ZiF Workshop

Globalisation - Transnationalisation - Society: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue between Theories of Society and Cross-Border Studies

Date: 15 - 16 February 2018
Convenors: Anna Amelina (Cottbus, GER), Manuela Boatcă (Freiburg i.Br., GER), Gregor Bongaerts (Duisburg, GER), Anja Weiß (Duisburg, GER)

Although social scientists have the common research objective to understand society, the dialogue between scholars working on theories of society and those in the field of cross-border studies is lacking. Difference in language, in critical theorization and introduction of ideas from 'marginal' fields such as research on migration or transitioning societies impede dialogue. The conference attempted to bridge these gaps by asking scholars to answer fundamental questions about the relationship between theorizing about society and empirical findings from cross-border and postcolonial studies.

One cluster of answers centered on differentiation theories. Sylvia Walby drew on complexity theory to distinguish between the economy, the polity, civil society, and violence as institutional domains, on the one hand, and regimes of inequality such as gender, class, or race, on the other. Anja Weiß proposed to combine Luhmannian systems theory, in order to grasp content-differentiated institutional orders, and a Bourdieusian field theory, in order to conceptualize politically contested regimes of inequality. In dealing with horizontal Europeanization, Martin Heidenreich looked at Bourdieusian professional fields and addressed implicit changes in the lifeworld and social connectivity as a result of cross-border processes.

The second panel related field concepts to different social entities. Zsuzsa Gille highlighted the transnational connectivity of state socialist societies, 'transitioning' societies and core capitalist societies. Christian Schmidt-Wellenburg advocated to examine the overlapping, extension and competition of transnational fields, nation-states and their respective actors. Bettina Mahlert presented a 'thin' notion of a world society connected by communication and organizations as the remnants of thick sociability. Extending a hand to Luhmannian theory, Gregor Bongaerts proposes fields to be conceptualized as forms of imputation. Fields are contexts in which rules are struggled over.

The third session linked transnational and gender/intersectional studies to theorizing about society. Janine Dahinden's contribution related the concept of symbolic boundaries to the analysis of borders and border regimes. Anna Amelina closed out the day with a proposal to rethink the concept of society by combining assemblage theory and concepts of spatialization.

Epistemological questions took center stage on the second day of the conference. Sujata Patel showed that global sociology cannot be done without the deconstruction of its conceptual basis as epistemological violence, while also wondering whether a better understanding could arise from the subaltern. Building on this, Shelley Feldman emphasized that understanding the co-constituency of national and regional spaces, e.g. Europe and its colonies, requires moving from fixed categorical concepts like 'exclusion' towards process-oriented ones such as class formation, gendering, and racialization.

Manuela Boatcă focused on what she termed 'forgotten Europes', Europe's colonial remnants in the Carribean, to challenge established understandings of Europe's internal and external borders as well as conventional views of sovereignty and the nation-state. Kathya Araújo showed that the northern concept of 'individualization' was produced as a reaction to strong (welfare) states in Europe, while for the Chilenian context conceptualizations of agentic individualism work better.

The conference was concluded by a session focusing on social change. Thomas Faist used the example of climate-change-induced expulsion in order to argue for the integration of ecological — and thus material — processes into the theory of society. Tobias Werron showed that nationalism is not new and that the focus on explicit and antagonistic forms of nationalism obscures the 'banal' nationalism implicit, for example, in the United Nations and other inter-'national' institutions. Felix Bühlmann's studies of elites in Switzerland showed a gradual change in national elites through contestation of international factions and their international capital.

In sum, while Northern theorists argued for transnational, field, institutional domain or the system concepts, researchers from the Global South extended a foundational critique of grand theory as based on a state-centered process of colonialization. Proponents of this critique either work towards the dissolution of categories into process categories like 'societalization', in which the state-centeredness of sociology and its implicit banal nationalism and androcentrism become apparent. They use empirical research in order to embed cases in a larger set of relations (Boatcă) or they revisit traditional sociological categories to create them anew (Araújo).

The conference took place with the help of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research Bielefeld and with support from the Main Research Area Transformation of Contemporary Societies at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Conference Programme

Kathya Araujo (Santiago de Chile, CHI), Aydin Bayad (Bielefeld, GER), Miriam Brandel (Bielefeld, GER), Felix Bühlmann (Lausanne, SUI), Janine Dahinden (Neuchâtel, SUI), Lutz Ebeling (Bielefeld, GER), Thomas Faist (Bielefeld, GER), Margit Fauser (Bielefeld, GER), Shelley Feldman (Ithaca, USA), Zsuzsa Gille (Urbana, USA), Yaatsil Guevara González (Bielefeld, GER), Simon Hecke (Bielefeld, GER), Martin Heidenreich (Oldenburg, GER), Natalya Kashkovskaya (Bielefeld, GER), Ariana Kellmer (Duisburg, GER), Bettina Mahlert (Aachen, GER), Davlatbegim Mamadshoeva (Bielefeld, GER), Katrin Menke (Duisburg, GER), Asser Nafie (Bielefeld, GER), Sujata Patel (Hyderabad, IND), Johanna Paul (Bielefeld, GER), Glaucia Peres da Silva (Duisburg, GER), Florian Poppen (Bielefeld, GER), Ralf Rapior (Bielefeld, GER), Atta Ur Rehman (Bielefeld, GER), Florian Rosenthal (Duisburg, GER), Andrea Rumpel (Duisburg, GER), Jana Schäfer (Cottbus, GER), Elisabeth Schilling (Bielefeld, GER), Christian Schmidt-Wellenburg (Potsdam, GER), Susanne Schultz (Bielefeld, GER), Joanna Sienkiewicz (Bielefeld, GER), Inka Stock (Bielefeld, GER) Anne Tittor (Jena, GER), Aylin Toprak (Mainz, GER), Christian Ulbricht (Bielefeld, GER), Sylvia Walby (Lancaster, GBR), Annica Waldendorf (Bielefeld, GER), Tobias Werron (Bielefeld, GER)