Capturing the Livingness and Liveliness of Critique-In-Action

by David Beer
University of York and York St John College

Sociological Research Online, Volume 10, Issue 3,

Received: 19 Jul 2005     Accepted: 30 Jul 2005    Published: 30 Sep 2005

'There is no escaping from the information order, thus the critique of information will have to come from inside the information itself.' (Lash, 2002: vii)


1.1 When I interviewed Nicholas Gane in 2004 (Beer & Gane, 2004) my aim was to continue the discussion of some of the themes that were initiated in the interviews that he had conducted for his book The Future of Social Theory (Gane 2004). It was hoped that this would provide a series of openings and opportunities for further exploration. Since the publication of the article in November 2004 Sociological Research Online has published four further articles concerning the future of social theory and sociology (see Letherby, 2005, Scott, 2005, Urry, 2005, and Davetian, 2005). It is clear from this collection of articles that the future of sociology is positive whilst also remaining fragmentary and open. It appears that the importance of the continuation of these debates has been magnified by the ongoing collapse of the postmodern position (see Beer & Gane, 2005). In the pages of Sociological Research Online we have an opportunity to engage in the development of a wide range of communications around this pressing issue. In this brief article I suggest that the question of future of sociology, and the future of the debate on the question of the future of sociology, requires us to pursue ‘live’ or ‘living’ critical approaches that attempt to capture the energy of the interactions that are occurring within sociology. In other words, I argue here that we should attempt to capture the livingness and the liveliness of critique-in-action.

1.2 The interview has for a long-time been used as a dialectical tool for developing or clarifying particular theoretical issues and conceptual details. Readers and collections of works by contemporary leading social and cultural theorists often contain interviews with the text’s central figure. This is not an uncommon way of capturing a different type of discourse, a discourse that is in some sense living, that documents a shared moment, an exchange of thoughts, a testing of the theoretical boundaries, a specific experience of a time and a space. These are not entirely unique to the interview, yet the interview accesses and records this moment in a different way. It harnesses the energy and liveliness of debate and exchange, it is a concrete document of the moment, it captures a collection of utterances that are unalterable. The reconstitution of ‘live’ moments – that may be virtual or actual, in real-time or stretched across time and space – contain within them specific benefits (the unique archiving of dialectical exchange) and limitations (the text cannot be honed, improved or adapted without removing its specific benefits).

1.3 Perhaps though, if we return to the notion of the continuation of the debate on the future of sociology, the livingness of the interview suggests a direction that can be taken for the documentation of sociology’s possibilities through the capture and reconstitution of critique-in-action. This suggests almost limitless possibilities. I will conclude this brief piece by tentatively suggesting a few directions or strategies that may be taken for writing the livingness and liveliness of critique-in-action into the continued exploration of the future of sociology.

Further interviews or exchanges

2.1 It is possible that those participating in the debate on the future of sociology could participate in a live set of interactions either in the form of one-on-one interviews or in the form of a series of exchange pieces. This could perhaps take the form of a virtual roundtable event in which questions and responses are passed between the participants. This may increase the speed of the debate and allow what appear as fragmentary concerns to be examined and compared simultaneously by different sociological branches and within a variety of specialised discourses.

Transcribed or recorded seminars and workshops

3.1 The debate on the future of sociology is energetic. Sociologists often participate in enthusiastic and private discussions on this topic. Perhaps some of these enthusiastic conversations can be transferred into the public arena through the transcription and publication of seminar, symposium, and workshop events. Alternatively the virtual nature of Sociological Research Online presents the opportunity for these conversations that occur in seminar rooms, lecture halls, and common rooms to be recorded using audio or visual equipment and the audio files ‘published’ for the journals ‘readers’ to access and listen to (or possibly watch). This would then go even further toward capturing the intricacies and energies of these ‘live’ moments.

Email forums

4.1 There are a vast number of academic email forums and groups that facilitate a range of rapid and detailed conversations on a wide variety of topics. These email groups are often populated by a cross section of the academic community. If conversations on the future of sociology can be initiated and captured in these email forums then their content can be edited to suit the word length of the journal and submitted (with the contributors named and identified alongside their contribution). These ‘live’ conversations, which transcend time and space, create an opportunity for articles to be compiled that capture an array of expansive and experimental ideas and questions as they are being formulated. These will inevitably contain vast sets of opportunities for further pursuit.


5.1 In a similar way to the email group, but with a closer association to (real-)time, the chatroom could be used to capture the differing conversations and exchanges that are occurring within the discipline. The chatroom could even be used to host virtual workshops in which ‘delegates’ meet in the chatroom space at a particular time to discuss a particular issue. These exchanges can then be captured and presented in the form of debate articles. The delegates could be invited to these workshops or attendance could be left open, either way the chatroom allows a rapid exchange of ideas that are based on a response or reaction to the points raised by other contributors. Therefore, the chatroom, and the subsequent transfer of its conversations into an article format, is perhaps one of the most suitable ways of capturing the livingness and liveliness of critique-in-action, and, as a result, will provide a space in which the future of sociology can be democratically forged.


BEER, D & Gane, N. (2004) ‘Back to the future of social theory: An interview with Nicholas Gane’, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 9, no. 4.

DAVETIAN, B. (2005) ‘Towards an Emotionally Concious Social Theory’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 10, no. 2.

GANE, N. (2004) The Future of Social Theory. London: Continuum.

LASH, S. (2002) Critique of Information. London: Sage.

LETHERBY, G. (2005) ‘Current Issues and Future Trends in Sociology: Extending the Debate in Sociological Research Online’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 10, no. 1.

SCOTT, J. (2005) ‘Sociology and its Others: Reflections on Disciplinary Specialisation and Fragmentation’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 10, no. 1.

URRY, J. (2005) ‘Beyond the Science of ‘Society’’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 10, no. 2.