Keynote Address: A Sociology without borders? (Prof Ari Sitas) 

A theme like a Sociology Without Borders seems like a scream in the night now that many of the borders are closed. But it is very appropriate because the very disruptions we are experiencing, their ruptures and rends are trans-local, trans-border and planetary. We were rocked by the economic meltdown more than a decade ago, we feared the viral then but no one of us was ready for a pandemic of this intensity; add to that, the oscillations between drought and flood that keep us on our toes and the climate crisis disturb us, yet we fail to find solutions- and to find solutions in common. We are not talking politics though, we are talking about our craft as sociologists- a craft that demands a mind, local enough to understand the depth of issues but unconstrained by the barbed wire of borders in order to think, co-think with others to solve the challenges and the disruptions that confront us. We need to also remove mental borders, beyond the cliches of words like “international”, “trans-national” or “global”. I am tired too of many “border-less” pretensions: our canon promised universalism. Didn’t it? At a superficial level all of us, wherever we are on this planet will agree that we were taken seriously because we promised to explicate or fathom an unequal, interconnected, patterned and evolving sociality. And I do take each word seriously: unequal, interconnected, patterned, evolving. But our disagreements surface immediately because what has been delivered instead by the canon was a West-centric particularism, not a universalism. The Modern, the Advanced, the Modernised was located “there” somewhere between Los Angeles and Berlin with each of our countries in the Non-West situated outside all that and paraded as a not-so-good case-study. So, although we might have agreed that we need to emphasise the “unequal”, the “interconnected”, the “patterned” (patterned by institutions, power, classes, races, genders, castes) and the evolving, and the ever-changing, we disagreed in how we viewed our entanglement with all that. What was for some “progress” for others it spelt “imperialism”.

Prof Ari Sitas

Ari Sitas is a writer and sociologist.

He chairs the National Institute for Humanities and the Social Sciences and is a Gutenberg Chair at the University of Strasburg, France. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cape Town.

Sitas served as SASA president between 1995-7 and as a Vice President Programmes of the International Sociology Association 2002-6 and was a member of the inaugural committee of the African Sociological Association. He was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe Silver for his social scientific and creative work in 2019. There is a special issue being planned of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies that celebrates his work in labour studies and sociology.

His latest publication is the "Oratorio for Small Things that Fall" a mix of creative work and sociology published by Tulika Press in India and Columbia University late in 2020. His co-authored sociological work, "Scripting Defiance" is being printed now, and has been erroneously claimed as published by Columbia University Press. Sitas is working with the AfroAsia and Insurrection Ensembles that have produced award-winning works combining poetry and music. Latest: Sea-Script of Songs, on or Spotify.

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