Thursday, June 24, 2010


It took me a long time to figure out how I wanted to write this blog. Should it provide a straight up sociological perspective on the issues of the day? Should it focus specifically on my areas of research interest? Should it be entirely unconnected to my academic life, and instead wander through the wilderness of the things I do in my spare time -- consume science fiction and fantasy, enjoy good music, play video games, be (as one of my American friends puts it) super Canadian?

In my first year of grad school in sociology, I came across a quote by Hannah Arendt (in a 1961 ASR article by Dennis Wrong) that has since become central to my approach to the intent and development of good sociological thinking:
True understanding does not tire of interminable dialogue and vicious circles because it trusts that imagination will eventually catch at least a glimpse of the always frightening light of truth.
It's hard to begin writing when you don't know where to start. But I keep coming back to the Arendt quote over and over again. Following my tendency to think in networks of quotes, Arendt led me to Ursula K. Le Guin, one of my favourite SFF writers and a brilliant essayist:
The monstrous homogenization of our world has now almost destroyed the map, any map, by making every place on it exactly like every other place, and leaving no blanks...As in the Mandelbrot fractal set, the enormously large and the infinitesimally small are exactly the same, and the same leads always to the same again; there is no other, there is no escape, because there is nowhere else.

In reinventing the world of intense, unreproducible, local knowledge, seemingly by a denial or evasion of current reality, fantasists are perhaps trying to assert and explore a larger reality than we now allow ourselves. They are trying to restore the sense -- to regain the knowledge -- that there is somewhere else, anywhere else, where other people may live another kind of life.

The literature of the imagination, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives and therefore offers hope.
Taken together, I think these excerpts encapsulate what I want this blog to be. I want it to be a place where I can think through the ideas and encounters I have both in and out of the classroom. I want to think my life through sociological theory, and sociological theory through my life. Mostly, I want to put both parts of my life into 'interminable dialogue' with one another. Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying that this blog is going to be a hodgepodge of miscellaneous bullshit, but I'm kind of okay with that.


asociologist said...

I love LeGuin as much as the next academic social scientist feminist sci-fi fan, but I think she doesn't give much credit to fractals here. Fractals are really cool - I've got a half-drafted post on fractal concepts in sociology that I've been toying with for months. Also, Mandelbrot Set is a great Coulton song.

More seriously, hooray that you are blogging! Do you want some linkage?

Sarah said...

It's true she doesn't give credit to the awesomeness of fractals, but I think it's a metaphor well-made. YMMV.

And I would love some linkage!

Post a Comment