The Insurgent Sociologist and Critical Sociology

In collective memory, recalling the 1960s and 70s are accompanied with the imagery of “the counterculture era”, full of psychedelics, protests, and hippies. One of the things to arise at this time was a magazine called The Insurgent Sociologist, established formally in 1969, but which was run by the Sociology Liberation Movement (SLM), which had existed in some form since the 1967 at the annual ASA conference (American Sociological Association, which then, like now, was/is the largest collection of professional sociologists in the world; for more on this history, see Roach, Jack L. 1970. “The Radical Sociology Movement: A Short History and Commentary.” The American Sociologist 5(3):224-233).

The journal would keep the name The Insurgent Sociologist until April 1988 in its 15th volume, and from that point on bore the name Critical Sociology, but still maintained its belief in social change and a critical perspective of sociology (and indeed, its radical rhetoric, which can be seen on its website; for more on the philosophy of Critical Sociology and the subject of its name change, see “Introduction.” Critical Sociology 15:3-4.).

Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately (for reactionaries), SAGE still catalogs the original 1969 journals that appeared under The Insurgent Sociologist. Some of these early articles are reminiscent of the times, when functionalism was still the prevailing sociological paradigm. (Incidentally, The Insurgent Sociologist was formed to combat what it saw as the established sociological paradigms like functionalism.) Of course, in hindsight, we see that functionalism was a disappearing paradigm, but this is in large part due to The New Left (and organizations like SLM and its publication The Insurgent Sociologist) that rejected functionalism and non-“conflict oriented” approaches, though, they did publish one article that said Marx was a functionalist (Syzymanski, Al. 1972. “Malinowski, Marx and Functionalism.” Critical Sociology 2(4):35-43.).  Additionally you can find numerous references to “the power elite”, a term taken from the book “The Power Elite” by sociologist C. Wright Mills, which was published in 1956 and which would be an enormous influence on the New Left (along with Mills himself. Indeed, it was Mills who popularized the term “New Left” in his 1960 open letter, Letter to the New Left).

I do all this not only to understand the history of leftist movements and politics, but to also give some context to this article I’m about to link. Some of The Insurgent Sociologist‘s old issues read like a good radical left magazine (indeed, the first issues of The Insurgent Sociologist were newsletters, only four pages front-and-back), and were scanned appropriately so that you feel like you are really there (a reliving of the heyday of social/revolutionary movements in the U.S.).

Finally, the article:

Sperber, Irwin. 1971. “Radical Scholarship and Professional Sociology: On Contradictions at the Annual Convention of the American Sociological Association.” Critical Sociology 2(1):7-12.

(Or just click here.) Obviously, these were notes from one of the members of SLM when they went to the ASA (American Sociological Association)’s annual conference in 1971. On the first page it is noted that SLM disrupts the conference with an “Old Glory”-colored eight foot tall plastic penis. “Radical sociology” indeed.

One of the quotes in the article by Jack Roach I linked at the top of this post summarizes my interest in all this quite appropriately:

To judge from on-the-spot reactions of many conventioneers, the typical ASA member was discomfited and vexed at the spectacle of several hundred professional sociologists walking around in a circle carrying protest signs against the war.

It is hard, even in European contexts, to find professional academics marching around with protest signs today. But SLM did just that in 1971.

Additionally, the above article ends with a heavy-handed dismissal of functionalism, exchange theory, and ethnomethodology (which, contrary to the previous two paradigms, has gained increasing popularity, but which has also been deemed pretty radical itself, which makes the dismissal all the more perplexing). Still, the rest of the critique is cut off and made me wanting more, you can read the rest of it here (“Possible Resolution for the 1962 Meetings.” Critical Sociology 2(1):12-14).

You can see The Insurgent Sociologist cover art (as well as some of their philosophy and history) on their website here. Their journal website (where you can find all their issues, including the ones linked above) can be found here.

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