Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Against and beyond - for sociology : a study on the self-understanding of sociologists in England

By Elisabeth Simbuerger


This thesis is a theoretical and empirical investigation into the self-understanding of thirty sociologists in England and their relationship with the discipline. It investigates sociologists’ aspirations and how they unfold and are compromised in sociological practice. Based on the work of Alvin Gouldner, the thesis both examines the changing shape of sociology as a body of knowledge and institution as well as sociologists’ changing relationships with their theories and practices. At the core of this study is the recognition of a close intertwining of our ontological states, epistemological outlooks and actual practices as sociologists.\ud The three-part analysis of the empirical research reflects a Gouldnerian understanding of sociology as the inextricable link between theory and practice. In ‘Part I: The Calling of Sociology – Sociologists’ Claims and Practices’ I analyse sociologists’ processes of sociological becoming and what they consider to be the key features of the discipline – synthesis, the social and critique. These key features and my respondents’ aspirations are the point of departure against which the realities of their sociological practice are measured in ‘Part II: Sociological Practice – Realities and Tensions’. Analysing social theory as a sociological practice, I illustrate how the social as an analytical key category in sociology becomes frequently compromised. Furthermore, Part II encompasses an analysis of the RAE in its overemphasis on research and publications at the expense of teaching, and shows how this fractures sociologists’ initial disciplinary aspirations. Thereafter I demonstrate sociologists’ dilemmas in practising sociology in a synthetic way, and how they face the disciplining nature of the discipline within the current political economies of research and publishing. This is followed by a discussion of how sociologists’ claims of contributing to critique and public discourse are practised and compromised. Against the background of the analysis in Part II, the question of what is left of sociologists’ aspirations and the discipline’s aims in being critical, analysing the social and being a synthetic discipline, is raised. Finally, in ‘Part III: Living Sociology’, I revisit my respondents’ initial aspirations in the light of their practices and analyse how they live and practise sociology’s key moments – critique, synthesis and the social. The last part of the analysis draws an outline of how sociology can be practised against current constraints, living the synthetic and critical character of the discipline in the 21st century

Topics: HM
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1992). (edited by Rammstedt, O.). Soziologie: Untersuchungen ueber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Frankfurt am Main:
  2. 1970b (ed.). Sociological Self-Images. A Collective Portrait.
  3. (1981). 4 volumes.
  4. (2005). A Child of Its Time: Hybridic Perspectives on Othering in Sociology’,
  5. (2004). A History of Sociology in Britain. Science, Literature and Society.
  6. (2007). A Path Better Not to Have Been Taken’.
  7. (1970). A Sociology of Sociology.
  8. (1989). A Treatise on Social Theory.
  9. (2005). A View from Europe’. In
  10. (2005). A View from Sweden’.
  11. (2008). About RAE
  12. (2005). Academic Nostalgia: A Narrative Approach to Academic Work’.
  13. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. 2 nd Edition.
  14. (1995). Academic Work. The Changing Labour
  15. (2002). Academics and the Real World.
  16. (1996). Academics in their Labour Process’.
  17. (2004). AFTERWORD: Photography as Evidence, Photographs as Exposition’.
  18. (1985). Against Fragmentation: The Origins of Marxism and the Sociology of Intellectuals. Oxford:
  19. (1999). Alvin W. Gouldner: Sociologist and Outlaw Marxist.
  20. (2005). American Sociological Association Presidential Address: For Public Sociology’.
  21. (2007). American Sociology Before and After World War II: The (Temporary) Settling of a Disciplinary Field’. In
  22. (2004). An EU Code of Ethics for SocioEconomic Research.
  23. (2005). An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives.
  24. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. University of Chicago:
  25. (2003). Are You Now or Have You Ever Been an Employee? Contesting Graduate Labor in the Academy’. In
  26. (2003). Assessing the Assessment: an Analysis of the UK Research Assessment Exercise,
  27. Association [2002] ‘Statement of Ethical Practice’.
  28. (2000). Audit Cultures.
  29. (1976). Auguste Comte: The Foundation of Sociology.
  30. (2008). Austrian Samba Bateria Opposing Globalisation’.
  31. (1990). Authors of Their Own Lives. Intellectual Autobiographies by Twenty American Sociologists.
  32. (2005). Available: [accessed 30
  33. (2000). Balancing Gender in Higher Education. A Study of the Experience of Senior Women in a New UK University’.
  34. (2003). Baseline Study of Quantitative Methods
  35. (1988). Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology. Cambridge:
  36. (1995). Beyond the Multiversity: Fiscal Crisis and the Changing Structure of Academic Labour’.
  37. (2000). Black Feminist Thought. Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Second Edition
  38. (2007). Bourdieu in American Sociology,
  39. (1993). Breaking Out Again. Feminist Ontology and Epistemology. New Edition.
  40. (1990). British Feminist Thought. A Reader.
  41. (2008). British Sociological Textbooks from
  42. (1979). Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis.
  43. (2001). Challenging Knowledge. The University in the Knowledge Society. Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education:
  44. (1999). Changing Academic Work. Developing the Learning University.
  45. (2000). Coercive Accountability: the Rise of Audit Culture in Higher Education’.
  46. (1984). Coming to My Senses. The Autobiography of a Sociologist.
  47. (2003). Commercialising Higher Education in the UK: the State, Industry and Peer Review’.
  48. (2003). Commission on the Social Sciences,
  49. (2008). Comparing Research and Teaching
  50. (2008). Contested Knowledge. Social Theory Today. Fourth Edition.
  51. (1995). Critical Social Theory. Culture, History, and the Challenge of Difference.
  52. (1998). Critical Sociology: A Dialogue between Two Sciences’.
  53. (2004). Cultural Capitalists and Academic Habitus: Classed and Gendered Labour
  54. (2004). Cultural Studies and Sociology at, and after the Closure of the Birmingham School’.
  55. (1982). Cultural Studies,
  56. (1984). Cynicism: The Twilight of False Consciousness’.
  57. (2000). Dangerous Liaisons: Auto/biography in Research and Research Writing’.
  58. (1981). Das Bild der Vergangenheit und die Urspruenge der Soziologie’.
  59. (1996). Death of the Guilds: Professions, States and the Advance of Capitalism,
  60. (1992). Decline of Donnish Dominion.
  61. (2000). Decorative Sociology: Towards a Critique of the Cultural Turn’.
  62. (1981). Die Emigration der deutschen Soziologen nach den Vereinigten Staaten’.
  63. (1981). Die Situation der Emigrierten Deutschen Soziologen
  64. (1981). Die Soziologische Bewegung, die Sociological Society und die Entstehung der Akademischen Soziologie in Grossbritannien’.
  65. (1973). Discovering Sociology.
  66. (2009). Education Supplement, ‘Despite losing their punch, some players still won big prizes’.
  67. (2009). Education Supplement, ‘Keep peer input
  68. (2008). Education Supplement, ‘Research into Islamic terrorism led to police response’.
  69. (2007). Education Supplement, ‘Top journals in sociology ranked by
  70. (2007). Embodiment, Academics, and the Audit Culture: A Story Seeking Consideration’.
  71. (1987). Enlightenment and Despair. A History of Social Theory. Second Edition. Cambridge:
  72. (1967). Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  73. (2007). Entrepreneurialism and Critical Pedagagogy: Reinventing the Higher Education Curriculum’. Teaching
  74. (1968). Essays in the Theory of Society.
  75. (1992). Exkurs ueber den Fremden’. In G. Simmel Soziologie: Untersuchungen ueber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp:
  76. (1999). Exploring Post-traditional Orders: Individual Reflexivity, ‘Pure Relations’ and Duality of Structure’.
  77. Fallacies in the Critique of Disciplinary Sociology.’
  78. (2006). Falling Between the Cracks: What Diversity Means for Black Women
  79. (1999). Feminism and Sociology: Processes of Transformation’. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis,
  80. (1990). Feminism, Science, and the Anti-Enlightenment Critiques’. In
  81. (1990). Feminist Praxis and the Academic Mode of Production: an Editorial Introduction’. In
  82. (1999). Feminist Sociology and Sociological Feminism: Recovering the Social in Feminist Thought’.
  83. (2003). Feminist Sociology.
  84. (2003). Firing Back. Against the Tyranny of the Market.
  85. (1982). For Gouldner. Reflections on an Outlaw Marxist’.
  86. (1973). For Sociology.
  87. (2000). For Sociology. Gouldner’s and Ours’.
  88. (2000). For Sociology. Legacy and Prospects.
  89. (2007). Foundations of British Sociology 1880-1930: Contexts and Biographies’.
  90. (2002). Founders, Classics, Canons. Modern Disputes over the Origin and Appraisal of Sociology’s Heritage.
  91. (1996). Founding Sociology? Talcott Parsons and the Idea of General Theory.
  92. (1997). from a Research Project. London: Higher Education Funding Council for England.
  93. (1991). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. With a New Preface by
  94. (2005). Generalization in Qualitative Research’.
  95. (1996). Globalization, Contract Government and The Taylorization of Intellectual Labour
  96. (2005). Good Books’: Is There a Future for Academic Writing within the Educational Publishing Industry?’
  97. (2002). Gouldner’s Tragic Vision’.
  98. (1981). Grossbritannien. Soziologische Gruende fuer das Ausbleiben der Soziologie’.
  99. (1988). Homo Academicus.
  100. (1973). Homo Sociologicus.
  101. (2005). How Not to Become a Museum Piece’.
  102. (2006). Identity and Work’.
  103. (1985). Ideology and Utopia. An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Translated from the German by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils.
  104. (2004). Illegitimate Daughters?: The Relationship Between Feminism and Sociology’.
  105. (2006). Imagination, Hope and the Positive Face of Feminism:
  106. (1990). In Other Words. Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology.
  107. (1972). Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge’.
  108. (1988). Interpreting the labour process of teaching’.
  109. (2000). Introduction to Sociology.
  110. (2007). Introduction: The Sociological Review and the History of British Sociology’.
  111. (1963). Invitation to Sociology. A Humanistic Perspective.
  112. (2008). Judgement and the Reification of the Faculties. A Reconstructive Reading of
  113. (1997). Knowing Feminisms. On Academic Borders, Territories and Tribes.
  114. (1964). Knowledge for What? The Place of Social Science in American Culture.
  115. (2002). Knowledge Management Foundations.
  116. (1994). Knowledge Societies.
  117. (2007). Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism. The Changing Management of UK Universities.
  118. (1986). Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought’.
  119. (1970). Mainliners and Marginals: The Human Shape of Sociological Theory’.
  120. (2007). Making Our Way Through the World: Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility. Cambridge:
  121. (2000). Making Space for South Asian Women. What Has Changed Since Feminist Review Issue 17?’ Feminist Review 66
  122. (1997). Manifesto of a Tenured Radical.
  123. (2004). Markets, Corporations, Consumers? New Landscapes of
  124. (1983). Mills: An American Utopian.
  125. Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings.
  126. (2006). New Directions in Social Theory: Race, Gender and the Canon.
  127. (1976). New Rules of Sociological Method: A Positive Critique of Interpretative Sociologies.
  128. (2002). No Brains, No Initiative, No Collaboration’ The Austrian Case’.
  129. (2000). NOTES AND ISSUES. Social Science Contract Researchers in Higher Education:
  130. (2004). Office Hours. Activism and Change in the Academy.
  131. (2007). On Sociology. Second Edition. Stanford:
  132. (1967). On the History and Systematics of Sociological Theory’.
  133. (1967). On Theoretical Sociology. Five Essays Old and New.
  134. (1973). Origins and Growth of Sociology.
  135. (2007). Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Hierarchy: ‘Mainstream’ Sociology and Its Challengers’.
  136. (2007). Patrick Geddes: Founder of Environmental Sociology’.
  137. (1954). Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy.
  138. (2004). Pedagogies of Participation in Higher Education: A Case For Research-based Learning’. Pedagogy, Culture and
  139. (2005). Photography: Making and Breaking Racialised Boundaries: an Essay in Reflexive, Radical,
  140. (2002). Postponing the Postmodern. Sociological Practices, Selves and Theories.
  141. (2006). Public Intellectuals, Globalization and the Sociological Calling: A Reply to Critics’.
  142. (2007). Pushing the Boundaries or Business as Usual? Race, Class, and Gender Stuides and Sociological Inquiry’. In
  143. (2008). Reflections and Observations: an Interview with the UK’s First Chief Government Social Researcher’.
  144. (2003). Reflexive Accounts and Accounts of Reflexivity in Qualitative Data Analysis’.
  145. (2008). Reflexive Ethnography: A Guide to Researching Selves and Others.
  146. (2000). Reflexive Methodology. New Vistas for Qualitative Research.
  147. (1994). Reflexive Modernization. Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Cambridge:
  148. (2003). Reflexivity: Freedom or Habit of Gender?’ Theory,
  149. (1994). Representations of the Intellectual. The
  150. (2007). Research and Teaching Work within University Education Departments: Fragmentation or
  151. (2008). Research Ethics Review and the Sociological Research Relationship’.
  152. (1997). Research Selectivity, Managerialism, and Academic Labor Process: The Future of Non-Mainstream Economics in U.K.
  153. (2007). Rethinking Modernity. Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination.
  154. (2003). Review Article: ‘Looking Back and Looking Forward: Some Recent Feminist Sociology Reviewed’.
  155. (2003). Revisits: An Outline of a Theory of Reflexive Ethnography’.
  156. (2002). Social Epistemology. Second Edition. Bloomington and Indianapolis:
  157. (2001). Social Research. Issues. Methods and Process. Third Edition.
  158. (1996). Social Theory and Sociology. The Classics and Beyond.
  159. (1976). Sociological Ambivalence and Other Essays.
  160. (2007). Sociological Engagements: Institutional Racism and Beyond’.
  161. Sociological Futures and the Sociology of Work’.
  162. (1998). Sociological Imaginings and Imagining Sociology: Bodies, Auto/Biographies and other Mysteries. Presidential Address to the British Sociological Association’.
  163. (2007). Sociologists in a Global Age. Biographical Perspectives.
  164. (2008). Sociologists Talking’.
  165. (2000). Sociology and Its Audience(s): Changing Perceptions of Sociological Argument’.
  166. Sociology and its Others: Reflections on Disciplinary Specialisation and Fragmentation’,
  167. (2007). Sociology as Public Discourse and Professional Practice: A Critique of Michael Burawoy’.
  168. (1975). Sociology as Social Criticism. London: Allen and Unwin.
  169. (2007). Sociology at Warwick: A History.
  170. (2000). Sociology Beyond Societies. Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century.
  171. (1976). Sociology in Action. A Critique of Selected Conceptions of the Social Role of the Sociologist.
  172. (2005). Sociology in Britain in the Twentieth Century: Differentiation and Establishment’.
  173. (1993). Sociology in Question.
  174. (2003). Sociology without Societies’.
  175. (1999). Sociology, What’s It For? A Critique of Gouldner’,
  176. (1997). Sociology. 3 rd edition. Cambridge: Polity
  177. (1982). Sociology. A Brief but Critical Introduction.
  178. (1959). Some Problems Confronting Sociology as a Profession’.
  179. (2007). Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge:
  180. (2004). Space Invaders. Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place.
  181. (2007). Staff redundancy threat at Keele University over closure plans’.
  182. (1995). States, Economies and the Changing Labour Process of Academics: Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom’. In
  183. (2003). Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge:
  184. (1999). Teachers, Writers, Professionals. Is There Anybody Out There?’
  185. (2002). Teaching Social Theory in Trying Times’.
  186. (1982). Telling How Texts Talk: Essays on Reading and Ethnomethodology.
  187. (2005). That’s Not Why I Went to School’.
  188. (2006). Thatcher and Her Sons. A Revolution in Three Acts.
  189. (2001). The 1960s New Universities’. In
  190. (1998). The Academic Career Handbook.
  191. (2007). The Art of Listening.
  192. (1997). The Audit Society. Rituals of Verification. Oxford:
  193. (1992). The Auto/Biographical I: The Theory and Practice of Feminist Auto/Biography. Manchester:
  194. (1971). The British Academics.
  195. (2005). the British Academy.
  196. (2003). The British Sociological Association. A Sociological History.
  197. (2008). The Change from Private to Public Governance of British Higher Education: Its Consequences for Higher Education Policy Making 1980-2006’.
  198. (1970). The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology.
  199. (1990). The Consequences of Modernity.
  200. (1994). The Decomposition of Sociology. Oxford:
  201. (2007). The Enclave Society: Towards a Sociology of Immobility’.
  202. (1991). The End of Sociological Theory: The Postmodern Hope’.
  203. (2002). The End of the University and the Last Academic?’ In: Religion, Theology and the Human Sciences. Cambridge:
  204. (2001). The Ethics Minefield: Issues of Responsibility
  205. (1998). The Extended Case Method’.
  206. (2004). The Future of Social Theory.
  207. (2006). The Future of Society.
  208. (2000). The Governance of Science.
  209. (2005). The Intellectual.
  210. (2007). The Knowledge Book. Key Concepts
  211. (1981). The Manufacture of Knowledge. An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science.
  212. (1995). The McUniversity: Organisations, Management and Academic Subjectivity’.
  213. (1989). The Nature of Work. Second Edition. An Introduction to Debates on the Labour Process.
  214. (1994). The New Production of Knowledge. The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies.
  215. (2006). The New Sociological Imagination.
  216. (2007). The Nostalgia for Permanence at Work? The End of Work and Its Commentators’.
  217. (1968). The Origins of British Sociology:
  218. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester:
  219. (1967). The Principles of Scientific Management.
  220. (2005). The Public and Private in C. Wright Mills’s Life and Work’.
  221. (2000). The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education,
  222. (1989). The Reflexive Thesis. Wrighting Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. London: The
  223. (2007). The Refurbishment of the Rochester Building’.
  224. (1995). The Relationship Between Quality
  225. (1995). The Research Assessment Exercise, Funding and Teaching Quality’.
  226. (2006). The Research Game in Academic Life.
  227. (2002). The Romance of Lonely Dissent’: Intellectuals, Professionals and the McUniversity.’
  228. (1984). The Social and Intellectural Organization of the Sciences.
  229. (1962). The Sociological Imagination of C. Wright Mills: In Memoriam’.
  230. (2000). The Sociological Imagination. Fortieth Anniversary Edition.
  231. (1968). The Sociological Movement, the Sociological Society and the Genesis of Academic Sociology in Britain’.
  232. (1998). The Sociological Revolution. From the Enlightenment to the Global Age.
  233. (1967). The Sociological Tradition.
  234. (1987). The Standpoint of Women in the Everyday World’.
  235. (1949). The Structure of Social Action: a Study in Social Theory with Special Reference to a Group of Recent European Writers.
  236. (2007). The Trouble with Burawoy: An Analytic, Synthetic Alternative’.
  237. (1999). The Uses of Relevance. Thoughts on a Reflexive Sociology’.
  238. (2007). The Women’s Movement and
  239. (2007). Thematisierung der Wissenschaftsemigration’.
  240. (1999). Theorising Modernity. Reflexivity, Identity and Environment in Giddens’ Social Theory’.
  241. (1999). Theorizing Classical Sociology.
  242. (2006). Theory and Practice: Psychoanalytic Sociology as Psycho-Social Studies’.
  243. (2006). Tick the Box Please’: A Reflexive Approach to Doing Quantitative Social Research’.
  244. (2006). Times, Measures and the Man: the Future of British Higher Education Treated Historically and Comparatively’.
  245. (2007). Transatlantische Bereicherungen. Die Erfindung der Empirischen Sozialforschung.
  246. (2004). Understanding ‘Teaching Excellence’ in Higher Education: a Critical Evaluation of the National Teaching Fellowships Scheme’.
  247. (1995). Understanding Classical Sociology.
  248. (1995). Visions of the Sociological Tradition. Chicago:
  249. (2004). Ways of (Not) Seeing Work: the Visual as a Blind Spot in
  250. (1970). What is Sociology?
  251. (2008). What Might We Mean By a Pedagogy of Public Sociology?’
  252. (2005). What should be done about the history of British Sociology?’
  253. (2006). What Students say they Learn: The Subject Identity/Identities of Sociology Students’.
  254. (2007). White Faces, Black Faces: Is British Sociology a White Discipline?’
  255. (1996). Whose Classics? Which Readings? Interpretation and Cultural Difference in the Canonization of Sociological Theory’.
  256. (1999). Why Read the Classics? London: Jonathan Cape.300
  257. (1965). Wildcat Strike: A Study in Worker-Management Relationships.
  258. (1995). Wissenschaftsforschung. Eine Einfuehrung. Frankfurt am Main:
  259. (2000). Women in the British Sociological Labour Market,
  260. (2004). Women’s and Men’s Careers in British Sociology’.
  261. (1974). Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology’.
  262. (2004). Working to Return to Employment: the Case of UK Social Science Contract Researchers’.
  263. (1986). Writing for Social Scientists. How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book or Article. Chicago:
  264. (1999). Writing the Social. Critique, Theory and Investigations.

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.