2016 BJS Public Lecture
Thursday, 20 October 2016, at 6.30 p.m. in Old Theatre (Main Building), London School of Econonomics and Political Science, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE
'Sociology of W.E. du Bois: Why du Bois is the founder of American scientific sociology'
Aldon Morris, Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African and American Studies, Northwestern University, discussed evidence from his book, The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology, showing Du Bois, an influential 20th century black scholar, was the founding father of modern scientific sociology. Please follow this link to the podcast of the lecture
2016 BJS Prize Announcement
The 2016 Prize has been awarded to Robert J. Brym, Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhong for the co authored work 'Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising' which was originally published in BJS 62(2). Professor Brym accepted the Prize on behalf of his colleagues aat the 2016 BJS Annal Lecture on 20 October 2016. Listen to Robert Brym's short podcast here
2016 Lecture Debate Interview
On 20October 2016, Professor Adon Morris gave a lecture entitled 'The sociology of W.E du Bois: why du Bois is the founer of Amrican scientific sociology' , Nigel Dodd interviews Morris on his account of dynamic forces that generated scientific schools of thought in social science during du Bois' era. View the interview here
Also, listen to his fascinating lecture by following this link which will be made available shortly on the Events Website to the audio podcast of the lecture or watch the Lecture via LSE Video Podcast, YouTube or LSE Soundcloud.
Launch of the BJS Early Career Prize
We are delighted to announce the launch of the BJS Early Career Prize for authors of papers published in the BJS in the first five years from the date they are awarded their PhD. Consideration of papers is now open, and first award will be made in 2017.
Introduction of Special Sections
The BJS has introducied a new feature - Special Sections - which consist of small clusters of 3-5 papers on a particular theme that may be either topical and 'in the news' or of cutting edge importance. Read the first special section, edited by Mike Savage and Christiana on Aesthetics and Social Change.
Piketty Special Issue of British Journal of Sociology
The special issue of BJS devoted to discussing Piketty which includes Mike Savage, John Holmwood. Jonathan Hopkin, David Soskice, Craig Calhoun, Di Perrons, Tony Atkinson, Frank Cowell, David Piachaud, Laura Bear, Gareth Jones and with a response by Thomas is now live. Please see the special issue page on the Wiley website. (Access to this issue is free, i.e. no subscription necessary)
For older news please go to the News archive pages.
2016 BJS Prizewinners' Comment
Professor Robert J. Brym commented on behalf of his colleagues (Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhong) on the publication of their paper: 'Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising', British Journal of Sociology 65(2): 266-92: (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-4446.12080/full)
'My experience publishing in the BJS since the mid-80s has been uniformly agreeable. However, when my students and I won the biennial BJS prize for our paper on the use of social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising (Brym et al. 2014), agreeableness turned to surprise and delight. It is a great honour to be recognized in this way by a leading journal in the field. I am pleased to have the opportunity to express our gratitude to Katherine Stovel, BJS Editor, who, throughout the review process, offered constructively firm advice; Jacquie Gauntlett, the Journal Manager, whose efficiency is always generously laced with good cheer and practical support; the carefully chosen BJS reviewers, whose critical commentary on our paper did much to improve it; and the BJS Editorial Board, who ultimately decided to honour us in this way. Thank you all.
Our paper uses Gallup poll data to adjudicate two narratives that have crystallized around the study of social movements. Narrative 1 holds that new electronic communications media constitute an important and independent cause of protest in so far as they enhance the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events and warn comrades of real-time threats. Narrative 2 holds that, net of other factors, new electronic communications media play a relatively minor role in generating protest activity, mainly because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers, few of whom are prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Our examination of the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk activism allowed us to conclude that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator in the 2011 Egyptian uprising. However, we also found that grievances, structural availability and existing network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. In short, we found that both narratives have some validity but both must be qualified.
I've been asked to say a few words about the origins, evolution and broader implications of our paper. I must begin by emphasizing that it originated as an exercise in pedagogy, not a venture in academic publishing. Traditional pedagogy uses what might be called the 'skills method' of instruction. In elementary school we learn the properties of numbers and apply what we learn to instances of addition, subtraction and so on. These instances are called problems but, typically, they have little or no connection to gripping issues in the real world. That is why many students find arithmetic and math boring and difficult. The skills method is widely employed in universities too. Even in graduate-level courses students are expected to consume and debate conventional wisdom. Courses rarely afford students the opportunity to conduct hands-on research that allows them to discover something new, which is where most of the excitement resides in intellectual life.
A second approach to learning is the 'case method'. It presents students with an unresolved intellectual controversy and expects them to figure out how to solve it, learning required 2
skills along the way. Students are obliged to devise, discuss, defend and refine the decisions they make as they solve the controversy. The case method involves the identification of real-world problems, the systematic analysis of evidence and the application of reasoned decision-making. After more than half a century as a student and a professor, I am convinced that the case method is more engaging than the skills method and therefore the superior form of pedagogy in terms of learning outcomes.
And so I apply the case method in my social movements graduate seminar at the University of Toronto, expecting my students to help me resolve an ongoing theoretical dispute in the field by conducting research that results in a co-authored, published paper. It was an easy task to identify controversies in our field in 2012. The near simultaneous eruption of the Occupy movement, the Spanish indignados, the Arab Spring and other uprisings prompted analysts to debate a range of significant analytical issues. To what degree did these large, energetic and sometimes violent protests demonstrate the existence of a single movement whose regional variants sprang from similar, global causes? To what degree did the protests demonstrate the capacity of human agency to change structures of social inequality and cultural hegemony that had formerly seemed unyielding? To what degree did the protests result from the introduction of new communications technologies that made it possible for previously disconnected individuals and networks to challenge authority in a new way? Participants in the 2017 seminar will research the globalization question. Participants in the 2015 seminar researched the agency/structure/culture debate and wrote a paper that is now under review. Participants in the 2012 seminar focused on the relationship between new communications technology and protest and wrote the paper that won the BJS award.
As my students review the literature related to our problem, I make a habit of noting how frequently sociologists innovate theoretically when they pay little attention to Alfred Kinsey's insistence that "variation is everything" and how often they increase our understanding of a problem when they take Alfred Kinsey's mantra seriously (Kinsey 2004). Manuel Castells is an example of a theoretical innovator (Castells 2012). He insists that social movements form only when hope and outrage can be communicated to others on a large scale. In 2012 Castells wrote that such emotions 'spread by contagion in a world networked by the wired Internet'. Thus, in Egypt in 2011, activists 'planned the protests on Facebook, coordinated them through Twitter, spread them by SMSs and webcast them to the world on YouTube'. Castells forcefully brings an important new phenomenon to our attention, but there is little variation here, little sense that new communications media may be only one in a hierarchy of causes of protest, and not necessarily the most important one at that. In contrast, by admitting the possibility of such variation, we undertook research that tests the generalizability of Castells' assertion, thus increasing our understanding of the role of new communications media in contemporary social movements. That was the intent of our BJS article. Similarly, it is the intent of our still unpublished paper from the 2015 seminar not to insist that structure or culture or agency most strongly influences levels of activism - we already have plenty of sociologists who say that - but to identify the kinds of social contexts in which each of these causal forces predominate (Brym et al. 2016). And it will be the intent of our 2017 paper not to assume that common globalization processes give contemporary social movements a unity of purpose but to identify the social 3
conditions that account for variation in the capacity of globalization processes to have such an effect. Remembering that variation is everything allows us to pose questions in this way.
I end, as I began, with thanks - this time to the graduate students in my social movements seminar, whose intelligence, energy and enthusiasm continue to enrich and inspire me.
Toronto, 24 September 2016
Brym, R., Broćić, M., Nevin, A., Pettinicchio, D., Slavina, A., Caron, C., Redquest, E., Cheung, E. and Picard, A. 2016 'The effects of structure, culture and agency on university student protest in high- and low-activism settings', unpublished paper, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto.
Brym, R., Godbout, M., Hoffbauer, A., Menard, G. and Zhang, T. 2014 'Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising', British Journal of Sociology 65(2): 266-92.
Castells, M. 2012 Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet
Age, Cambridge UK: Polity.
Kinsey 2004, Condon, B. (dir.), 20th Century Fox (film).