The Fictions of Modern Social Theory

MPIfG Lecture

  • Date: Oct 6, 2021
  • Time: 17:00 - 18:30
  • Speaker: Gurminder Bhambra
  • University of Sussex
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 The Fictions of Modern Social Theory
The consolidation of modern social theory, in the writings of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, coincided with the height of European empires and global war between them. Yet, empire lay outside the purview of mainstream social theory except as a phenomenon associated with earlier historical periods and civilizations.

Even in the work of Du Bois – a theorist excluded from the canon until recently – the issue of colonialism was not immediately evident, but something worked towards from an initial address of the seeming particularities of race relations in the US. As social theory developed into sociology in the mid-twentieth century, most European countries were confronted by anti-colonial movements and challenges to their global dominance. However, these challenges to the political structures of European modernity, similarly, seemed not to impinge on what sociology came to see as its “jurisdiction” – namely, issues of class, gender, and sexuality. The issue is not simply to add colonialism to sociology’s repertoire of topics, but to show how that repertoire must change and the concepts and methodologies with which it is associated be transformed. Central to this is to recognize and address five fictions that currently organize the conceptual framework of modern social theory and sociology: the fiction of stages of social development; the fiction of modern subjectivity; the fiction of the nation-state; the fiction of class and formally free labor; and, finally, the fiction of sociological reason.

Gurminder K. Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is author of Connected Sociologies (2014) and the award-winning Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (2007). She is also co-editor of Decolonising the University (2018) and co-author of Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (2021).

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