The Cultural Sociology Research Cluster in the Canadian Sociological Association and the CSA 2017 Annual Meeting


Allyson Stokes & John McLevey, University of Waterloo

In 2013, the Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) started facilitating the creation and operation of official “research clusters.” Unlike ASA sections – which have been around far longer – the research clusters are managed very informally. Most do not have elected positions or subcommittees, and only a few offer scholarly awards or recognitions. The Sociology of Culture / Cultural Sociology Research Cluster is one of the largest and most active of the 28 clusters currently operating.

For the last five years, the cluster’s organizing committee has been comprised of four volunteers: Allyson Stokes (University of Waterloo), Kim de Laat (University of Toronto), Benjamin Woo (Carleton University), and Diana Miller (University of Toronto). In addition to doing organizational work in advance of the annual Canadian meetings, they have started a culture cluster blog and listserv, where members communicate about new and exciting research, share details about upcoming conferences, networking events, job postings, media inquiries, and other relevant news.

Since its inception in 2013, the cluster has organized sessions at every annual CSA meeting. There are recurring sessions in core areas of culture research, including: Culture and Inequality, Theorizing Culture, Cultural Production and Creative Industries, and Culture and Everyday Life. The cluster also hosts sessions proposed by individual members, which vary in topic from year to year, along with annual business meetings and networking events.

In 2017, the CSA meetings were held at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. For the first time, the cluster branched out from standard sessions and organized three successful and well-attended panels. The first was an author-meets-critic with Daniel Silver (University of Toronto) and Terry Clark (University of Chicago), authors of the book Scenescapes: How Qualities of Place Shape Social Life. Panelists included Benjamin Woo (Carleton University), Will Straw (McGill University), and Miranda Campbell (Ryerson University), with Diana Miller (University of Toronto) moderating. Silver and Clark’s book draws on a wide-range of qualitative and quantitative data to examine how local “scenes” influence our experiences, skills, and communities. They explore core dimensions of scenes, including theatricality, legitimacy, and authenticity, showing how the culture of a place is connected to economic development, political action, and residential patterns. Panelists asked insightful questions about inequality within and between particular scenes, how to make sense of permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary or recurring scenes, and about the broad theoretical contributions of the concept of scenescapes. The panel generated a lot of excitement and engaged discussion, despite being held in the last time slot of the last day of the conference!

Another panel – “Assessing Bourdieu’s legacy” – was motivated by the increasingly central role that Bourdieu’s work plays in sociological research globally, and of course within the Canadian context. Kim de Laat (University of Toronto) moderated the panel, which consisted of Bonnie Erickson (University of Toronto), John McLevey (University of Waterloo), Mervyn Horgan (University of Guelph), and Vanina Leschziner (University of Toronto). Each panelist initially spoke about their general assessments of Bourdieu’s legacy in cultural sociology, and offered their views on important but relatively neglected ways of engaging with Bourdieu. To that end, Ericson spoke primarily about extending Bourdieu’s analysis of social inequality beyond class and culture, and placed a particular emphasis on aging and generations. Leschziner spoke about Bourdieu’s contributions to our understanding of the cognitive dimensions of action and the organization of cultural fields. McLevey spoke about embracing Bourdieu’s vision of sociology as a thoroughly relational social science, and argued that relational theories have been adopted much more frequently than relational methodologies. In particular, he argued that recent methodological developments in social network analysis provide researchers with powerful tools for understanding the evolution and structure of cultural fields, and the acquisition and transmission of cultural capital. Horgan also spoke about being inspired by Bourdieu broadly, especially by Bourdieu’s legacy as a public intellectual towards the end of his career. Horgan placed a particular emphasis on the contemporary importance of Bourdieu’s work on social suffering, for example in the co-authored book The Weight of the World.

The Bourdieu panel evolved into a lively discussion on the merits of different ways of engaging with Bourdieu’s corpus. On the one hand, panelists agreed that Bourdieu’s ideas are often misunderstood or applied superficially, and that there is much to be gained from careful and deliberate readings of his work. Still, some argued that a less loyal and holistic approach – i.e. freely taking ideas and applying them to new contexts without adopting Bourdieu’s entire conceptual framework – can inspire many promising research agendas. Finally, the panelists discussed potential missed opportunities and blind spots in Bourdieu-inspired cultural sociology. This resulted in a conversation about inequalities such as gender, age, and sexuality, and the potential contributions of some of Bourdieu’s critics – primarily Boltanski and Thévenot – to contemporary cultural sociology and social theory.

The final panel centered around the question: “Is There Such a Thing as Canadian Cultural Sociology?” Panelists included Philipa Chong (McMaster University), Benjamin Woo (Carleton University), and Neil McLaughlin (McMaster University). This well-attended panel sparked a lively discussion about whether there is something distinctive or nationally-specific about the cultural sociology being done in Canada (in other words, is there something methodological or theoretically distinct about Canadian cultural sociology, or is it cultural sociology about Canadian cases and issues), and more broadly the benefits and drawbacks of such an explicit national lens. This led to a broader discussion between panels and the attendees about doing cultural scholarship in the context of both nationalism and globalization.

Like the other CSA research clusters, the culture cluster is still very new. A lot of exciting work is happening, and the cluster is looking to keep up the momentum by growing membership, connecting with more international scholars of culture (the 2017 CSA sessions were well-attended by scholars from other countries), and continuing to promote exciting and important research on culture and cultural processes. The cluster is excited about the theme of this year’s ASA’s in Montreal (Culture, Inequalities, and inclusion Across the Globe). Many of the cluster’s members will be in attendance and look forward to connecting with culture scholars from the US!