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Sociology as Documenting Dystopia: Imagining a Sociology Without Borders

Sociology as Documenting Dystopia: Imagining a Sociology Without Borders

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Published by David L. Brunsma
This is a dialogue between a teacher-student and a student-teacher in the discipline of sociology. Critical questions about the state of sociology are pursued in the context of a hegemonic American sociological enterprise. American sociology has become content with continuing to document dystopia, with exploiting those who struggle under societies’ structural weight, leading to a discipline whose work reproduces the very structures of domination we study.
Through this Freirean dialogue, we ponder epistemologies and pedagogies of justice, liberation, and humanity. We hope this critical dialogue will help spark more conversation towards imagining a sociology without borders – away from the imperialism of American sociological epistemology, methodology, and practice.
This is a dialogue between a teacher-student and a student-teacher in the discipline of sociology. Critical questions about the state of sociology are pursued in the context of a hegemonic American sociological enterprise. American sociology has become content with continuing to document dystopia, with exploiting those who struggle under societies’ structural weight, leading to a discipline whose work reproduces the very structures of domination we study.
Through this Freirean dialogue, we ponder epistemologies and pedagogies of justice, liberation, and humanity. We hope this critical dialogue will help spark more conversation towards imagining a sociology without borders – away from the imperialism of American sociological epistemology, methodology, and practice.

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Published by: David L. Brunsma on Aug 31, 2010
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05/03/2013

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Societies Without Borders 2 (2007) 63–74 
SWB
Sociology as Documenting Dystopia:Imagining a Sociology withoutBorders – a Critical Dialogue
David L. Brunsma and Dave Overfelt
Uniersity o Missouri at Columbia, Missouri, USA 
Received 13 June 2006; accepted 5 July 2006
 Abstract
his is a dialogue between a teacher-student and a student-teacher in the discipline o sociol-ogy. Critical questions about the state o sociology are pursued in the context o a hegemonicAmerican sociological enterprise. American sociology has become content with continuing todocument dystopia, with exploiting those who struggle under societies’ structural weight,leading to a discipline whose work reproduces the very structures o domination we study.hrough this Freirean dialogue, we ponder epistemologies and pedagogies o justice, libera-tion, and humanity. We hope this critical dialogue will help spark more conversation towardsimagining a sociology without borders – away rom the imperialism o American sociologicalepistemology, methodology, and practice.
La sociologia que documenta la dystopia: imaginando una sociología sinfronteras – un dialogo crítico
Este es un diálogo entre un proesor-estudiante y un estudiante-proesor de sociología. Setratan cuestiones críticas sobre la situación de la sociología en un contexto americano. La soci-ología americana se contenta con continuar su documentación de la dystopia, con la explo-tación de quienes suren bajo el peso estructural de la sociedad y conduce a una disciplina cuyotrabajo reproduce las mismas estructuras de dominación que estudia. A través de un diálogo almodo de Freire, nos planteamos las epistemologías y las pedagogías de la justicia, de la liber-ación y la humanidad. Esperamos que este diálogo crítico pueda omentar más conversacionesacerca de la posibilidad de imaginar una sociología sin ronteras, alejada del imperialismo de laepistemología, metodología y práctica de la sociología americana.
Sociologie en tant que documentation de dystopia: imaginant une sociologie sansfrontières – un dialogue critique
L’article est un dialogue entre un proesseur-étudiant et un étudiant-proesseur dans la disci- pline de la sociologie. Des questions critiques au sujet de l’état de sociologie sont poursuiviesdans le cadre d’une recherche sociologique américaine hégémonique. La sociologie américaine
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/187188607X163266
 
64
 D. L. Brunsma, D. Oerelt / Societies Without Borders 2 (2007) 63–74 
est devenue contente de documenter le dystopia, et, en même temps, d’exploiter ceux qui lut-tent sous le poids structural des sociétés, menant à une discipline dont le travail reproduit lesstructures de la domination mêmes qu’on étudie. Par ce reirean dialogue, nous considéronsdes épistémologies et des pédagogies de justice, de libérté, et d’humanité. Nous espérons quece dialogue critique encouragera plus de conversation vers imaginer une sociologie sans ron-tières – loin de l’impérialisme de l’épistémologie, de la méthodologie, et de la pratique soci-ologiques américaines.
Keywords
critical sociology, pedagogy, epistemology, Paulo Freire, utopistics
IntroductionTeacher-student
: Yes, sociology is indeed in a state. However, beore lament-ing, I want to start by sending us back a bit. A memory, perhaps ading. Let’sdrif back to an Introduction to Sociology course where you ell in love withthe discipline o sociology – a discipline that oered both explanation andhope. hink about the proessor who led that class through material that,though it did not have denitive answers, had the most wonderul questionsand thus your sociological imagination was developed. Allow yoursel to beenveloped in the memory o the sociology proessor whose passion or whatshe did both broke through the cynicism as well as shone light on your shad-owed dreams. Sociology oered us a road map and a set o tools in our early walks towards social justice – it did or me, yes. It is true, I think, that by andlarge we have come and continue to come to sociology with experiences,notions, something called (by those who take pleasure in turning the pursuito justice into ideology) “idealism,” and, we have come with desires to “makethe world a better place” or all who inhabit it. Remember?
Student-teacher
:
Yes, I do remember. It was a time and a place when I cameopen hearted, desperately seeking reason, seeking understanding, seeking mysel. I came as a ulnerable and rebellious mind. I was ofered a critical look at aworld with which I was so desperately ustrated – a world which seeks so muchdomination. I was told sociology was the science o liberation – I came to learnthe operatie word: was. Sociology has simply become a science.
Teacher-student
: Your observations are timely, important, and I hearsuch rustrations articulated more ofen than I would like to acknowledge.Let’s think about the classic readings by Peter Berger, C. Wright Mills, EmileDurkheim, and, yes, W.E.B. DuBois and several critical others who “invite”us and our students to sociology, who ask us to question, who ask us to speaktruth to power – perhaps these early introductions give us the master’s tools
 
D. L. Brunsma, D. Oerelt / Societies Without Borders 2 (2007) 63–74 
65
 with which to dismantle the master’s house? Perhaps. For those privilegedenough to “major” in sociology or even achieve a PhD in this discipline o ours, these early invitations and experiences both resonate and challenge. Forthose who do not receive such ormal training in sociological inquiry (the vast, vast majority), many o them, as Charles Lemert reminds us in
Social Things,
1
are
 already sociologists
– the objects o our study, in their collectivi-ties, in their cultures, in their continuing struggle – we document their varia-tion, we typologize their experiences, we collect data, we publish our ndingsin academic journals, ar removed rom their reality (the vast majority’sreality),
we rarely gie back
(really, think about it, we hold a one-way mirrorto the people – we can see them, but they rarely see us . . . what i we turned it‘round? What i we actually held a mirror up to our discipline and lookedhonestly at what we saw?). We rarely give back, their collective, struggling  voices become our “areas o interest,” our lines o our vitas, our ticket to pro-motion and tenure (Perhaps the master’s tools
 are
the master’s house).
Student-teacher
:
 Now think about the things people would see i we ofered ourselves up to their scrutiny (an emergent transparency as we break our owniory tower), i we analyzed ourselves in the mirror in the same way we hae analyzed the objects o our own studies, i we allowed our subjects to study us inthe same way we study them. Turn the mirror around and look into your soul, asking, “how hae you, as a sociologist, done something to help people and howhae you contributed to the movement or social justice”? This science, or so long now, has been reaching or purity – grasping or something thought to be a better career. In the name o scientic purity, sociology has enslaed the already desper- ate or its own ends. Sociology, with all o its radical oundations, has turned inside out and has become a science o/or capitalism. In our constant struggle to jump through the arious aming hoops that are our graduate programs and tenure processes, we hae lost touch with our humanitarian roots and we hae sacriced justice in order to gain capital. The master’s tools? The master’s house?  Maybe it’s time to set a re in the liing room.
Teacher-student
: Many o my colleagues reer to academia, and aca-demic sociology, as “the big house” – we must listen to these voices. houghthe vast majority o us come to the discipline “empowered” to utilize ourtools and knowledge to “change the world” – something has happened along the way, hasn’t it? I hear it in your laments. he epistemologies inorming 
1)
Lemert 2005.

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