Back to the Future of Social Theory: an Interview with Nicholas Gane

by David Beer and Nicholas Gane
University of York, Brunel University

Sociological Research Online, Volume 9, Issue 4, < Beer and Nicholas Gane.html>.

Received: 5 Jun 2006     Accepted: 13 Sep 2004    Published: 30 Nov 2004


At any given time, the living see themselves in the midday of history. (Benjamin, 2002: 481)
Exciting things can happen during the course of an interview, not least because underpinning critical dialogue is a practice of challenge and counter-challenge, out of which new ideas, perspectives or, at the very least, openings can emerge... (Gane, 2004: 15)

1.1 Between 2002 and 2004 Nicholas Gane interviewed nine leading social theorists for his text The Future of Social Theory (2004). The title is, of course, relatively self-explanatory. The objective of Gane's text is to isolate, through questioning, the contemporary positions of specific social theorists, and to reflect upon the transformation of both 'the social' and 'theory'. The book is structured around an introduction, written by Gane, which is followed by nine interview chapters. These interviews were conducted with the following theorists (in the order they appear in the text): Zygmunt Bauman, Judith Butler, Bruno Latour, Scott Lash, John Urry, Saskia Sassen, Ulrich Beck, Nikolas Rose, and Françoise Vergès. The chapters dedicated to each of these writers have been presented in a question and answer format.

1.2 In the text Gane states that he is not seeking 'resolution' or 'closure' with respect to the future of social theory (Gane, 2004: 14), and this objective is partially achieved through the absence of a conclusion. It is at this point that the framing for this interview begins. I have chosen to reflect the method and format (the question and answer structure) of The Future of Social Theory back upon its author. Therefore, I have interviewed the author about the content of the text and his findings. The interview conducted was written rather than verbal, although the written communications were supported by a number of face-to-face meetings. This piece is an attempt to present what could in effect be considered to be a conclusion to Gane's text, a reflection on The Future of Social Theory. This is not an attempt to reify the social or to valorize social theory. It is an attempt to use questioning (as recommended by Gane) to open up new directions for study and future questioning. It is also an attempt to reposition, re-define, and reconsider some of the conceptual terminology that is regularly used within the fragmented rhetorical framework of social theory.


2.1 DB I recently heard you speak on the future of social theory at the 2004 British Sociological Association annual conference. During the event you suggested that contemporary social theory should pay more attention to the classics, and you reiterate this point in your book (Gane, 2004: 9). Can you expand on this? Do you think that contemporary social theory is too dismissive of its past?

2.2 NG The future of social theory is uncertain. As I said in my paper at the BSA Conference, social theory went through a boom period when I first studied sociology in the late-1980s. I remember going into bookshops in London and finding social theory sections crammed full of the latest works by writers such as Baudrillard, Bauman, Bourdieu, Habermas, and so on. It all seemed very exciting. Around this time, important debates were taking place about the end of Marxism, and the rise of post-Marxism, postmodernism and many other things post-. This prefix post-, to me at least, signified the opening of a new intellectual space - a space in which experimentation and invention were prioritized over everything else. Sociology, or at least social theory, was opening itself up to continental philosophy, to art, to literary criticism, to feminist critique, and no one had any idea of where it was all heading. I found this immensely liberating after studying sociology at A Level, with its hackneyed readings of Durkheim (functionalist/consensus theorist), Marx (revolutionary/conflict theorist), and Weber (somewhere in between). I found in postmodernism a new world in which reading and writing could be pleasurable. I loved the works of Foucault, Baudrillard and especially Lyotard (three central figures in what was later to become my PhD thesis), and was also introduced at Warwick to the work of Max Weber by the late Gillian Rose - the most brilliant scholar and teacher in Britain at that time. Gillian was anti-postmodern, and taught a course on the sociological tradition that started with Plato and moved through Aristotle, Aquinas, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, before concluding with Weber. This gave me a completely different reading of social theory to anything I had encountered before, and also prompted me to question some of the features of postmodernism that had previously appeared so appealing.

2.3 But by the time I had completed my PhD (in London with Sam Whimster and Howard Caygill) things had changed. The buzz seemed to have disappeared from social theory, and more exciting things were happening elsewhere: in media studies, cultural studies, women's studies and political theory. Even the major figures in late-1980s social theory seemed to be moving away from the discipline: Habermas into questions of law, and Giddens, Bauman and Beck into politics (with the publication of books such as The Third Way (1999), In Search of Politics (1999) and The Reinvention of Politics (1997)). At the same time, the energy of postmodernism seemed to have disappeared, and sociology in general seemed to be shifting away from theory and towards crude forms of empiricism. There were, from the early 1990s onwards, original texts on risk, reflexive modernization and globalization (by thinkers such as Lash, Giddens, Bauman, Robertson, etc.) that were rich and engaging. But the massive secondary literature that emerged subsequently left me cold, not least because it was so often divorced from the basic concept or question of sociology (at least in my eyes): the social.

2.4 This apparent decline of social theory got me thinking. Why was it that social theory (as opposed to sociology more generally) boomed at the very point at which Marxism (centre stage for so long) entered a state of decline? Why was it that by the end of the 1990s social theory along with postmodernism had also started to fade from view? Why was it that the most interesting things about the social were now being said not in sociology but in 'outside' disciplines such as media, cultural, literary and women's studies, and even history? This was a major puzzle for me, and prompted me to carry out the interviews published in The Future of Social Theory. In this book, I specifically wanted to talk to writers who (regardless of their disciplinary affiliation) were still theorizing the social in new and exciting ways. But this was only one way of placing the future of social theory into question. Another would be to look to the past to see if any possibilities for future work lie dormant in classic or little known sociological texts. Strangely, at the point at which Marxist social theory entered decline there was little push to develop alternative theories of the social from the other classical thinkers, such as Weber, Durkheim or Simmel. Where people did turn to these thinkers it was mainly to clarify what they said, or to pursue a history of ideas, and less to rework their ideas and concepts in a bid to answer contemporary issues or problems. Most others, meanwhile, took either the postmodern route (and possibly moved out of sociology, as the postmodern had much more to say about culture rather than either social relationships or institutions) or alternatively dumped theory altogether, while a select few still hung valiantly to the claims of Marxist theory or to time-worn debates about structure and agency. There were isolated attempts at rejuvenating social theory out of the classics, but these really were few and far between (Maffesoli comes to mind). But (and in answer to your question) this is a quite different thing from saying that contemporary sociology is too dismissive of its past. It seems to me that contemporary sociology is obsessed with its past, to the extent that virtually every undergraduate degree course still includes an introductory module on Marx, Durkheim and Weber. This is not a bad thing in itself, but what worries me is that these thinkers are treated as gods - as authorities - rather than as writers that can be used. What I would like is not for us to pay more attention to the classics, but to find interesting things in them that help us understand the present. There is an immense secondary literature on Weber, for example, but most of it (my book included) is too concerned with the meaning or truth of what the 'great man' said (or didn't say). What interests me more now is not Weber as such but rather a body of texts that can be used in some way to open up new possibilities or directions for thinking about the social. That is my evaluative interest. It might make me a heretic, but I really don't care!

2.5 DB The objective of The Future Of Social Theory is '... to call into question the changing basis of the social today.' (Gane, 2004: 4) What would you consider to be the defining elements within this transformation of the social?

2.6 NG There are many defining elements, but there are three that interest me the most. First, is the process or question of globalization. I am in complete agreement with Nikolas Rose here when he says that globalization 'seems to be a term worth analysing rather than using' (Rose in Gane, 2004: 183). Why is it that this term is now everywhere? What are its historical origins? What can it tell us about the nature and trajectory of our current political and intellectual culture? These are important and pressing questions. But, on a more mundane level, two other things strike me. First, globalization is something of an empty concept - to some extent is has become a signifier without a signified. 'Globalization' has come to mean everything and anything, and for this reason I am no longer keen on using the term in a descriptive sense. If I was going to use this concept in any way it would be, in line with Rose, as an object of study - as something to ask questions of rather than simply endorse. Second, and perhaps in line with this, the question of the social has hardly been addressed within the mainstream globalization literature (especially when compared to the extensive analyses of politics and culture). Moreover, where sociologists have forged a social theory of globalization it has tended to be in classical terms (society, nation-state, social action etc.), without seeing that this conceptual vocabulary now needs to be placed into question. This is not to say that classical sociology is redundant but that new concepts are needed, and old concepts need to be rethought in new ways. This is what I like about the work of Beck, which, for example, questions the 'zombie categories' and 'methodological nationalism' of much sociological thinking. The challenge this work poses is the following question in return: what are to be the new concepts and metaphors of a reconfigured, contemporary sociology? I have a few ideas of my own. These are mainly drawn from the analysis of new media technologies, and I'm in the process of writing a book called New Media: Key Concepts that will look the migration of concepts (such as simulation, network, interface, protocol) from the world of technology and computer science into sociology and cultural studies. I'm also taken by the concept of the hyper-social, which refers to the proliferation of social contracts (particularly through the quest for political rights and citizenships) in the wake of globalization (see my introduction to The Future of Social Theory (2004:7-8)). But there are a range of other possibilities presented in the book, with concepts and ideas drawn, for example, from city network analysis (Sassen), postcolonial theory (Vergès) and complexity theory (Urry).

2.7 Second, I'm interested in the sociology of new media technologies. For me, this doesn't mean looking simply at the way that technologies are produced or used (although these are certainly important things), but also the ways in which technologies or objects assume powers of their own and, in turn, structure social relations or what we might think of as being social. For this reason, I'm a big fan of McLuhan. McLuhan always seems torn between two opposing positions: on one hand that technologies are extensions of human senses, and on the other, that they introduce changes into human affairs and, to put it bluntly, 'work us over completely'. I like the tension between these two positions - between a humanistic, subject-centred reading of technology on one hand, and a postmodern/posthuman, object centred approach on the other. You get this tension reproduced in new media theory even today, between, for example, someone like Manuel Castells (who, in his The Internet Galaxy (2001), talks about media technologies in terms of simply adding on to what is there already), and Friedrich Kittler (who sees the transformative power of technology at every turn). I think tensions such as these can be enormously productive, and can perhaps be used to rethink the social in new ways. There are also questions of object-agency (raised by Bruno Latour and John Urry in the book) that I find very interesting, and which I'd like to push further.

2.8 Finally (and this is closely tied into the above), I'd like to question that basic unit of sociological inquiry: the human actor. In most classical sociological approaches it is assumed that there is something called the human actor that, through collective acts of production (Marx) or the meaningful orientation of actions (Weber), becomes a social actor or agent. I would like to go back and question the basic presupposition that there is discrete entity called 'the human' that lies at the root of all things, and that is the basic focus for sociological theorizing and research. To me, it is now much easier to define the characteristics of an object or a technology than to define what is 'human', especially given the degree to which technologies and objects structure both thought and action today. In view of this, I think it would be worth revisiting 'the human' as part of an analysis into the changing nature of the social. Can sociology exist without a conception of the human? Is 'the social' necessarily human-centred? These are big questions that I would like to consider in my future research.

2.9 DB In the introduction to your book you suggest that the development and appropriation of communication or mediating technologies has transformed the social. Do you consider technological transformation to be an insurmountable problem for social theory or a profound opportunity to explore the triangulated relationship between the individual, the social, and the technological object? In other words, do these transformations offer a way into understanding how the individual becomes the social through the mediating and enabling processes of these technologies?

2.10 NG Yes, I think that new media technologies have transformed what we have traditionally called 'social'. But I'd want to resist the separation of the individual, from the social, from technology. Historically, the individual (as a distinct ontological unit) was born out of the legal systems (of positive right) that emerged through the course of the European Enlightenment and have dominated the political culture of the West ever since. This was a central concern for the early sociologists (and some of the more sociologically minded philosophers), including Marx, Hegel, Rousseau, Comte, Weber, Durkheim. These thinkers questioned the connection between developments in law/legal systems and the emergence of the so-called social (that contract that somehow defined and enshrined the right to be individual, and to have a personal space or subjectivity). And just as there is an intrinsic historical connection between the individual and social, so too is there one between these two domains (that really are but one) and technology. For how could the laws and accompanying rights that define and protect what is social come into existence without an accompanying array of technical means and knowledges? How could the social be inscribed without technology? The mistake, I think, is to prioritise the individual or the social as a discrete, bounded unit that can then be theorized in connection to other domains, such as the technological. This is the Castells-type approach, in which we simply add technology on to existing social relationships. What I am more interested in doing is looking at technology in a different light, and seeing, for example, the different legal, political and technical configurations that enabled the social to come into being and to operate in different ways subsequently. For this reason, I find the work of thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Nikolas Rose immensely stimulating, for they treat the social as a form of governmentality - a kind of technology of power that has its own complex history.

2.11 DB The book refers to both digitalisation and digitisation. Did you identify any differences between the definitions of these two terms?

2.12 NG No, I didn't draw out the differences between these terms in the book. The main reason for this is that they are not terms I tend to use, but are terms that, increasingly, I am encountering in the work of others (such as Saskia Sassen, see 2004:140-1). I presume that, in asking this question, you find the distinction between digitalisation and digitisation in some way problematic. I would agree, as I'm not sure there is (or needs to be) a sharp distinction between these two terms or processes. But, if we wanted to draw some kind of dividing line between them (for the purposes of argument), digitalisation could perhaps refer (at a very general level) to processes of technological transformation that are affecting us all in some way (so that there is now no longer any real 'outside' to the digital, not least because digital technologies are literally everywhere today: on my desk, in my living room, on my wrist, and perhaps one day inside my body), whereas digitisation could maybe refer more directly to the physical processes associated with digitality (i.e. the symbolic and material processes of representing objects or relations in binary terms). Of course, these two processes are connected, as the one cannot take place without the other, and I would not want to lose sight of this because codes and coding are very much part of contemporary social relations and culture, while being tied at the same time to a whole range of material technologies that carry their own transformative powers. If we fail to see this, we risk ending up with either a sociology that relegates technology to an effect of an already existing social relation that, in turn, is resistant to transformation (the position of Manuel Castells in his The Internet Galaxy (2001)), or to a computer science type approach that is only concerned with how the technology itself works and what it can do (which, for me at least, is the limitation of Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media (Manovich 2001)). Instead of this, it would be interesting to see technology as something deeply cultural and social (as Weber might say, it is the outcome of certain value- or belief-systems, and in the language of Marx it is socially produced and consumed) while at the same time something also that inscribes and transforms what culture and sociality actually are (for, as Friedrich Kittler rightly reminds us, there can be nothing ontologically prior to technology, for even language is a kind of tool). It is in this dilemma - between technology as an outcome or product and as something that has been with us from the outset - that I would like to work.

2.13 DB Urry's (2003) notion of complexity is of particular interest to me, did you get any idea of a way in which this concept can be formulated within, or used to construct, a heuristic model?

2.14 NG I have been an enthusiastic reader of John Urry's work since his collaborative projects with Scott Lash in the late-1980s. What I like about Urry's recent work is that it takes risks. This is especially the case with Sociology Beyond Societies (2000) and Global Complexity (2003), both of which try to analyze the emergence of a new global dis-order. What is impressive is that Urry gives us (in response to Durkheim and Giddens) new rules of sociological method for doing so. These new rules are sketchy but they give us an important starting point nonetheless, and it is now down to social science researchers to develop them and make of them what they can. From my own point of view, what interests me most in these methods is the question of time. Urry himself talks of different regimes of time, most notably clock time (that disciplinary mechanism of modernity), accelerated time (the product of new, ever faster digital technologies), and glacial time (in which things change gradually over a number of generations). My concern is chiefly with the second of these regimes: accelerated time. The problem I've tried to address is the difficulty of social research keeping pace with the extraordinary speed and complexity of events and relations today. Urry himself talks about iteration, and the way that small and often unseen events can potentially bring changes across the globe at unprecedented speeds. My question in return is this: what methodologies can social scientists use to keep track of, and possibly even explain, such processes? The big difficulty here is that by the time you have started such a project, the conditions of analysis will have changed. And this is a big problem for theory (which is always also a methodology, as the great French writers have shown), for theorizing is traditionally a slow and patient affair. As I've indicated in a recent paper, there are a number of directions that can be taken in response to this dilemma. One might be to technologize theory and method (the Scott Lash line). Another might be to slow down in times of enormous social upheaval (as Jean Baudrillard (2003) suggests in his work on 9/11). Of course, there are problems with both positions: in the former, there is no real time for critical reflection, while in the latter, you run the risk of being left behind and always being out of date. I don't have an answer to these problems myself, except for a vague idea that theory could possibly operate at different speeds according to the different tasks it faces, and that the methods employed to do this would have to be worked out accordingly.

2.15 DB Did any of the theorists offer a solid methodological framework within which to apply their theories?

2.16 NG Yes, I think so. One of the cheap criticisms commonly directed at social theorists is that they offer little empirical analysis of the 'real world' (whatever this might be!). But if you read through the collection of interviews I put together, what is striking is just how methodologically sophisticated and empirically engaged each theorist is. Whether these methodologies are 'solid' is perhaps a different question. They are certainly not the methodologies that you'd find in boring old research method books from the 1970s and 80s (the types that drone on about quantitative and qualitative 'techniques'). What you get instead is a theoretical articulation of what method actually is, one that is part and parcel of the theory itself (Foucauldian genealogy might be an example). And this articulation is not necessarily fixed or 'solid', but fluid and contextual according to the particular problems or questions faced (which may themselves call for a rearticulation of the connection between theory and practice - see the interview with Judith Butler). What we don't get then is a fixed set of methods that tell us how to proceed, just as theory now rarely tells us what to do. Some of the more empirically minded critics might object to this. But, in response, I'd like to say two things. First, that it is down to us to experiment with and formulate methods that are useful for the pursuit of our own evaluative interests. We don't need to be told how to proceed - this is simply a methodological hangover from the era of what Bauman calls the legislative intellectual. And second, the assumption that traditional 'empirical' sociology is somehow closer to the truth or to reality is simply mistaken. I have been thinking of showing this by reconstructing history from the pages of mainstream sociology journals. What on earth would history or 'reality' then look like? One thing would be for sure: it would read like fiction.

2.17 DB Can we accept that 'the social' is a construct, an illusion, or a move within a language game (Lyotard, 1999)? If so, is it then worth pursuing it as an avenue of study or are we just reifying the social in order to re-legitimise sociology through consensus?

2.18 NG I think we need to be clear about the level of analysis here. I think it is perfectly acceptable to define the social as a construct or concept, the origins and mutations of which can be traced historically (this would probably be the approach of the neo-Kantians, including Max Weber). But this is not necessarily the same thing as saying that the social is an illusion (which has a distinctly Baudrillardian ring) or a move within a language game (an approach I would associate with Wittgenstein or the Lyotard of the late-1970s). There are distinct intellectual trajectories that need to be demarcated here. Baudrillard, for example, draws his definition of the social pretty much from the pages of Marx (see the section on this in my introduction to the book), while Lyotard fuses a language games approach from Wittgenstein with a Lévi-Straussian reading of the social bond (from Durkheim) as a linguistic bond (see my interview with Judith Butler on this). In The Postmodern Condition, for example, Lyotard says that 'no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before' (Lyotard, 1999: 15). This seems straightforward enough, but the important thing here, for Lyotard, is that the 'fabric' of these relations is not simply social but communicational: 'Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is located at "nodal points" of specific communication circuits, however, tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various messages pass' (Lyotard, 1999: 15). In other words, communication, or more distinctly language is not separable from the social for it 'is already the social bond' (Lyotard, 1999: 15). In this approach then (if I am reading it correctly), there is no essential difference between the linguistic bond and the social bond: they are inseparable. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of this perspective, I would disagree that Lyotard is seeking any kind of legitimation through consensus. The term 'bond' here is perhaps misleading for it implies homologia or the unity of positions or theory. But in fact Lyotard is arguing the opposite: that legitimation should be sought through dissensus. This involves the breaking up of grand narratives, and with this the introduction of new 'undecidables', 'singularities and incommensurabilities' (Lyotard, 1999: 60) into knowledge. This is what Lyotard calls postmodern legitimation or legitimation through paralogy (experimental work conducted in the absence of predefined rules, see below). It seeks not the simple resolution of value-conflicts through the imposition of an authoritative metanarrative or overarching rule, but rather the constant opening up of knowledge to challenge and counter-challenge. This approach throws out any idea of proceeding peacefully towards some kind of consensual finality in favour of an agonistics of knowledge in which conflict and disagreement is to be valued rather than suppressed. Lyotard's Just Gaming (1985) and The Differend (1988) formulate a theory of justice along precisely these lines. These texts have slipped out of fashion now (if they ever were in fashion in sociology!), but I still find them enormously challenging and stimulating.

2.19 DB Can paralogy (Lyotard, 1999) be a part of the future of social theory?

2.20 NG This term paralogy is not an easy one. It appears, as you say, in Lyotard's Postmodern Condition, where he addresses the basis of legitimation in postmodern science. In my reading, paralogy is about breaking with the existing system. It's not about finding a new move in an existing game, but rather about the invention of a new game and with this a new set of rules (in this way it is very close to what Kuhn called revolutionary science). This is why Lyotard makes a distinction between paralogy (a radical mode of invention) and mere innovation (which remains 'under the command of the system, or at least used by it to improve its efficiency' (Lyotard, 1999:61). Paralogy invokes what Lyotard (and others before him, including Sartre) calls the future anterior, or the 'what will have been', as it involves work done in the absence of pre-defined rules and methods. Lyotard sometimes calls this the 'childhood of thought': it is a venture into the unknown, an experimental way of proceeding in which rules only emerge through the playing of the game or 'after the event'. There is some debate about whether this is in fact ever possible (see, for example, Umberto Eco's writings on postmodernism). But if we wanted inspiration we might look to a painter like Jackson Pollock (for me an archetypal postmodernist, at least in Lyotard's sense), who splashed paint onto a canvas in the absence of any notion of beauty or truth. Or in writing, such practice could involve experimentation with new forms of presentation or style (that work in through the suspension of existing rules) - the aphoristic (Nietzsche), anagrammatic/poetic (Baudrillard) or 'informational' (McLuhan, Lash) might be examples.

2.21 It seems to me that there is not much that is postmodern or paralogical about mainstream sociology today. If sociology was open to the wildness of postmodern approaches in the late-1980s, nowadays it seems increasingly to be defined by quite traditional and conservative sets of rules (especially in the realm of so-called 'methodology') that marginalize invention and experimentation. But, for me, social theory can only have a future if it is paralogical or postmodern. Quite simply, new methods, concepts and theories are needed to bring the discipline up to speed, and in this respect sociology must reinvent itself, or become, in Lyotard's terms, a new game. This is what attracted me to each of the thinkers interviewed in The Future of Social Theory: while none of them are explicitly postmodern by affiliation, each has developed inventive and exciting new ways of thinking about what the social and society mean today - each offers a new beginning or direction in which we might proceed.

2.22 DB In The German Ideology (2002) Marx and Engels warn against adopting an analytical/theoretical approach that descends from heaven to earth. Are the theorists you interviewed (and social theorists in general) ignoring this warning?

2.23 NG If one way of dismissing the importance of theory is to say that it has no grasp of what happens on the ground (see above), another is to say that it preaches from on high. A range of different post-structuralist thinkers (Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard) have tackled this accusation, and have worked to expose the various power relations at play within theoretical practice. In the face of such work, thinkers such as Foucault and Lyotard made a radical shift from a Marxist/Sartrean model of intellectual work based upon representation to one of presentation, where we (the readers) are left to make the choices. Theory is something to be used, and for this to happen it must be left open to use. For this reason, I think it is a mistake to equate theory with abstract or dogmatic ways of thinking. I wouldn't like to say whether or not this is the position held by social theorists in general or those interviewed in the book. But I agree entirely with Judith Butler when she says: 'I don't really think that theory should be prescriptive in the sense that it should tell people what to do and to legislate action from on high'. In the same vein, I'm not about to tell people how to read or think about The Future of Social Theory. What is important is that readers develop their own views, preferences and responses to this text. If they do this, and hence find some uses for the book, then, for me at least, the project will have been a success.

2.24 DB Overall, did the interviews you conducted for this text give a positive impression of the future of social theory? Should we think of the future of social theory as either positive or negative?

2.25 NG I see no problem with thinking of the future in positive or negative terms, although I would prefer to talk in terms of possibilities. Each interview is no more than an opening - a series of possible directions in which theory might be pushed. And for theory to be 'pushed' a lot more work needs to be done. Whether the outcome of such work will turn out to be either positive or negative it is impossible to tell in advance, but like most of my 'interviewees' I am cautiously optimistic.

David Beer: Reflections

3.1 The interviews in The Future of Social Theory, and the answers that Gane has given in this interview, will hopefully open up some new questions, directions and opportunities for critique. This interview represents a small contribution to the refocusing of social theory in the digital age. Gane's questioning of the direction, use, purpose, success and failure of the social as a concept creates a number of new questions that are left for the reader to pursue. Indeed, there are a number of issues to be explored in further detail: the definition and parameters of the 'boom' and 'buzz' period of social theory, the theoretical implications of the collapse of postmodern theory, the ongoing and unresolved issues of the social as a theoretical concept, the purpose of maintaining the social as a sociological term, the problems surrounding the newness of contemporary issues concerning the social, and, finally, the role of technological appropriation in the transformation of the social. A further pressing issue is the role and shape of contemporary critique, and its connection to the construction of future forms, systems, frameworks and directions of study.

3.2 The content of this interview may stir strong responses from those that disagree with either the questions posed or the answers given. I hope this opportunity for response will be taken. In this interview Gane highlights the fragmentation of social theory beyond the nihilism of postmodern theory. In order to transform this fragmentation into a positive and unifying phenomenon it is my belief that reflexive forms of critique need to take centre stage. The interview is one such way that this (re)active critique can take place within social theory.


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