Just attended the 20th conference of AISLF, the international association of French-speaking sociologists, in Montréal. Back home yesterday I found a state of fear and madness (again, alas…). But before that, I enjoyed a nice time with fellow researchers from France and (perhaps even more intriguingly, or simply more newly) from the different countries in which French is spoken, ranging from Canada, Belgium and Switzerland to several African countries. It was a good opportunity to get a sense of what research is done around us.
Lots of good presentations. Interestingly, digital sociology appears to be on the up, as many researchers investigated topics that had to do with digital technologies, their usages, and the ensuing economic and social transformations. That there was no dedicated stream is not in itself a problem: if digital technologies permeate all our lives, they should not be studied in a separate subfield but as part of the sociology of work, of gender, of education etc.
(On this particular point, I am proud to say I was interviewed, with Antonio Casilli, by ICI – Radio Canada, and our contribution was featured by the French Consulate in Québec, a supporter of the event).
The other good thing is the emergence of social networks research in two keynote presentations – by Antonio A. Casilli and Michel Grossetti – which is far from a small achievement, considering that the association does not have a dedicated social networks research group (I would love to see one being created sooner or later… like BSA-SNAG, the group I convene for British Sociological Association).
As often happens to me at sociology conferences though, I could not escape a sense of uneasiness among participants. What is the discipline’s place in this world? What is its status within broader academia? There is an underlying, omnipresent feeling that the sociology struggles to answer these questions : different schools of thought give different (and sometimes conflicting) answers, governmental budget cuts narrow down opportunities, and recognition from other disciplinary fields is (to put it mildly) uneven.
A problem that was loudly voiced by many is academic unemployment. The numerous attendees with non-permanent jobs had a special meeting during the conference, and presented a petition to the association’s general assembly. It is refreshing to see the constructive approach of some, such as SCOOL, the initiative to create sociology research jobs presented by Nathalie Chauvac of Toulouse.
Other problems arise from the changing landscape of scientific publishing: my impression is that from among the different academic communities, sociology has been one of the most resistant to open access, especially in French-language countries. While open access is certainly not a panacea and has its own problems, defensive approaches may be detrimental and further threaten the relevance of francophone sociology. In this sense, I regret that the AISLF conference two-hour meeting on sociology journals was so little attended.
Interestingly, the style of presentations was not what I am most used to – slides were rather little used while many presenters (especially keynotes!) read written speeches. This would be rather unusual in the social networks and economics conferences I mostly attended so far – but also in English-language sociology conferences like those organised by the BSA. Not sure how to explain this, but it somehow suggests limited exchange across fields and languages… The other thing is rather limited (albeit officially encouraged) live-tweeting activity.
The logistics was impeccable and Montréal extremely welcoming, with nice summer weather and a jazz festival in the city centre just in those days.