Sociology as a crime

In 2013 after two men were arrested in Canada for conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack the then Canadian Prime Minister when questioned about what their motives might have been in a news conference said ‘now is not the time to commit sociology‘.  When a conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was asked to elaborate on Harper’s comments and what is wrong with trying to understand why people turn to terror he replied unhelpfully “The root causes of terrorism is terrorists”.  As The Toronto Star said in 2014 in a reference to Harper’s 2103 statement but on another topic, until the prime minister recognizes the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women is a ‘sociological phenomenon,’ no solution is possible.

The notion that sociology is something that is ‘committed’ in the same sense that crimes are committed is not surprising from the establishment’s point of view. As a sociologist I take great comfort from the fact that it has been condemned at various times by both left wing and right wing governments.  By condemning sociology politicians are condemning the ability to understand the way societies work, how different forms of power operate to structure and reproduce society, how it attempts to colonise and shape peoples’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. It is an attack on informed critical thinking, an attack on the demonstration that existing forms of societies, their structures, cultures, distributions of power, influence and reward, are historically and contingently formed and could be other than they are. It demonstrates that the notion that ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) is an ideological illusion that benefits certain groups in society and keeps others in a position of more-or-less despairing acquiescence.

I for one am happy to commit sociology; a sociology committed to the project, as described by Zygmunt Bauman and many others, to tearing away the veil behind which power in all its forms operates, demonstrating that the society we live in could be other, and better, than the one we live in, and that gives a voice to all those groups that have been rendered inaudible by the marginalisation and denigration of their experience and circumstances. This is not without serious difficulties but is surely better than rolling on to our backs to be either violated or having our tummies tickled.