Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RS12_07a_P: Key Topics in the Sociology of Knowledge IV: The Study of Sociological Knowledge
Thursday, 31/Aug/2017:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Dušan Ristić, University of Novi Sad
Location: PD.4.36
PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences 136 Syggrou Avenue 17671 Athens, Greece Building: D, Level: 4.

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Translations of Sociological Knowledge: A Theoretical Model and Empirical Evidence of Practical Application of Sociology

Seweryn Rudnicki

AGH University of Science and Technology, Poland

This presentation takes on the case of sociological knowledge and the process of its application in practice. It starts with a reconstruction of the key theoretical arguments indicating main barriers to the use of sociological knowledge: 1) the complex, emergent and reflective nature of social reality; 2) insufficient academic standards of the discipline and its backwardness in relation to the natural sciences; 3) orientation at purely scientific issues, not towards the needs of potential recipients of this knowledge; 4) organizational and institutional shortcomings of the discipline. Although all these arguments function within sociology almost as clichés, they are rarely validated with empirical data on the application of sociological knowledge.

The aim of this presentation is to review them in the light of the empirical evidence coming from the examination of 10 cases of technologies (research, consultancy and training methods) based upon sociological knowledge. The results suggest that neither reducing complexity and the reflexive nature of social reality, nor the usage of knowledge that meets highest scientific standards are the necessary conditions for the effective application of sociology. Instead, the findings suggest that: 1) the use of sociological knowledge to solve practical problems can be more adequately described in terms of ‘translation’ of knowledge into a different type of object (e.g. technologies, recommendations, policies) involving displacements and inconsistences; 2) to be successful results of such translation must offer value recognizable by its receivers. The resulting theoretical model of translation-transaction combines inspirations from actor-network theory and Luhmann’s system theory.

Sociological Practices – A Gateway to Academic Sociological Knowledge?

Josef Ginnerskov Dahlberg

Uppsala University, Sweden

What is academic sociological knowledge? Contemporary sociology is a dynamic and pluralistic academic discipline of numerous established subdivisions, each with its own state of the art knowledge. While some “theoretical heroes” are shared by the majority of the discipline, most are not. Few sociologists can give a general definition of sociological knowledge, even though most can distinguish their own “breed” from others and point out sociology’s contributions within and outside academia. Previous studies have sought to map the philosophical foundations of sociology and the structural circumstances of key social theoreticians. These offer a solid historical basis for the foundation of contemporary academic sociological knowledge, but not a deeper understanding of what it is. With this presentation, I want to open up for a conversation on how to empirically investigate sociological knowledge in situ by sketching the outline of my PhD-project. In my study, I approach the problem by focusing on the meaning sociologists assign to this knowledge in the academic practices where it is embedded. Initially, a division is made between teaching and researching in academic sociology since the two strive towards dissimilar overarching goals. Each goal affect how knowledge can be (re)produced. Teaching and research are further on constituted by diverse sets of practices (lecturing, debating, writing etc.), which character and temporary context of implementation also determine what shape the situated knowledge will take. With these considerations in mind, I compare how meaning of traditional sociological themes (e.g. structure-agency, quantitative-qualitative and micro-macro) alter in different practices of teaching and research.

“Commensuration” as an analytic framework for studying the expanding measuring culture in social work

Teres Hjärpe, Elizabeth Martinell Barfoed

Lund university, Sweden

This presentation is based on a PhD-project in social work dealing with measurements and statistics as knowledge base and source for governance of social work activities. Social workers are currently experiencing the measuring and ranking of the quality of their work according to quantitative indicators, to serve the request, typical for our time, for better knowledge about the actual effects of the services delivered by the social workers.

Participant observations of a child- and welfare management team were made during a year when they, encouraged by the participation in a state-sponsored management course, were involved in the adaptation of national indicators. The ethnographic data identified a paradox with the status of the numbers as objective “truth speakers” on the one hand, and reluctance and confusions when applied to practice on the other, along with different kinds of implications for social work. Situations played out where misunderstandings of numbers lead to conflicts, where statistics were being manipulated, where problem areas were given lower priority because of immeasurableness and where the need to show satisfying statistics changed the content of the work. Situations when figures became important ammunition for more resources and influence were also identified.

The presentation explores how sociologists Espeland & Stevens’ conceptualization of ”numbers that commensurate” can be used to analyze the foundation and construction of modern governance tools in order to illuminate the socially transformative potential of quantification. We wish to discuss how the framework suggested of five dimensions; work, reactivity, discipline, authority and aestetics, can guide further exploration of the identified paradox.

Dissecting Social Groups with Imitation Game Experiments

Ilkka AT Arminen, Mika Simonen, Otto Segersven

University of Helsinki, Finland

In Imitation Game experiments participants from two different social groups, via computers, type their own questions and answers in attempting to imitate one another’s social group and recognize imitators from genuine group members. The method – based on Alan Turing’s idea – was developed by Harry Collins and his team to empirically test the notion of interactional expertise, a knowledge referring to the capability to grasp the conceptual structure of another’s social world. Collins’s idea was to develop imitation games into a methodology to inspect the distribution of interactional expertise, hence illuminating how inclusive or exclusive social groups are and provide an analytical insight on what is the social group composition of societies. Our empirical work, however, has shown that different groups use different types of questioning strategies – questions and their assessments – making straightforward comparisons between groups or societal group compositions obsolete. Instead, we propose that imitation game experiments make visible interpretative practices of meaning making of group formation, revealing people’s methodical practices of building alignments between members of (different) groups, and in that way constructing social groups. Initially, in imitation games as in many forms of sociology, social groups were taken for granted basis for social identities. In fact, the experiments enable an analysis of the methodic practices through which participants form an epistemologically and empathically relevant relationship with the recipients thereby constituting the “groupness” of a social group. We open up the constitution of social group by exploring how “we”/”them” distinction is built as a social practice.

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