As the social scientists of modern society, sociologists find themselves in a peculiar situation. Human civilization appears on the brink of collapse; the ravages of global capitalism are turning natural and social orders upside down. Some theorists are declaring the “end of history,” while others wonder if humans will soon become extinct. People find themselves increasingly shouldering burdens on their own, strangers to themselves and others. Struggles for recognition and identity are forged in harsh landscapes of social dislocation and inequality. The relationship of the individual to the state atrophies as governmental power becomes at once more remote and absolutely terrifying. How are we as sociologists expected to theorize under such circumstances? What implications result for the mission of sociology as a discipline and area of study? What political initiatives, if any, can counter these trends?
This chapter provides an immanent critique of sociology as a profession, vocation, and critical practice. Sociology today (in the US and around the globe) faces fierce social, economic, and political headwinds. The discipline continues to be a perilous choice as a vocation for independent researchers as much as the shrinking professoriate. Yet while the traditional functions of sociology are thrown into doubt, there has been an increase in critical practices on the part of some sociologists. As institutional norms, values, and traditions continue to be challenged, there will be passionate debates about the production of social worlds and the validity claims involved in such creation. Sociologists must play an active role in such discourse. Sociology is needed today as a mode of intervention as much as occupational status system or method of inquiry.
I would like the thank the helpful comments of Harry Dahms, Lawrence Hazelrigg, Daniel Kavish, and attendees at the “Sociology between a Profession and Vocation” session of the annual Southern Sociological Society in Greenville, SC (March 30–April 1, 2017), where an earlier draft of this chapter was presented.
Harrison, D.M. (2019), "Sociology at the End of History: Profession, Vocation and Critical Practice", The Challenge of Progress (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 133-155. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0278-120420190000036018
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