XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Sociology on the move, Gothenburg, Sweden, July 2010



Plenary Themes

Five PlenaryThemes will be held parallel at 13:45-15:15 during 5 days, from Monday through Friday, July 12-16, 2010. Each Plenary will focus on a different theme which will be developed in five sessions.

Congress Programme


Sessions descriptions

Plenary sessions are solicited directly by the ISA Programme Committee and only selected scholars are invited to present papers or participate in round table debates.

Theme 2. Sustainability


Steven Schneider (1945-2010): Remembrances and Reflections
by Raymond Murphy, University of Ottawa, Canada


From left to right: Luisa Schmidt, Portugal, Leonardas Rinkevicious, Lithuania, Steve Schneider, USA (seated), Riley Dunlap, USA.

From left to right: Leonardas Rinkevicious, Lithuania, Steve Schneider, USA and Eugene Rosa, USA.


Coordinators: Hans Joas, University of Erfurt, Germany, Emma Porio, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, Ari Sitas, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, with the cooperation of Raymond Murphy, University of Ottawa, Canada

In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development presented evidence documenting the degradation of the environment on a planetary scale, and concluded that the present pattern of development is environmentally unsustainable over the long run.  The Commission proposed and popularized the concept of “sustainable development”, which it defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  After almost a quarter of a century of talking about sustainability, it is time to assess relations between sustainability discourse and sustainable practices, which implies examining relations between social constructions and nature’s constructions.  This series of plenary sessions at the 2010 World Congress of the International Sociological Association will address those issues.

Session 1: Knowledge regimes and policy-making in sustainable development and environmental change
Monday, July 12, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Alberto Martinelli, University of Milan, Italy

Sustainable development and environmental governance are high priority issues in the global agenda. Scientific and epistemic communities are playing a fast growing role in the analysis of these issues and in the definition of policy options to cope with them. The main reason for this growing influence is the fact that the problems which decision makers- both government and business, both domestic and international- must address are becoming less familiar and more complex. Decision makers are unable to gather new information anytime they should take a decision, therefore they rely on existing shared knowledge. Scientists and policy professionals, sharing value judgments and interpretative frameworks, form transnational epistemic communities, that are active at the national level as well and play a decisive role in fostering national governments cooperation in implementing the programs of international regimes.  

Knowledge regimes, i.e. the scientific disciplines and scientifically based assumptions which exercise a hegemonic influence on policy, have undergone significant changes; they have evolved through phases, with the social sciences joining the natural sciences and economics in the present ‘third phase’ of environmental policy or, to put it in different terms, with environmental issues being framed into the more general context of sustainable development.

Environmental research has become more and more multidisciplinary and in a few cases interdisicplinary. The role of sociological theory and research is considered more and more a basic requirement in this kind of studies, as it was affirmed by Rajendra Pachauri (chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change) at the First World Social Science Forum in Bergen.  The aim of the session is to discuss the main contributions of sociological research to the multidisciplinary study of sustainable development and environmental change, and the role they can play in multilateral, mixed actor and multilevel governance of these isssues.

Session 2: Reason and risk
Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Raymond Murphy, University of Ottawa, Canada


Human reason has been depicted as the ultimate resource that bestows the power to socially construct substitutes when needed as physical resources become depleted.   Is this path to sustainability a mirage?  Reason has also increased risk by unleashing dangerous and perhaps irreversible new dynamics of nature.  Yet reason is in addition the ultimate basis of foresight that enables humans to attain safety by mitigating the risk of degrading the natural environment future generations will need.  Will institutions be constructed to make a triage of technologies and commodities to reduce risk and promote sustainability, and what will these institutions look like?  Or will societies accept risk in order to maintain consumption aspirations, and overstate their capacity to assess the risk of nature’s backlash in a modern form of hubris?

Session 3: Sustainability of what?
Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Ari Sitas, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Reflection about environmental problems has raised the issue of what can and will be sustained.  Some social structures are not worth sustaining: poverty, racism, environmental injustice, repressive systems of governance, etc.  This plenary session will examine the dark side of sustainability.  It explores the deficiencies of the concept of sustainability as it has become popularized in the public at large and in government and business circles.

Session 4: Responding to the new vulnerabilities of modernization and globalization
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Hans Joas, University of Erfurt, Germany


The question of sustainability has arisen with the emergence of the technological compression of time and space, globalization, the depletion of resources on a planetary level, and the use of the oceans and atmosphere as waste dumps on a vast scale.  A particularly important problem that affects all others consists of global climate change resulting from human activities.  Whether societies will respond to emerging vulnerabilities by constructing mitigation, robustness, adaptation, and resilience remains an open question.  Is the contemporary modern age a period characterized by the long incubation of a human-made disaster?  What incites sustainable social practices and what constitutes obstacles to them in this context of modernization and globalization? 

Session 5: Sociology on the move: Incorporating long-term time frames and nature’s dynamics into sociological analysis
Friday, July 16, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Emma Porio, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines


The concept of sustainability constitutes above all a challenge to look beyond the habitus of present desires and to broaden perspectives to include the needs of future generations on a finite planet.  Since future generations do not just include the generation of grandchildren, it implies the incorporation of the long-term time frame of the archeologist into sociology but projected into the future: will human societies be prospering in double the historical period five thousand years from now, or will they have collapsed? 

The issue of sustainability also challenges sociology to abandon its comfortable predisposition of bracketing biophysical dynamics out of the analysis and prompts it to examine the sociocultural in context, that is, to study social action in interaction with the non-social action of non-humans.  What conceptual, theoretical, and methodological advances does all this require?

Unlike the first four plenaries, there are only sociologists as speakers in this last plenary session because this is where sociologists will reflect on the broader implications for their own discipline of the possibilities i) that the present pattern of modern, technologically based, consumer societies may not be environmentally sustainable over the long run, and ii) that sustainability will require that new relations be intentionally established between social constructions and nature’s construction.