Conference Agenda

RN29_02: Solidarity, Imagination, and Real Utopias
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Ilaria Riccioni, Free University of Bozen
Location: GM.325
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


Why Affective Relations of Love, Care and Solidarity matter in Sociology

Kathleen Lynch

University College Dublin, Ireland

Knowing how people relate together normatively is vital for knowing them sociologically as people know and live in the world in an evaluative, value-laden way. Morality exists within people ‘… as a set of standards of correct behavior that define, orient, and regulate their actions…’ (Vandenberghe, 2017: 410), so things matter outside of political and economic self-interests (Archer, 2000; Midgley, 1991; Sayer 2011). Among the things that frame people’s evaluations are their affective relations, their commitments to love, care and solidarity.

This paper argues that the care and gender-indifferent character of much political egalitarian theory (Lynch and Baker 2009, Lynch, 2014) has impacted on sociological theory, leading to a deep disregard for the relational dimensions of social injustice arising from normatively-driven (love, care and solidarity) affective relations. The non-recognition of affective relations has led to a failure to appreciate their pivotal role in generating injustices in both the production and reproduction of people in their humanness.

Recognising the salience of affective relations would enhance a normatively-led sociology of inequality, that is distinguishable from, but intersecting with, studies of inequality based on class (redistribution), status (recognition) and power (representation). It would contribute to the debate about the constitutive place of values in social scientific analysis (Sayer, 2011, 2017; Vandenberghe 2017), and would help provide an enhanced sociological framework for challenging the care-indifferent immoralities of neoliberal capitalism.

Speculating on Progress: Catastrophe, Remembrance and the Critical Value of Narrative Utopia

Joe Peter Lionel Davidson

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

One of the central criticisms directed against the concept of progress by critical social theorists in the last century is that it is unable to adequately respond to catastrophes – from the Gulag to the Holocaust, the Middle Passage to Hiroshima. Progress, it is feared, is necessarily triumphalist, with its empathy with the victors (in Benjamin’s terms) resulting in a forgetfulness of the horrors of the past. Given this, in this paper, I ask whether it is possible to formulate a viable and defensible notion of progress in the face of disaster. That is to say, can progress be reconstructed such that it retains the memory of catastrophe? In this context, I argue that narrative utopias offer a fruitful means for rethinking the relationship between past and future, posing the question of how a progressive society should relate to the disasters that preceded it. In particular, imaginative reconstructions of society provide a means of indexing improvement to remembrance, not forgetfulness. To elaborate this claim, I turn to Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000). The novel presents a vision of black liberation on a new planet, tellingly named Toussaint, which has been colonised by the people of the Caribbean. The utopian world of Toussaint, however, remains shaped by the twin tragedies of colonialism and slavery; the “second passage” from earth to space has assuaged but not extinguished the traces of the “first passage” from Africa to the Caribbean, with the oppressed past maintaining an active presence in the liberated future.

Real utopias. Erik O. Wright’s legacy and contribution to social theory

Marta Soler1, Ramon Flecha1, Teresa Sordé2

1Universitat de Barcelona, Spain; 2Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

Having revisited Marx’s understanding of class in the 1980s as a main contribution to understanding social structure of the times, in the year 2000 Erik O. Wright abandons his previous project to pursue a new avenue that starts by stating the need for emancipatory social sciences oriented by the fundamental moral grounds of equality, democracy and justice (Wright, 2010). He then engages with scholars working on participatory democracy, gender equality, inclusive education and successful cooperativism, to name some, in order to build a framework to analyze the conditions of viability for the extension of what he called “real utopias”. Focusing on real utopias moves social theory to focus on the analysis of possibility, of what works, to develop models that can be transferable to diverse contexts an enable real social change. In this paper we will revisit Wright’s theory and discuss how the analysis of real utopias needs, on the one hand, the study of successful actions, and on the other hand, a dialogical collaboration between scholars and citizens from diverse disciplines, contexts and beliefs, in the way Erik O. Wright did.