ISA Congress Toronto July 2018: Two Congresses

Suzanne Franzway, University of South Australia:   

For me the XIX World Congress took two forms: the sociology content and the social milieu. Like everyone, I limited myself to a very few strands plus a couple of the plenaries because there was such a wealth of options available. In my case, I went to labour movement and social movement sessions, and found much to enjoy, be stimulated by and to think about.

A number of the papers in these sessions served to document historical and current conditions but also proposed reflective and developed theorising. Some included startling examples of the extremes to which employers are prepared to push workers. In Chile, Walmart workers were forced to wear diapers as they had no toilet breaks! And yet by mobilising the ‘strategic capacity’ these same workers were able to make substantial gains. I presented at a session that included an excellent paper by Renate Motta on the Daisies March in Brazil. The most interesting papers offered critical analyses, such as those by David Peetz and Georgina Murray who presented with their usual close readings and verve!  Labour movement papers are often pessimistic, but the more useful work grapples with the very real dilemmas faced by these movements. For example, Kim Voss offered a paper that was carefully situated within a territory of seismic change to capitalism and to work. This contextual work was as valuable as the overall argument.

Beneath the (huge) umbrella of sociology we can find ourselves in spaces separated by quite diverse theoretical, technical and historical literatures. The divisions may be seen as a problem, a limitation or even as causing confusion for sociologists, but this Congress provided many fine examples of the possibilities when connections are made across these fields. One such for me was in the social movement RC which certainly has developed its own in-house traditions in recent decades. A good illustration of the process was Kevin McDonald’s paper, which argued for new types of method and intervention, capable of engaging with embodiment, affect and imagination, and with practices of human vulnerability and a corresponding ethics. Kevin advocated giving attention to the increasing importance of creative processes that are central to attempts to construct new relationships between ethics and politics.

The theme of the conference included violence, so we saw concepts and theories of violence mobilised across numbers of sessions. These included Sylvia Walby’s proposals in the first plenary session and Patricia Hill Collins making connections between violence and intersectionality. Walby presented her case for redefining the concept of violence as an institution parallel in significance to those of economy, polity and civil society. This would facilitate the inclusion of violence in analyses of societal transformation, including the contradictory implications of neoliberal forms of securitisation for power and justice. Hill Collins asked how violence constitutes the glue of the interdependence of racism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism and nationalism as distinctive but connected systems of power. The Congress theme also gave impetus to the launch of a new working group on Violence in Society, which drew researchers from every continent. As an aside, it was interesting to see a little of how the bureaucracy works in the structuring of ISA.

On the social: first it was such buzz to be among so many wonderful sociologists and to be able to catch up with new and old colleagues.  However, the venue had some very real limitations. The rooms themselves were fine although some found that the space for sharing papers was quite limited. The main issue was the paucity of eating and drinking options—which is also where so many conversations can go on.  I was not the only person to be quite dismayed by the so-called eating area where prices were extraordinary and service was very limited. Getting coffee etc. was a matter of luck of the queue in the one coffee shop on site.  The other venues nearby were not especially inviting alternatives. All this by way of notes to the ISA2022 who I am sure are well up to accommodating these essential conference ‘needs’.

I had a great ISA and came home with lots of references, ideas and optimism about Sociology in the universe.  Definitely looking forward to ISA i

Share Button