Event: ‘Whither Social Theory’ – Australian Social Theory Thematic Group Workshop

Join us for this special thematic workshop exploring the status of social theory within Australian sociology. This event is co-hosted by Thesis Eleven Journal and the The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Social Theory Thematic Group. The workshop is a part of the a week of events organised for the TASA 2022 Conference.

28 November 2022, 8:30am – 5:00pm AEDT
In-person at ACU Fitzroy, Melbourne

The workshop is open to anyone who is interested in these issues and questions. We ask you to register for catering/room capacity purposes.

Register here

Workshop: Whither Social Theory

In 2008, Professor Stephen Turner wrote a piece entitled ‘The Future of Social Theory’ in which he argued there were five challenges to social theory in the present: 1) the organic relation of social theory to the ‘left’ and the decline of communism; 2) evolutionary theorising; 3) advances in neuroscience; 4) the abstractness of theory and its ahistoricity; and 5) the broad global issues, such as the rise of China, underexamined in dominant theoretical paradigms. At the conclusion of the piece, Turner (2008: 563) argues that if skeptics ‘like Beck are right’ and social theory needs to abandon the past disciplinary practices and ideas, then ‘social theory as hitherto known is simply dead’. Theory in Australia in particular has had a difficult time in recent years. For instance, the number of ‘theory’ classes in courses across the country has declined. The status of social theory within Australian sociology remains unclear. Is it simply dead now?

This workshop unpacks this further and aims to construct dialogue on what is feasible for the future of social theory in an age of high social and political tensions in academia across the world and of course, within Australia.

Presentations address the following questions:

1. Has there been a marginalisation of social theory in the discipline of sociology? Why?

2. Was there ever a golden age or highpoint of social theory? What conditions made this possible?

3. How have identity politics and the new left reconfigured the settings and forms of social theory as a scholarly enterprise?

4. Can the teaching of social theory be revitalised in the contemporary university?

5. To what extent can social theory compete with or integrate more empirical explanations of the human condition, such as evolutionary theory, genetics and neuroscience?

6. What are likely futures for social theory in Australia?

Draft program

8.30am Welcome and Overview

8.40-9.40am First Session

Benjamin Manning – Reflections on Social Theory and Australian Sociology

Vanessa Bowden and Rebecca Pearse – Energising Social Theory in Australia

9.40-10am Morning Tea

10am-11am Second Session

Craig Browne – Social Theory as a Project and as an Institution

Malcolm Alexander – Reflexive, Critical and Large-Scale Theory: Thirty Years of Teaching Social Theory

11am-12pm Keynote Address One

Bryan Turner – Fads and Foibles of Sociology 1960 -2022

12pm-1pm Lunch

1pm – 2pm Keynote Address Two

Jack Barbalet – Social Theory as Voyage Reportage

2-2.20pm Afternoon Tea

2.20-3.20pm Third Session

Catherine Hastings – Critical Realism and Social Theory: Ontological, Episemological and Axiological Reflections on the Necessity of Social Theory

Alonso Casanueva Baptista – The obstacles of social theory in today’s neoliberal universities: a Sisyphean task


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