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 3. Worlds of Difference

Coordinators: Said Arjomand, State University of New York, USA, Sujata Patel, University of Pune, India, Elisa Reis, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Worlds of difference constitute a most apt subject for comparative sociological analysis in the global age. The plenary focuses on transformation processes in historical, civilizational and contemporary perspectives. While placing emphasis on spatial, cultural and institutional diversities, it addresses themes such as human rights, citizenship, communal politics, exploitations and domination as these take shape across the world. The five sessions are organized around the following topics:

Session 1: Contemporary inequalities

Monday, July 12, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Elisa Reis, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For a long time sociology thought of equality primarily as the opposite of inequality, often underestimating the importance of differences in the allocation of social goods and evils. The last decades though have brought difference to the fore, making it clear that recalcitrant inequalities are usually built upon the conversion of differences into sources of privilege or of destitution. Moving into the third millennium, sociology rediscovers that the opposite of equal is often different. How to reconcile equality and difference has become a great challenge to the sociological community.

Reassessing classical theory, evaluating recent contributions, or proposing new ways to deal with equality and difference, sociology is moving towards new understandings of stratification, distribution and recognition. While such issues have always been central to sociological analysis, in recent decades new forms of inequality and new claims for the right to difference have posed novel challenges that we must incorporate to our agenda. Can existing theories account properly for inequality? Can theories of redistribution tackle the question of recognition? Can theories of recognition be integrated into a theory of stratification? How do gender, race, ethnicity and cultural differences intersect with class? How to reconcile equality ideals and claims for collective rights based upon difference?  How old and new inequalities in the world market and in the system of nation-states perpetuate or even aggravate poverty and social exclusion? The session on contemporary inequalities addresses some of the major issues in the agenda of sociology, focusing on ongoing forms of inequality that include inequalities derived from gender and race, as well as asymmetries based upon global economic and political processes. 

Session 2: One or many forms of modernity?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Raewyn Connell, University of Sydney, Australia

It is accepted that there are several paths to modernity and that these distinct historical trajectories and sociocultural backgrounds ranging from experiences of colonialism to communism have given rise to new forms of modernities. In this context, sociologists across the world have interrogated the dominant, homogenised and universal model of modernity built into European and North American sociologies and argued for the need to craft endogenous and relevant sociologies and to theorise new ways of practicing social theory. This demand has also raised a host of theoretical and methodological questions and issues relating to particularism and relativism together with sociology’s claim of being a science. This session explores how sociologists from different regions have evaluated this call, affirmed and questioned its European and endogenous traditions and reframed its legacy in the context of globalisation.

Session 3: Axial civilizations
Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer and Chair: Saïd Amir Arjomand, Stony Brook University, USA

In freeing itself from the classical conception of Western modernity as the universal goal of undifferentiated traditional societies, an important branch of comparative and historical sociology has turned to the analysis of the dynamics of non-Western civilizations in order to study alternative patterns of cultural crystallization and transformative breakthroughs.  The panel discusses the idea of ‘axial civilization’ as the basic analytical tool for this alternative approach to comparative history and sociology. Japanese civilization is chosen as a case study, and its comparative implications spelled out. If ‘world history’ was the study of the history and developmental patterns of different civilizations, ‘global history’ can be considered that of their confluence. According to S.N. Eisenstadt, this confluence produces a new axial ‘civilization of modernity.’ The question posed from this point of view in the global era is whether it is meaningful to speak of the accelerated interweaving of civilizational dynamics, or what Benjamin Nelson called ‘intercivilizational encounters,’ or whether the process of globalization makes the concept of civilization altogether irrelevant or misleading.

Session 4: Democracy, rule of law, citizenship and politics of communalism
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Sujata Patel, University of Hyderabad, India

Confronted by global and local processes that put into question old established notions of citizenship, nation-states today face big challenges that while introducing tensions and uncertainties, also pose the hope for expanded conceptions of democracy. To fully assess the positive and negative dimensions of today’s quest for equality cum difference, sociology has to push itself further so as to fully explore how the rule of law may enhance or hinder equality and regulate the political contention among different social and ethnic groups. The transplantation of the nation-state model beyond the West, especially in the last six decades, requires a broadening of the focus on citizenship in order to analyze a variety of communal politics. Democratization in much of the world has resulted much more in the competitive mobilization of old and constructed communities than the development of citizenship within a rational-legal order. Nor has democratization produced any uniform development of constitutional democracy.

Session 5: The Nordic experience in comparative perspective
Friday, July 16, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Chair: Bengt Furåker , University of Gothenburg, Sweden

This session deals with the Nordic welfare states in comparison with other developed countries. The first presentation argues that an understanding of the Nordic societies’ political and moral logic requires at least some ethnographic practice and some knowledge of relevant languages. It is on the basis of such an approach that some key elements of the Nordic experience can be distinguished. The second contribution will critically assess the gender and family-related underpinnings and consequences of the Nordic model in comparative context: A significant aim is to identify developments over time, with particular reference to changing exigencies and ideologies around family and economic life and the perceived balance between individual and collective well-being.

It is also asked to what extent the Scandinavian model is providing the template for reform in other European welfare states. The third presentation raises the question whether traits associated with the Nordic welfare model in practice undermine each other. More specifically, it will explore whether pursuing the goals of equality and security makes it increasingly hard to achieve the goal of inclusion of all, given the Nordic economies’ ways of adjusting to global competition. The Nordic countries’ actual achievements will be contrasted with their stated ambitions and the achievements of other OECD countries.