UWA AnthSocs Seminar Series

For whom and for what do we pursue sociology?

— Michael Burawoy, 2005, ‘For Public Sociology’

The sociological imagination enables us to grasp the interplay between man and society, of biography and history, of self and world

— C Wright Mills, 1959, The Sociological Imagination

all sociologists write stories

— Game & Metcalfe, 1996

Nicholas Gane and Les Back, 2013:

“The craft is about imaginative methodological and theoretical work that puts the promise of sociology to work, and in so doing enables us to think about things, including our own lives, differently. But there is, however, a further quality to Mills’ idea of the craft: ‘literary craftsmanship’. For sociology to be effective, especially beyond the academy, it must have literary ambitions.”

Ben Agger, 2007:

Sees “sociology as a literary activity, to be pursued in order to make good ideas about social change accessible.”

Patricia Leavy, 2013:

Fiction is a “natural extension” of what many qualitative researchers already do.

Sociologists today turn to fiction in many ways + for various reasons:

A number of leading social researchers have written novels: W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel Tarde, Frank Parkin, Raymond Williams, Anne Oakley

For ethnographic or sociological style of fiction, we can also read: Ursula Le Guin, Georges Perec, Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Doris Lessing

see Jacob and Larsen 2013 on ethnographic fiction in cultural geography



Sociology of literature/culture (eg Williams); Bourdieusian frames of taste and distinction; Cultural sociology



A medium for evocatively representing research: to protect participant identities, for teaching and public engagement (i.e. research translation)



Creative and/or participatory exploration of social worlds and imaginaries (e.g. story-completion; arts-based research)

This trajectory has a long history:

see Lepenies (1988) on pre Comte (and pre “method”) roots of sociology and/as literary writing

HG Wells’ role in establishment of London’s Sociological Society in early 20th century

narrative and creative turns in social research

also: debates across writing on fact versus fiction, and content/form

and, of course, whole history and contemporary debates on writing culture across ethnography

my interest: both public-facing work, and ‘internal’ development (i.e. product and process)

— this is why Mills’ notions of craft are still so valuable, as these endeavours aren’t distinct

So Fi Zine
7 editions to date — 2 per year

Edition 1 launched June 2017 at London Radical Book Fair

With Patricia Leavy, Howard Becker, Les Back, Nirmal Puwar, Michael Burawoy, Raewyn Connell, Deborah Lupton, Rob Shields. Forthcoming with Ruha Benjamin.

Publishes short stories, poetry, and visual art (and a special issue of creative essays).

Offering authors the space to creatively develop and extend their academic practice, the zine is committed to sociological questions and the aesthetic evocation of social meaning. The seven editions published so far explore social fictions, voice, sensory attentiveness, social alternatives, disciplinary publics, future imaginaries, and modes of creativity.

Over 8k ‘readers’ (31k page views & 8k unique site visitors)

‘Unbecoming Strangers’ by Fabian Cannizzo, So Fi Zine #3

Sally had been working at a call centre for months now. Nothing permanent, she was sure to mention to any prospective employer. Just a casual stint. Night relief. But in truth, her contract had mutated into regular 40 hour and upwards weeks. Taking calls was mostly mindless scripted work, but her co-workers brought relief to the droning shifts. On the edges of the city, they were a family of convenience, married in the shared isolation of unsociable hours… At night, the city was clear. Almost open. In the grooves of these rhythms, Sally became attuned also to its asynchronicities. An ill manager meant understaffing. A missing bus was 45 minutes of pay docked. The life of the day-dwellers had been blessed with unnoticed conveniences. The night transformed a metropolis of abundance into frontier of far-out places.

More than setting scene of a place and time period: tempo of lifestyle

Fiction @ The Sociological Review
Online short story series

Launched September 2018

14 pieces published to date

For fiction that is sociological in style, scope and sensibility – work that imaginatively extends sociology’s study of society into fiction

Up to 3000 words plus 500 word exegeses

‘A Bench at the Side of the Road’ by Jay Emery, The Sociological Review online

For Jamie, Claire will never change, no one that leaves do really. You can’t exfoliate this place out as if it were dirt in your pores with a bit of university, a newbuild house and mojitos with your new mates. No matter how much scrubbing you do, and some have tried, this place is layered in you. All those lauding leavers, that appear once a year in The Talbot on a Christmas Eve to let everyone know how shit it is to be back and that they are only here to spend Christmas with their Mums and Dads, have only plastered over the surface.

More than characters in dialogue: characterisation in relation to place/space, cultural rituals, and other people

Into the Sea is an experiment in sociological imagination.

Set mostly in Sydney, Australia, and in the glow of late youth, the story follows a year in the life of Taylah Brown, a twenty-five year old woman figuring out who she is, what she wants and who she might be.

Visiting her family, having dinner parties with friends, attending a wedding and shopping at IKEA, Taylah’s everyday life is set against a turbulent background of real national and international events from the year 2014.

It weaves together themes on family, work, gender, class, education, youth, rituals, risk, nationalism, neoliberalism, and the white bubble.

Chapter 8, Into the Sea

The last group run a skit about, as they loosely introduce, Australia. Fourteen of the fifteen potter about the stage miming a sausage sizzle, thin white bread arms of one kid wrapped around another who wriggles like a burning rocket, a small herd of sheep bleating on all fours, a cantering bushman who’s top half cracks a whip and the bottom clops along like a horse, and a lifeguard saving people at the beach. One kid, full of cheek, wears a blue singlet (the kind that’s somehow still called a wife-beater) complete with pillow-stuffed beer belly and black rubber thongs on his feet. He staggers around the front of the hall holding a can of coke, a beer can stand-in that he still would have had to beg one of the camp staff for. The corks hanging off his brown hat knock into one other. He does nothing but swat at mostly unreal bugs, skol the empty can with his head back and pretend to fart, lifting one leg, fanning the air behind his backside. The act is so slick it’s like watching a dog swim out of the deep end of the pool for the first time. An act grown in his bones.

Mr Grange loses it. He slaps his knee and wipes his eyes, hooting louder than the rest of the grade combined.

‘Darl,’ the boy says when he realises his pull. ‘You’ve gone and burnt the snags.’ He points at a sheep and the audience roars. ‘Aw, tell him he’s dreaming.’

The group finish with a hand-on-heart delivery of four Peter Allen song lines they know from a Qantas ad that aired before they were born, closing their eyes for New York to Rio and old London town, despite few of them having folks who can afford overseas holidays, and with no matter how far or how wide I roam, the whole full room double belts the final line, screaming the pitch out the second time. I still call Australia home. I still call Australia home.

Concepts to write with:

from effectivity to quality of affectivity for creative public sociology

a semiotic concept — Rolf Kloepfer’s work on advertising —’more than’ mimesis, as eliciting changes in understanding and behaviour

Mikhail Bakhtin — unity of time-space — ‘intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships than are artistically expressed in literature’

Chronotopes are ‘the organising centres for the fundamental narrative events of the novel… it can be said without qualification that to them belongs the meaning that shapes narrative’

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