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Title Publicising the Personal, Privatising the Public: Rethinking the Social through Mills and Hall
Media Type Microsoft Document
Category Conference Programme
Description Transcript of the plenary by Ben Carrington at the BSA Annual Conference 2017. In this talk I revisit C. Wright Mill’s famous dictum that the sociological imagination is driven by the desire to understand the relationship between ‘the personal troubles of the milieu’ and ‘the public issues of social structure’. I trace what we might broadly call Mills’ sociological project, mapped out in The Sociological Imagination, that attempted to avoid the excesses and limitations of ‘grand theory’ on the one hand and ‘abstracted empiricism’ on the other. I suggest that, at least within US sociology, where I have worked for over a decade, this Millsian form of sociology has been abandoned in the pursuit of a narrow form of scientific empiricism that largely eschews key sociological concerns and concepts such as those of ‘power’ and ‘class’. In this context, and as a corrective to some of these tendencies, I develop a reading of the writings of the former British Sociological Association President Stuart Hall. Revisiting Hall’s presidential address to the 1996 BSA conference, as well as a brief but little-known exchange between Hall and Mills, I outline why Hall’s ‘conjunctural sociological’ approach to understanding the social can help us to make sense of the current moment of neoliberal crisis and the related rise of authoritarian nationalist populism in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. I argue that Hall provides a way to move beyond some of the conceptual limitations found in Mills’ sociological work, most notably in thinking more seriously about the racialised dimensions of the social and sociology’s own unconscious racial commitments. I conclude by returning to the distinction between the personal and the public that underpins the sociological imagination by asking to what extent this distinction holds anymore in the context of celebrity culture and self-promotional social media on the one hand and the privatisation of the public realm itself on the other.
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Keywords ben carrington, plenary, transcript, 2017, mills, hall, sociological imagination, personal, public
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