Seminar: Rules of relevance- A critique of current sociology and a reaffirmation of its potential

By Peter Baehr, Lingnan University

Tue 24 Jan 2017
1:00pm - 2:15pm


Room 929, 9/F, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Rules of Relevance: A Critique of Current Sociology and a Reaffirmation of its Potential

Peter Baehr (Lingnan University, Hong Kong)

Sociology provides us with esoteric theories by the score. No one doubts that. But can it illumine the rocky terrains of politics and morality that our fellow citizens tread daily? Above all, can sociology explain accurately, fairly, and expansively the times we live in – the age of Donald Trump, Brexit – and so much more? That task is threatened by some of sociology’s current attitudes and by the growing authoritarian culture of Western universities, the historical home of our discipline.

This article outlines six rules of relevance which prioritize understanding over unmasking, independence of mind over groupism, and which acknowledge a world in which public disagreements about the goods of life are both principled and irreconcilable. These rules offer an alternative to many entrenched sociological prejudices. The rules are alternative not because they are truly original – many are recovered or adapted from the classical tradition – but because they invoke tragic, conflicted and paradoxical perspectives on society that sociology’s progressive reflexes routinely obscure.

Peter Baehr is Chair Professor of Social Theory, Lingnan University. His work has been translated into ten languages. Baehr is a consultant to Oxford University Press’s Digital Research initiative, an executive board member of the History of Sociology Research Committee of the International Sociological Association, and he serves as an international editor on nine journals. His books include Founders, Classics, Canons: Modern Disputes over the Origins and Appraisal of Sociology’s Legacy (2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 2016), Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, and the Social Sciences (2010: Stanford University Press) and (with Melvin Richter, eds.), Dictatorship in History and Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

HKU Sociology

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