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Social Exchange and Conceptual Query

Combining classic and contemporary theory, Thinking through Sociality: An Anthropological Interrogation of Key Concepts is an exploration of concepts from disjuncture to social space and field to sociability. In advance of the volume’s publication later this month, editor Vered Amit discusses its origins and purpose.

 

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This volume is the outcome of a continuing series of exchanges among the contributors, which took place over several years. When I initiated the first of these exchanges in 2006, I wondered why anthropologists had often resorted uncritically to relatively few, familiar concepts of sociality—such as community—in spite of the availability of a much broader range of ideas that might be effectively applied to the varied contemporary situations they were seeking to apprehend.

 

The international group of scholars I invited to consider this question were working on a wide variety of questions and areas of concern—for e.g. media, social movements, education, childhood, migration, citizenship—but that very diversity made a dialogue regarding our respective efforts to work out useful conceptions of sociality all the more stimulating. Indeed the dialogue was so interesting that over the years that followed, we continued to meet periodically both through face-to-face as well as electronic exchanges. As our conversations continued, two orientations became increasingly prominent.

 

First, we looked back as well as forward, drawing inspiration from the history of debates and reflections on sociality within anthropology and related disciplines. If the actual term “sociality” appears in writing of a more recent vintage, questions about the contexts, forms and workings of association have always been critical to the development of the social sciences. Why then would we not draw on generations of scholarship rather than restricting ourselves to an unnecessarily thin notion of contemporaneity?

 

Second, while our conversations were ethnographically driven, they were not ethnographically particularistic. Without seeking to develop a general theory of sociality, we were drawn to mid-level concepts that could speak across the range of circumstances and issues encompassed by our respective research programs. And if these concepts were useful in enabling our conversations, we concluded that they could also be useful to a wider audience as well, a conclusion that provided the impetus for this volume.

 

Each member of the group took responsibility for interrogating a concept—including disjuncture, social space, social field, sociability, organizations, networks—that conveyed a rich history of intellectual reflection and that had also been useful in framing their own respective research inquiries. The result is a volume that is meant to stimulate, rather than exhaust, an ongoing effort in anthropology and related disciplines, at “thinking through sociality.”

 

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Vered Amit is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University. She is the author or editor of 12 books including Young Men in Uncertain Times (Berghahn, co-edited with Noel Dyck) and Community, Cosmopolitanism and the Problem of Human Commonality (Pluto, co-authored with Nigel Rapport).