Michel Wieviorka, ISA President
Hans Joas, ISA Vice-President, Programme
Ulla Bjornberg, Chair, Local Organizing Committee
Determinism is dead in the social sciences. Despite a strong interest in social structures, social mechanisms, forms of reproduction, we are all aware that human beings are not completely dominated by them. The world changes, and this change to a large extent depends on human action and imagination.
If sociology is to be useful, it has to contribute to an understanding of change – and it has to change itself. It is on the move and has to be on the move because the world, the societies, collective and individual actors are on the move.
Our congress – devoted to this topic – will focus on developments and themes that have not always been the strong sides of sociology but that are of utmost importance for an understanding of the contemporary situation:
1. Violence and War
Due to liberal and progressivist perspectives, sociologists have often neglected this topic. When the dreams of long-lasting peace are gone, problems like “new wars”, “terrorism”, nuclear proliferation have to be addressed as well as ethnic cleansing, gender-based violence, and the difficulties of organized opposition to violence.
The causes and consequences of climate change, the scandal of hunger in the world, shortages of energy and water, new phenomena like genetic engineering – all these problems have increasingly become a crucial area of sociological interest. They cannot be left to economists and natural scientists. More and more people are willing to take into account the future of humanity and the planet – and sustainability is an important analytical and normative perspective here.
3. Worlds of Difference
The idea that modernization will lead to a completely homogeneous world, that there is one best way to modernity, has lost much of its plausibility. The modernization of large parts of the world outside Europe and North America reveals the ethnocentrism of the earlier discourse; this leads to new developments concerning the explanation of the ascendancy of Asia, the role of long-standing cultural traditions for “multiple modernities”, the inner diversity of the “West”.
4. Action and Imagination
New developments in biology and the emergence of the transdisciplinary field of “cultural studies” are a serious challenge for basic categories of sociological theory. Sociology has to respond to these challenges in creative ways. It also has to respond to fundamental changes in everyday life like the growing importance of images and communication and lived reality in the virtual world.
5. Religion and Power
Sociology is about to get rid of the assumption that modernization necessarily leads to secularization. Religion is no longer seen as an obstacle to progress and modernity. This leads to an increased interest in religiously inspired social movements, the political instrumentalization of religion and the dynamics of religious experience and its articulation.
“Sociology on the move” means that our discipline contributes to an understanding of our world by defining new objects of research, devising new approaches and reevaluating its rich heritage. It implies a new openness with regard to other disciplines and to normative questions. The International Sociological Association offers an enormous variety of perspectives – in terms of cultures, gender and generation. They all contribute to the vitality of our discipline.