Conference Agenda

RS08_06: Ways forward: Advancing the theory of sociology of engagements
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Veikko Eranti, Tampere University
Session Chair: Eeva Kristiina Luhtakallio, University of Tampere
Location: GM.326
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


Interoperation, Exploration, Serendipity: On the ‘Machine Readable’ Grammar(s) of Commonality in a Data-Driven World

Andrew Staver Hoffman

Data Ecologies Lab, University of Washington, United States of America

Conceptual and methodological innovations in the pragmatic sociology of critique have expanded the scope of social scientific research beyond analyses of justification and orders of worth alone. Attention is increasingly focused on examining and characterizing the myriad ways that actors engage with the world within and outwith the public, as well as the means through which individuals compose ‘common worlds’ (Thévenot 2011, 2014).

Yet despite the presumption of a limited plurality of ‘regimes of engagement,’ there exist persistent limitations to this approach. First, while information and communication technologies are said to be central to explorative engagements (Auray 2011) -- and although the material environment and the formatting of information figure prominently in his conceptualization of engagement writ large -- Thévenot’s recent articulation of ‘grammars of commonality’ seemingly privileges the role of dialogical language and/or human attachments in sustaining collectives. Moreover, little work has been done to explicate the contours of a grammar which corresponds to the exploratory regime and the commonality it supports. Together these threaten to foreclose analyses of more socio-technically distributed modes of communicating and differing in an increasingly data-driven world.

The present paper serves as a provocation and intervention into this discussion, drawing from ongoing ethnographic fieldwork with a group of researchers and software engineers deploying data scientific techniques in developing an expert system in the biomedical domain. In so doing, it situates the infrastructural work of rendering data and other computational resources interoperable as an instructive site for (1) elaborating upon emerging versions (Mol 2012) of socio-technical commonality and (2) unpacking the theoretical affordances opened up by considering the possibility of ‘machine readable’ grammars of exploration that are propitious to achieving serendipity.

Politicization, Depoliticization, and Grammars of Commonality. Addressing Plurality in Politics

Eeva Kristiina Luhtakallio1, Veikko Eranti2, Tuukka Ylä-Anttila3

1Tampere University, Finland; 2Tampere University, Finland; 3Tampere University, Finland

The paper sets the objective to clarify the theoretical axes necessary to understand and empirically address politicization and depoliticization. Examining democracy as a setting for multiple processes of politicization and depoliticization enables to see it as a pattern of commonality, or the “common ground”, instead of a stable institution or a structure in which simple chains of cause and effect could be detected. From the viewpoint of democracy as a pattern of commonality, following specific processes of politicization and their conditionings in activist groups and more formal participatory settings is the key to making sense of what and why seems possible, desirable, and feasible to change in a given context. However, the process of politicization is not a one-way street. To fully understand the issue, we must also follow places and practices of depoliticization.

Laurent Thévenot has suggested that three grammars of “commonality in the plural” format the processes of working the shared people engage in: the grammar of public justifications, based on competing, yet recognized and legitimate conceptions of the common good, the grammar of individual interests (for terminology see Eranti 2018) based on stakeholder interests, negotiations and deals, and the grammar of familiarity based on intimate attachments to shared “common-places”, recognized yet often non-verbalized loci of ease and comfort (Thévenot 2007; 2015). These three modes of communicating and composing the shared and acknowledging difference have proven useful tools to analyze a plethora of contexts in the current complex governance, and thus instances in which “democracy” as a form of governance is forged into being.

Proto-jurisdictional Engagements: Rethinking Change in Professional Authority via Pragmatic Sociology

Anders Blok

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Amid sociological discussions on purported pressures facing professional expert authority under new public management regimes, this paper argues the need for grounding and challenging such claims via stronger conceptualization of the situated relations and processes of coordination underlying change in professional authority. Mobilizing on-going empirical studies into professional change in current-day Denmark, the paper pursues this argument at the intersection of two important resources for the sociology of professions, namely Andrew Abbott’s notion of professional jurisdictions and Laurent Thévenot’s sociology of engagements, respectively. While neither theoretical framework pertains explicitly to professional authority, their shared interest in how dynamics of power and legitimacy jointly shape collective action coordination in and across professional work situations and organizations contain the seeds, the paper argues, of a more integrated conceptualization. In particular, whereas Abbott stresses how professions struggle for jurisdictional control and alliances across socio-organizational arenas and ecologies chiefly by way of their science-backed expertise, Thévenot’s distinction of engagement regimes allows one to grasp the equally important role of professionals’ public-political work of moral justification and embodied routines of experience-based judgment. Such a rethinking of professional claims-making and authority via multiple registers of morally laden engagement is particularly useful, the paper argues, when studying how professional groups vie for control over emerging task arenas or ‘proto-jurisdictions’, in which conventions of inter-professional coordination and problem-solving are yet to stabilize. Illustrations are drawn from expansive and multi-sited qualitative studies into professional and political coordination around challenges of urban climate adaptation, lifestyle disease prevention, and innovation management.

Public Justification as Agonistic Pluralism

Veikko Eranti1, Taina Meriluoto1, Ville-Pekka Sorsa2

1Tampere University, Finland; 2University of Helsinki, Finland

This paper presents a way of combining two influential, but hitherto unrelated, strands of theories about democracy, which, we argue, when taken together, give us a robust, tested and usable framework for understanding the political in its all different shapes and sizes. These two are 1) the theory of justification and the following theory of sociology of engagements, by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot (Boltanski & Thévenot 1999, 2006; Thevenot 2015) and the post-foundationalist political theory of Chantal Mouffe, especially the idea of agonistic pluralism (Mouffe 1999, 2000). While the French pragmatic theory provides us with clear tools for understanding political culture, it only vaguely situates the political discussions it usually analyses within the broader framework of democracy and politics – passing mentions are made to Habermasian public as the locus of political justification. Mouffe defines agonistic pluralism as an understanding of the politics as a struggle where enemies are thought of as adversaries, whose ideas are to be fought but whose right to defend those ideas we do not put into question. For agonistic pluralism, the theory of justification can provide the detailed descriptions of how this “fighting” is done, understanding of what is it that is plural, and why different actors might remain committed to a political arena.