A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOCIOLOGY SINCE 1968
In parallel with the growth and diversification of feminism, the discipline of sociology was also changing. In the mid-1960s, the dominant American sociology, which therefore dominated the English-speaking world, was Parsonian structural functionalism. In 1971 Gouldner published an attack on this orthodoxy The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology which was savaged at the time but was prescient. As America found its complacency disturbed by labour disputes, by protests against the Vietnam War, by student unrest, by the civil rights movement and then the Black Power, Gay Liberation and Women’s Liberation manifestations, the universities, and especially the social sciences were changed. In the rest of the capitalist world, similar social disturbances occurred: the events of May 1968 in France being the most famous. Internationally, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia upset the balance of power which had settled uneasily since 1956: overall loomed the threat of nuclear war. Sociology began to change. Ideas from Germany (especially the humanist neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt School), from France (the anti-humanist neo-Marxism of Althusser, the poststructuralism of Bourdieu, Foucault and others), and new coinings from America itself (especially the Californian ethnomethodology), gained enthusiastic adherents. These were minority enthusiasms, but they produced a more diversified discipline. Against that background, the women’s movement also grew and diversified. Marxist feminists could draw on the neo-Marxist ideas from France and Germany, as well as exploring the role of women in Mao’s China, the USSR and in Eastern Europe. Separatist feminists could look at the same societies and social theories and draw the opposite message: not progress but universal patriarchy. For the Marxist feminist sociologists the new space for Marxist sociologies gave them intellectual scope, for the radical feminist sociologists the interactionist sociologies (symbolic interactionism, phenomenology and ethnomethodology), with their focus on the apparently mundane and their use of qualitative methods, created an intellectual space to gather data on women’s lives and perspectives.
From 1968 through to 1989 there was more space for dissenting voices in sociology than there had been in the previous 25 years. Liberal, Marxist, and radical feminist sociologies could grow, and there was space for black feminism to develop and produce its critique of the unacknowledged and unconscious racism of the three types of white feminism and the three schools of white feminist sociology. However, just as 1968 had seen a shift in the landscape of sociology, so too did 1989. The collapse of communism, or at least of the Soviet empire and therefore of state socialism in Europe and much of Asia symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (Borneman, 1992), has led to a cri
sis in Marxist social science. Meanwhile the twin economic pressures of the globalisation of production (where most manufacturing is being moved to the Third World/under-developed countries where labour is exploited, expendable and therefore cheap) and the de-industrialisation of the capitalist ‘industrialised’ economies, have changed, and are changing rapidly, the working lives of ordinary men and women. Simultaneously, there has been globalisation of communication: with satellite and telecommunications allowing both more democratic sharing of information and greater control of it by the owners of the transmitters (Albrow, 1997).
Overlying all these seismic shifts was an artificial ‘hysteria’: millennial fervour. As the year 2000 approached for the Christian world (Gould, 1998) we were still in a state of expectancy: we were in the fin – de-siecle (Pahl, 1996; Showalter, 1996). At the ends of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the western world experienced political and intellectual ferments, it was not surprising to find equivalent disarray in 1998 and 1999. This sense of unease, especially disquiet about sex roles and sexuality, common at the ends of centuries, persisted although the Christian 2000 is not 2000 for Islam, Jews, or the Japanese who have different calendars, even though we all knew rationally that this was a date we had set for ourselves, that it is arbitrary, that it changed nothing.
There are four shorthand labels for the current era, espoused by different sociologists: (1) post-industrial; (2) the post-modern; (3) posttraditional reflexive modernity (Beck et al., 1994); or as Beck (1992) calls it (4) the risk society. Beck (1994: 24) has argued that conventional sociology, or as he prefers to call it ‘the ageing sociology of modernisation’ has to be replaced, because the economic base of modernity has gone, so too must the sociology of modernity. Scholars interested in the lives of women in Britain such as Bradley (1996) and Walby (1997) have also drawn attention to these changes in the economic base of British society, and the implications of de-industrialisation and globalisation for women. For women who used feminist sociology to explain the gender relations in a modern society, calls such as Beck’s to replace the ‘ageing sociology of modernisation’ with a new sociology of posttraditional reflexive modernity have been particularly problematic. This is because the new postmodern sociology does not ‘fit’ alongside or on top of any of the popular varieties of feminist sociology, but rather undermines them. For feminists, one type of replacement sociology, creating a postmodern sociology to explain the postmodern world, is particularly problematic because it challenges feminism itself. Accordingly, postmodernism is the focus of a whole chapter (Chapter 8). Deciding where I stand on postmodern feminism, and how to explore the ideas of the movement in this book, is problematic. Bradley
(1996) captures my dilemma when she writes: ‘post-modern approaches sit uneasily with study of material factors such as inequality and deprivation and those influenced by the ideas of postmodernism have tended to avoid these topics’ (ibid.: 3). Bradley sets herself to ‘pull together’ traditional approaches to inequalities with the ‘newer perspectives’ (ibid.: 3). I, too, am trying to meld two approaches.