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Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's a hell of a bore

Essay reading has commenced and is progressing very slowly indeed. At any given moment there are at least ten things I'd rather be doing than read about social movement theory. Math is usually top of the list.

In the past week I've worked out what's wrong with this course, in the sense of why I'm not enjoying it as much as my other SOSC courses. Even allowing for my extreme rustiness, I should have warmed up by this time. I suspect the cause lies in the newness of this area of sociological theory. It's all barely more than forty years old and, unlike every other area with which I'm familiar, it can't be traced directly to something written in the nineteenth century. This means that instead of spending our time critiquing various parts of a venerable and extensive theoretical tradition, we're spending it in trying to make sense of theory so new it barely hangs together. We're having to do a lot of empirical thinking too, which is entirely new to me. As students we're almost creating the discipline as we study it. It's an exciting process, but unfamiliar, and this would explain why I'm still struggling.

Things will get better, though, once I've got my teeth into this essay topic. A detailed understanding of every intellectual tradition is too much to hope for, but by writing the essay I'll gain such an understanding of just one piece. That'll be enough for me.

I must also hunt down a copy of a book called Activist Wisdom. Charles recommends the first chapter as a good overview of social movement theorising, and in my experience, things which Charles approves of tend to appeal to me also. (Did I mention that he's a Marxist? Leaving ideology aside, that says that he's intellectually strongly rooted in structure and economy, which has the twofold benefits of throwing out social-psychological crap and keeping close to another discipline which I'm comfortable in. When Charles recommends something, therefore, I try hard to read it.)

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