The ISA is coming to Vienna for its Third Forum. We can expect anything from 4,000 to 6,000 participants from over 100 countries with up to 1,000 sessions. The theme: “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggle for a Better World.” The irony is that most sociologists will not be able to afford to travel to Austria and partake in this exciting global dialogue. With this in mind and with the simple desire to intensify communication, in 2010 the ISA embarked on an online venture that would bring sociological worlds to people’s computers without making expensive trips. This endeavor into digital worlds involved interviews with well-known sociologists; global seminars engaging major social scientists from all corners of the planet; a blog on Universities in Crisis; PhD abstract submissions; a social justice and democratization space; streaming of plenary sessions at the world congress, not to mention facebook and twitter.
The most ambitious venture of all was the creation of a magazine, Global Dialogue, designed to meet the challenge of global sociology—produced by global actors for a global audience. Global Dialogue began in 2010 as an eight-page newsletter published in three languages, and it quickly morphed into a 40-page online open access magazine that appears four times a year in 16 languages. Articles are short and accessible and in the first four years it published 334 articles from 63 countries, written by 310 different authors.
Sociology as a Vocation
Much has been made of the diversity of sociologies across the planet, so Global Dialogue invited respected sociologists to write short articles on sociology as a vocation: Zygmunt Bauman (Poland and UK), Margaret Archer (UK), André Béteille (India), Jackie Cock (South Africa), Raewyn Connell (Australia), Randy David (Philippines), Chizuko Ueno (Japan), Elizabeth Jelin (Argentina), Immanuel Wallerstein (US), Alain Touraine (France), Kalpanna Kannabiran (India), Dorothy Smith (Canada), Herb Gans (US), Zsuzsa Ferge (Hungary), Mel Kohn (US). Whatever the conceptual framing—from liquid modernity to world systems, cosmopolitanism, feminism, environmentalism, and violence—these visions of sociology, although a limited sample, point to a shared global discipline concerned with questions of justice, freedom and equality, and with bringing critical knowledge into the public realm.
Global Dialogue has featured fierce debates such as the one instigated by Polish sociologist Piotr Sztompka, unapologetic defender of a singular universal sociology, who faced severe criticism from the advocates of national sociologies, multiple traditions, and multi-versatility. Similarly, Ulrich Beck’s critics of his “cosmopolitanism” claimed he was Eurocentric—something denied by tributes to his career also featured in Global Dialogue. It is precisely this sort of vibrant dispute that produces the bonds of unity of a lively global discipline.
Sociology is a steeply hierarchical field, like higher education as a whole, with elite universities, research funding, publications, degrees, and prestigious journals concentrated in northern countries, especially the United States. Many universities in the Global South have closed their sociology departments, or they are amalgamated with social work, anthropology, or political science, or they are forcing sociologists to migrate into business schools, policy schools, and think tanks. This is not only the case in the Global South, but in Europe too where British sociology has become a form of collective suicide.
Part of the reason for this lamentable state of affairs is university privatization, which goes hand in hand with branding to attract funding and students. It has distorted national sociology by diverting it from local issues to frameworks defined by so-called “international” journals, usually based in the United States. As Palestinian sociologist Sari Hanafi wrote, “Publish locally and perish globally or publish globally and perish locally.”
Global Dialogue has tried to give historical perspective to these global processes. Jennifer Platt, the ISA’s historian has contributed a regular “History Corner” column. dealing with topics such as the development of the ISA’s two major journals, Current Sociology and International Sociology, the history of its executive office (now in Madrid), the struggle in Mexico (1982) for the inclusion of Spanish as the third official language, the evolving structure of the ISA, the shifting balance of power between national associations and research committees, the rising prominence of women throughout the organization, and the slower inclusion of members from the Global South.
Global Perspective on Current Events
Global Dialogue has also devoted itself to capturing world events through a sociological eye. Thus, we tried to keep up with the social movements as they spread across the globe, starting with a retrospective on Iran’s 2009 Green Movement. We followed the Arab Uprisings with articles from or about Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Israel. Articles by the Egyptian sociologist and photojournalist, Mona Abaza, became a barometer of the fluctuating fortunes of the Cairo insurgencies, from her stirring account of the January 25 Movement to the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power, and then the military coup of 2013.
We covered the movements against austerity in Southern Europe—from Portugal (“The Inflexible Precarious”), Spain (“Real Democracy Now”), England (“Big Society Bail-Ins”), and the extraordinary Chilean student movement against privatization. You can read about feminist movements in Russia, the Caucuses, and Ukraine and how they have been beaten back by a new-found ultra-nationalism conspiring with the Orthodox Church. We followed the fate of labor movements in China, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico, the environmental movements around mineral extraction and land in Colombia and India, and the water wars across Latin America. Filipino sociologist, Herbert Docena, reports each year on the rising frustration of social movements at the annual UN climate change negotiations. Reading the pages of Global Dialogue in 2011 and 2012 you might think that a world revolution was approaching, but these movements dissolved, occasionally breaking through again as in Turkey and Brazil in the summer of 2013 and in Hong Kong in 2014. From the beginning Global Dialogue has also followed the rightward political turn of many social movements with a series of articles on Hungary’s “mafia society,” with articles on racist movements against Islam in France and Germany, global assessment of the antecedents and repercussions of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, and ethnographies of the fear and insecurity saturating minority communities, especially Muslim communities, but also penetrating the wider society.
National Sociologies against Marketization
Each issue of Global Dialogue features symposia on “national sociologies,” composed of multiple perspectives from within a given country. Colombian sociologists wrote about the sociology of violence; from China about land grabs and rural urbanization; from Uruguay we discover exceptional progress toward social democracy, symbolized by the charismatic people’s President, José Mujica, to name just a few of the symposia we published. If there is a general lesson to be learned, it is how market fundamentalism is eating away at societies across the globe and yet eliciting very different reactions, depending on the character of national political regimes as well as the manner and extent of commodification.
Because of this wave of marketization, sociology’s ideas are often received weakly, if at all, and its institutional basis has been badly fractured. Still, it is possible to find heroic sociologists standing against the grain wherever one goes. In an early issue of Global Dialogue, Shujiro Yazawa described his life as a longtime internationalist, suspicious of Japanese nationalism, determined that one day Japan would host the ISA’s Congress (which it did). Arlie Hochschild—innovative in so many areas—describes her passions and projects to a young Portuguese sociologist. Libyan academic, Mustafa Attir, explains to Sari Hanafi how it was possible to practice sociology under Gadafi and in the civil war that followed.
There is an interview with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, describing how his training as a sociologist helped him be a better President of Brazil. Sociology and politics have always been intertwined in Latin America, an explosive mixture that has made for an original and dynamic sociology. This is true in Africa too; we learn from the interview with Issa Shivji, steadfastly remaining a critical intellectual at the University of Dar es Salaam from the 1960s to the present. My favorite interview, however, is with Izabela Barlinska, who was recruited to the ISA while still a student, active in the Polish Solidarity Movement. Unable to return for many years she became a permanent fixture in the ISA Secretariat, which she has run successfully for 30 years.
Some of the most interesting features of Global Dialogue are its least visible. With the irreplaceable assistance of Gay Seidman, every issue is first produced in accessible English. Editorial teams across the world (India, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Romania, Spain, Taiwan, Japan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Brazil) largely made up of young and dedicated sociologists translate the English into their native tongue. This is as much a sociological exercise as it is a linguistic one.
Every issue involves the collaboration of more than 100 people, communicating with one another across the planet. From this reservoir of youthful talent will be drawn the next generation of sociologists—global sociologists, well-versed in global dialogue.
Michael Burawoy is a professor of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley, past ISA President and the editor of Global Dialogue.