Welcome to the 2015 CSA Conference

Friday, November 13 and Saturday, November 14  

Conference Theme:  Social Realities, Social Change: The Importance of Global Context

Keynote Speaker:  Dr. William Robinson
UC Santa Barbara

 

The theme I’ve selected for the California Sociological Association (CSA) annual conference in 2015 is “Social Realities, Social Change: The Importance of Global Context.”  Sociology in the US became a thriving enterprise in the mid-twentieth century.  But, looking back now, it remained a surprisingly insular field: the vast majority of the research in our books and journals and the teaching in our classrooms focused on the United States or, occasionally, other “advanced” societies of the western world.  Indeed, the idea of “society” itself was highly identified with the nation – and the implicit assumption was that even analysis focused on large-scale social change was largely explained by the unfolding process of “modernization” that was inherently national in character.  In the 1960s and 1970s US sociology took a “critical turn” (influenced by societal foment around issues of racial justice, gender equality, civil rights and critiques of war/imperialism).  Amid a blossoming of new theoretical ideas about feminism, critical race theory, and various version of Marxism, there was also a resurgence of comparative and historical analysis in sociology.  Immanuel Wallerstein developed ideas about the importance of seeing the capitalist world-system, not societies or nations, as the key “container” for social dynamics.  A bit later John Meyer at Stanford University, offered a different more “cultural” take on the pervasive influence of global forces on contemporary societies.  Today, decades later, there is a broad consensus that we live in a world dominated by “globalization” (though, of course, there is much less agreement on precisely what that contentious term means).
Of course, there is a rather robust area of current sociological research directly focused on understanding global political economy and world cultural influences.  We now see a vital sub-field of what we might call “global sociology” that studies distinctive aspects of worldwide change: international divisions of labor, population dynamics and migratory flows across the entire earth, global geopolitical relations, planetary communications, the unequal spread of science, technology and innovation, the worldwide dynamic of today’s ecological crisis, etc.  Professor William Robinson, drawing on his new book Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, will offer the keynote address at this year’ s CSA conference that touches on many of those issues.  But my conference theme is based on a more fundamental premise: that virtually all the social dimensions and changes that we study today as sociologists are, in fact, impacted by global forces.  Virtually every subfield and nearly all research – including that which seems to have a narrow geographic focus on, say, the United States, or California or even more “micro” units of analysis – can be enriched by “bringing the global in” to the discussion and “locating” the specific sociological facts in term of their places in a matrix of various worldwide “vectors” of global influence, flows, and structures.  Indeed, our own state is geographically positioned on “the Pacific Rim” and, increasingly is at the center of what may be the most dynamic cores of networks of world trade, commerce, communication, migration, and technological change: studies that don’t attempt to grasp the significance of these wider worldwide patterns and the way that various influences “touch down” on our shores and impact various types of social change, invariable “miss” something important.  So “the global,” truly, is a relevant context for most (maybe all!)  sociological research and discourse, even when processes and patterns seem, at first glance, to be grounded in differentcdynamics.  We need to expand our sociological imagination to incorporate the global context across the many specialized fields of our discipline. 
David A. Smith, Professor of Sociology, UC-Irvine
President-elect, California Sociological Association