our hands about our journals and simply fill their pages with worthy observations? So why not stop complaining about the 'quality' of our meetings and take up the challenge of finding there those who can understand our specialized (often very specialized) ways of talking and writing?
Why not, indeed? McLaughlin provides us with plenty of reasons why not, plenty of walls that can stop us: the strange tendency of the marginalized to emasculate their own and, thereby, obscure the horizon of the future; the insecurities of methodological fundamentalists ("it's my way or the highway"); and, paradoxically, the virtues of acritical sociology (McLaughlin's preferred world) or, in another guise, historical sociology (and there are real virtues clinging to critical/historical sociology) that, nevertheless, can from a certain point of view hide lethal seeds: "The desire to improve the world, and therefore the condition of the people who occupy and despoil it, is, however compassionate, an impulse born of ignorance and arrogance" (Gass, 1999:150). [End Page 113]
I am, perhaps, simple-minded but for me there always has been some wisdom in taking what's at hand (one's colleagues and their worlds, all of them), encouraging the obvious (good teaching and research), hoping that a thousand flowers will bloom and trying to keep at bay the problematic tendencies of those who yearn for cultural revolutions so they can see themselves everywhere (Simpson, 2003). That is to say: The idea of sociology first correctly mooted in modernity by Marx who understood that capitalism and by extension all that is social is a constructed human order and not a natural or God-given order; the idea that we live in worlds that we do, not find, (simple enough to grasp now) should have free reign to explore (by construction) the billions of social worlds that are.1
Should there be room in the house of sociology for true believers who want to limit and draw sharp boundaries, those who think that their constructed world is the only world, those who are one-way only methodologists, those who are evidence-shy 'intellectuals' taken in by their own high-minded prescriptions for bettering (they think) the human condition? I have difficulty with these projects. The difficulty has nothing to do with the nature of proposed 'cures' and the ideologies that frame them-left, right or centre-or devotion to a particular methodology or even single-mindedness regarding some world. Rather it has to do with the fact that these projects blind their proponents, blind them to not seeing what they do not see as they gaze on a world from a position. Understanding that we do not understand something else because our observation of something present excludes that understanding is the beginning of wisdom in the modern circumstance. It curbs our arrogance and of more importance enables us paradoxically to see the world as it is by understanding that we don't see something when we do see something else. It is our inheritance from Marx and Freud wisely invested (Luhmann, 2002:189).
So, yes, let's get on with it. And, yes, let's celebrate those who have done it, those who have eschewed the easy pronouncement and the quick fix: our...