Thursday, 1 March 2018

Research in Political Sociology

Slowly recovering from the horrors of snowmageddon and saving myself up for what will be a daft and disingenuous speech on Brexit from Theresa May, I'm just throwing down a few words on what I'm working on and towards at the moment.

In between writing lectures, supervising dissertations and doing all the myriad admin things that come with the job, I am slowly but surely putting together two papers on mine and yours favourite politics programme, Question Time. The papers focus on the demographic splits and affiliations of programme panellists between the 1979 and 2017 seasons. Some of the findings are what you might expect, such as an overall tendency of rising women's, black and minority ethnicity, and LGBT representation over time. Others are ... less so. If you want to get a taster of what to expect, here's the not-at-all-scientific post that started me thinking about this.

The second and third are somewhat intertwined. These are at the planning stage and I've only really began reading and studying them seriously since the beginning of the year. The first is something about political theory and politics as is. I'm not entirely sure what, yet, but having commented and written extensively about politics from a sociological perspective, its slow unwinding, and now fast unravelling has exposed the clubbiness, the naivete, the conceits and the uselessness of not just nearly all the commentariat, but not a few base assumptions held by political science academics as well. Take Tim Bale's otherwise detailed recent history of the Tory party as an example. He has unparalleled access to key players, and his method pays lip service to the three Is: ideology, interests, and institutions, but a sociological account it is not. There is no sense of movement, of tension, of the Tory party as an alliance, or indeed of its trajectory. In sum, so far (I'm not that far into the book) it lends itself to the 'tribalist' tradition of looking at politics, of treating parties as more or less free floating entities that happen to attract people with certain views. In my view, it's time this utterly false, misleading and distorted view of politics was put down for good.

I'm getting ahead of myself. This study requires going back to Nietzsche, and working my way through some secondary literature on Deleuze and Guattari before tackling the beasts that are Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, and What is Philosophy?, and from there it's onto Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway and then a revisit of jolly old Hardt and Negri. I'm particularly interested in reiterating the banal but unspoken taboo that politics, ultimately, is an arena of class conflict. Simple, eh? Well, no. But why the Deleuze stuff? Isn't Marx good enough? Simply put, I find them fascinating. And useful. Althusser was right that philosophy is the class struggle in theory, but in Deleuze's case the war chest of concepts he developed in partnership with Felix Guattari offers alternative ways of thinking about movement, tendency and conflict from a materialist but anti-Hegelian, anti-dialectical standpoint. As Hegel tried in his Science of Logic to capture the process of cognition in the abstract, and Marx the movement (circuits) of capital, so Deleuze and Guattari attempt the same with social processes in general, and through their concept of the assemblage we have another nuanced way of thinking about abstraction. i.e. Levels of analysis. Useful if you're trying to think about the sociology of politics.

The cat's been let out of the bag regarding the parallel project, which is something about the Tory party. As much as I'd love to take a scalpel to them, the only dissection taking place is strictly analytical. There are a number of things I'm concerned with putting on a firm footing: the rebooted Strange Death of Tory England-style argument I've consistently made these last six years, the relationship between decline, the decadence of the Tories, and their retreat into a sectional party of capital, the diminishing character of the Tory vote and evaporation of the party organisation, polarisation, and its descent into political senility to the point where even Jeremy Corbyn (Jeremy Corbyn!) is starting to look the safer bet as far as business is concerned, and a myriad other things that escape me at the moment.

Obviously, you can't look at the Tory party in isolation from wider politics. Its decomposition is the complementary but opposing process to Labour's recomposition. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted my contribution to Mark Perryman's edited collection, The Corbyn Effect, which came out last Autumn. In my piece I set out the relationship between Corbynism and the shifts in the nature of class, as outlined here and in many posts since. This summer, Mark Carrigan and I are putting together an event on the sociology of Corbynism, with the view to a proper conference towards Christmas. I'll be looking at building on the earlier chapter as well as thinking about the limits of Corbynism, particularly with regard to older voters (specifically, retirees) and layers of workers not part of, or are excluded from immaterial labour and the networked/socialised properties that come with it. The New Socialist has a special coming out on Corbynism soon that is well worth keeping an eye on (as is the site generally).

As you can see there's a busy year ahead, but blogging will carry on carrying on.


Speedy said...

Dialectician1 said...

Go back to Nietzsche, what for?

Phil said...

Why not?

I'll be looking at the Genealogy of Morality specifically, and want to properly grasp how this work subsequently influenced Deleuze.

Andrew Curry said...

Phil, this is all great stuff and I look forward to reading more about it. I'm old enough to remember when the Conservative Party was the party of the CBI, but also specifically the party of the banks, the brewers and the constuction sector. One of the interesting questions for me about the Conservative Party is how and why it stopped being the party of business.