Critical research of critique in an age of uncertainty, neoliberalism, and populism: insights from pragmatic sociology in dialogue with other critical perspectives

PhD course – Roskilde University, Denmark
28 – 30 October 2020

The focus of this Ph.D. course is set on how we can analyse and understand how actors live with, shape, and sometimes question and fight modern forms of power and government. Current challenges in welfare societies, such as developments of rising inequality in wealth and health, technological trends of artificial intelligence and automation, health, climate and biodiversity crises as well as the challenge to democracies that form populist and authoritarian currents, re-actualize the old but still highly relevant and interrelated questions of what is, and ought to be, critical research and what is the role and forms of critique in contemporary societies.

Through the theoretical and crosscurrent lenses of the French pragmatic sociology in dialogue with other critical approaches, we propose an interdisciplinary forum where Ph.D. scholars can exchange theoretical and methodological perspectives on their research material. The French pragmatic sociology is often presented in terms of ‘sociology of critique’. It thus provides tools to help us to understand various practices and formats of critique, in other words how critique is both an essential element in forms of power as well as challenging them. On the one hand new forms of governing that uses critique are emerging, such as instruments using algorithms to test human behaviour, bench marking, and participatory forms of management. On the other hand, new forms of critique, from populism and climate-scepticism to social media, are emerging ignoring hitherto accepted requirements to legitimate critique (based on facts, evidence). This challenges the critical role of research in social science and humanities.

The current debate is often pictured as a choice between, on the one hand, rational thought, science, enlightenment and relativism and postmodernism on the other in which the latter is sometimes blamed for rise of populism. The question is whether it is possible, and indeed needed, to carve out critical positions within social sciences and humanities that do not accept this dichotomy. Based on developments within pragmatic sociology and other strands such as Foucauldian studies, the course will discuss such positions and how they can contribute to critical interventions in society and academia. The objective of this course is two-fold. It aims at giving Ph.D. students the opportunity to address how to conduct research on current challenges in welfare societies through the theoretical lenses of French pragmatic sociology, Foucauldian-inspired analyses, and other critical approaches. Secondly, to give the Ph.D. students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary reflections on how to conduct critical research.

Following this two-folded objective, the Ph.D. course last for three days. Around half of the time will be composed by lectures and the other half of discussing the work of participants.

Guest lecturers: Tom Boland, Lecturer in Sociology at University College of Cork, Ireland and Laurent Thévenot, Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).

Link to the IMT-Phd-course page