Sue Scott, ESA President 2017-2019
1968 – 50 Years On
I am pleased to be writing for this second issue of the new style The European Sociologist; I hope you enjoyed TES41 – we have certainly had positive feedback. Thanks again to Dagmar Danko for her editing work, and for the idea of having an issue focusing on the 50th anniversary of 1968. I have mixed feelings about 1968 – just thinking about it makes me feel old, but at the time I felt too young. I was 15 and just becoming politically aware, in the context of the Vietnam war, Northern Ireland and of feminist consciousness. I was frustrated by my lack of understanding and involvement, but energised by the sense of possibility. I am very glad that I didn’t know then that 50 years on the world would continue to be beset by war and conflict, that Martin Luther King’s dream would not have come true and that women would still not have attained equality – my youthful optimism would have been seriously undermined!
I am struggling to retain some optimism as I write this piece from the centre of the impasse that is Brexit Britain. It is an open question as to what will happen in the coming weeks and months, but one thing that is certain is that we, as a sociological research community, must continue to define Europe broadly, beyond the boundaries of the EU. What is happening to Europe must be a focus for, not a limitation of, sociological research.
ESA 2019 Conference
As plans develop for our 14th ESA Conference in Manchester next August the importance of taking both a broad and a long view seems particularly salient. As Gary Pollock points out in this issue, Manchester can lay claim to having been an engine of sociology, as well as of the industrial revolution, so it is apt that we will come together, literally, on the site of Peterloo to discuss and analyse the threats to democracy, the barriers to inclusion and equality, the idea of belonging and global social relations beyond the European frame of reference. As sociologists we are particularly well placed to cut through the rhetoric and to bring together an analysis of historical continuities and discontinuities, and structural and discursive shifts, with the ways in which these shape, and are shaped, by the embedded and embodied practices of everyday life. We must retain our confidence in the importance of exercising the sociological imagination and hone our communication skills to ensure that we are heard.
Despite much that is depressing – the rise and rise of populism; the threat to the very basis of our research which ‘post truth’ represents; the appalling situations suffered by migrants and asylum seekers as well as many other ongoing challenges, such as poverty, racial, gendered and homophobic violence, organised crime and much else – I nevertheless continue to feel positive about what sociology and sociologists can contribute to the analysis, understanding, and even solution to these challenges. In Manchester we have an important opportunity to really engage with each other, including with those colleagues that we have not yet met. Not just in the quick fire of discussion after paper presentations – important though that is, but also over coffee and lunch and dinner and in all the other interstitial spaces that a conference provides. I am confident that our plenary speakers will set the tone and provide stimulus for these conversations.
All the plenaries will be held in the fabulous Bridgewater Concert Hall in the heart of the city and our speakers Manuel Boatcă, Sari Hanafi, Michèle Lamont, Nasar Meer, Françoise Vergès and Michel Wieviorka represent the splendid diversity of sociology and sociologists. You will be able to read more about them and what they will speak about on the Conference website (launched in September), but here is a brief overview:
Manuela Boatcă is Romanian and is currently head of the Global Studies programme at the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany. She was awarded ‘Sociologist of the Month’ by Current Sociology in September 2017. Manuela is interested in the analysis of peripheral experiences and structural dependencies. Sari Hanafi is the President of the International Sociological Association (ISA), he is from the Lebanon and is Professor of Sociology at the American University in Beirut. Sari works on migration with a particular interest in the Pakistani diaspora. Michèle Lamont is Professor of European Studies and of Sociology and African/American Studies at Harvard. She was President of the American Sociological Association 2016-17 and is a past chair of the Council of European Studies. She is a cultural and comparative sociologist with a wide range of interests including: inequality, racism, stigma, academia, knowledge and what makes for successful societies. Nasar Meer is Professor of Race, Identity and Citizenship at the University of Edinburgh. His research explores a range of ways of approaching unity and diversity. He is particularly interested in ‘Muslim consciousness’ and how it features in debates about globalisation, the public sphere and secularism. Françoise Vergès is a feminist political scientist and historian. She is French and grew up in La Réunion. She has published on many aspects of colonialism including slavery remembrance and colonial psychiatry. She held the Global South(s) Chair, at FMSH in Paris, from 2014-18 and has also worked as a journalist and film producer. Michel Wieviorka is a long time friend and life member of the ESA. He is a French sociologist and President of the Board of FMSH. He was ISA President 2006-10 and has been a member of ERC since 2014. His research focuses on conflict, terrorism and violence.
When I was elected ESA President, I made a commitment to ensuring that ESA plenary speakers reflected a broader diversity than has often been the case, while ensuring that we selected speakers who were outstanding in their fields, were representative of a broad sweep of sociological approaches, and with a reputation for both academic and public engagement. In my view this has been achieved in our selection of these six excellent academics.
We also have 14 Semi-Plenaries, many organised by our Research Networks, but some chosen by the Executive, for example: ‘Nationalism, Europe, and Brexit’ (organised jointly with the British Sociological Association) and ‘Sexual Citizenship in Europe and Beyond’ which is the ‘President’s’ Semi-Plenary (designed to showcase the President’s research field or some other topic of their choice), organised by myself jointly with RN23 – this will be an open event involving Manchester Pride, as it is ‘Pride Weekend’ immediately after the conference. There will also be at least 12 Midday Special sessions covering topics such as Publishing and Open Access; Communicating Sociology to the Public; Research Assessment; Big Data; Disrupting Disciplinary Boundaries; the ERC and The Legacy of Robert Fine.
Important though all of these sessions are, it is not enough just to talk to each other. The ESA and the Local Organising Committee will work hard to create opportunities both within and around the conference for public and media engagement. We hope that you will take time to see something of the City outside of the conference rooms and also that some of you will be able to extend your visit to explore the wonderful countryside close to Manchester (The Lake and Peak Districts), to visit the other great Cities of the North of England or perhaps the Edinburgh Festival.
Another major area of work for the current Executive results from the decision to put the publication of our two journals out to tender, so that we can make an informed decision about the best way forward when the contract with Taylor & Francis expires in 2020. Of course we may decide not to make a change, but in the name of good governance and in the context of major changes in academic publishing, the Publications Committee felt that it was wise to explore all the options. We expect to make a decision in the Spring of 2019 so that there will be plenty of time to plan the next steps for ESA publications. One of the most significant issues on the academic publishing horizon is Science Europe’s PlanS, which entails the requirement that ALL publications arising from ‘publicly funded’ research must be immediately open access, and be published in fully OA not hybrid journals, from 2020. No matter how we might feel about the positive aspects of OA, PlanS has significant implications for our choices about where to publish, for publisher’s business models and for journal rankings. I am committed to being fully involved in debate and consultation on PlanS and will keep you informed, and write a longer piece on the topic in TES43.
Internal and external commitments
I have been involved in a number of events in recent months and done a good deal of travelling on the ESA’s behalf, as well as routine visits to the office. It was a pleasure to be involved in the ESA PhD Summer School in Paris in June – the students were excellent and thanks are due to the hard work of the Postgraduate Committee (see their report in the next issue). I spoke at a round table at the joint plenary of the midterm meetings of RN26 and RN27 and the Italian Sociological Association, in Catania on ‘Thinking beyond the North/South binary’. This joint midterm meeting was definitely a success and thanks are due to Teresa Consoli for co-ordinating it. There was also a joint midterm meeting of RN02 and RN07 and the Maltese Sociological Association, in Malta and I think this is a pattern which should be encouraged. I gave the annual inaugural lecture at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon in October. I travelled from Lisbon the Paris to the ESA National Associations meeting, which was extremely well organised by Sokratis Koniordos. It was really good to have so many National Associations represented around the table and to fully appreciate the networking potential which the ESA provides, as well as being a conduit for the voices of sociology across Europe.
I have also continued to be active as a member of the Governing Board of the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities, which brings together scientific networks, associations, disciplines and universities. Its main aim is to raise the voice of Social Sciences and Humanities, especially in relation to EU funding.
As we move towards the end of 2018, I wish I could recapture some of the optimism that I had about politics and progress in 1968, but at least I can feel positive about sociology and about the ESA!