Sociological Knowledges for Alternative Futures
We live in a globalised world where emergencies and hybridities arise from several challenges posed by climate change, sustainable development, violent conflicts, forced mass migration, and now also new health threats. Social inequalities (gender, class, age, ethnic, racialised, religion, territorial, embodied, etc.) are constantly reshaped by those challenges. Sociological research is analysing them as well as the actions designed to overcome such inequalities. Younger generations especially mobilise and develop solidarities, engaging in social movements focused around topics such as climate change and human rights. Those social movements are being studied and reflected upon in sociological research, contributing to other ways of seeing and building society.
In a context of pandemic due to the new Coronavirus, discussion about alternative futures is especially relevant. Across Europe we witness an array of actions, that range from utilitarian to humanistic approaches, which have made many people rethink solidarity, democracy and the search for more egalitarian, just and better environments which can sustain satisfactory and flourishing lives. Fighting social inequalities and protecting natural environments are seen not as contradictory but mutually reinforcing. Citizens want to decide which paths to take to achieve such goals, and sociological knowledges provide key analyses about which actions might contribute to practical accomplishments and which will not. In pandemic times of global crisis, closing borders, restricted mobilities, and growing unemployment, sociological knowledge can help to develop institutions able to cope with different risks and practical issues. We believe that the sociological imagination has a big role to play in rethinking alternatives for the future, starting from solid scientific knowledge and working outwards from it.
How can we build sociological knowledges to face so many challenges? This is a pertinent question at a time of “fake news” and “post-truth”, when scientific expertise is frequently brought into question. The distinction between knowledge and opinion becomes blurred. Therefore now is the time to discuss how sociology offers better understandings and relevant knowledges to improve society. Populist and authoritarian politics gain even more power and attention, undermining democracy in multiple parts of the globe. The complex relations between centres and peripheries, understood in a global perspective, must be explored, and the social implications of the use of technological tools in a digital era must be identified and applied, so as to imagine and create other futures.
We know that gatekeepers do not always recognise the relevance of sociological knowledges for society, postponing dedicated funding programmes and not providing enough resources to generate bridges between the contexts of knowledge production and application. However, today citizens are demanding to see how research in all scientific fields is contributing to the improvement of their lives, and the social sciences are well positioned to account for those contributions.
In a moment of emergency, when we should join up all our various efforts, we invite colleagues to share and discuss recent research concerning all areas of society, with a view to building alternative futures together in the ESA 2021 conference in the vibrant city of Barcelona. We encourage sociologists, and social scientists more generally, from Europe and beyond, to feed the scientific discussion with fresh data, thoughts and ideas, and to contribute sociological knowledge which envisions and builds alternative futures. Approaches to these problems from different methodological frameworks (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, experimental, etc.) will be most welcome. Barcelona will be a place for joint work, dialogue and networking, focusing on multiple future possibilities.
The construction of new epistemic communities is a crucial step towards creating alternative futures. We count on you to think about and practice new ways of overcoming the complex social challenges of our time!