Dissertation Abstracts

Back to the Soil: Sociological Practice and Chinese Society, 1903-1952

Author: He, Yijin , heyj@cass.org.cn
Department: sociology
University: University of Surrey , United Kingdom
Supervisor: Geoff Cooper
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Chinese sociology , sociological practice , soil , society
Areas of Research: History of Sociology , Historical and Comparative Sociology , Sociotechnics, Sociological Practice


‘Soil’ in Chinese language is a significant character with rich meanings. It constitutes an essential part of the Chinese character ‘society’. In history, it was applied by Chinese sociologists as a metaphor to describe a non-modern China bounded by agricultural cultures. And ‘soil’ in this usage implies a static and backward Chinese society. ‘Back to the soil’ in this research has a double significance. First, it refers to ‘back to the Chinese society’. Second, it indicates an intention to reverse the approach which places China in the dualistic structure between modern and non-modern, agriculture and industry. This study focuses on the question of how sociological practice happened in the Chinese soil.

This research aims to trace the historical practice of Chinese sociology from 1903, when it was first transplanted into the Far East Chinese soil, to 1952 when it was abolished. It argues that sociological interpretations of Chinese society - as the fruit of this soil - were produced by importing and applying sociological knowledge and techniques; but it argues further that the nature, role and function of sociology in this different soil has been significantly re-defined. This research will unpack this historical development by examining the practice of sociology in the Chinese soil.

There has recently been a growing awareness of sociology in non-Western or marginal areas. This research will enrich such study by taking Chinese sociology in history as a case. By focusing on the historical practice of sociology in the Chinese soil, this study distinguishes itself from other studies which challenge the Eurocentric sociology by stressing the need for alternative approaches or discourses for non-Western sociology. Furthermore, in the aspect of disciplinary history, unlike the ordinary approach which generates a classified system of canonical theories or theorists, this study explores the approach to the discipline’s past by examining sociological practice. Lastly, in comparative perspective, the Chinese case also implies a point of reference for sociologists in the English world to understand how their Chinese counterparts use sociological methods and techniques in a different context.

Using documentary analysis to trace the practice of sociology in history, the data employed for this research include literature and archive material, official statistics, conference notes, field notes, biography and official newspapers. By tracing forms of practice, this research highlights the conceptual formation and transition of society in the Chinese context. It also examines the process and consequence of applying sociological methods (social surveys and community studies) to the Chinese soil for generating empirical and theoretical account of Chinese society. In addition, it reveals the shift of disciplinary identity of Chinese sociology.

This research concludes that sociological knowledge imported from foreign countries cannot be reproduced completely by native scholars in the Chinese soil. Adaptations and modifications are required to guarantee the undertaking of sociological techniques. More importantly, the practice of sociology indicates an entanglement and hybridisation between the indigenous soil and the exotic sociology.

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