Interview completed: 02/22/2014
How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?
I first discovered anarchism in the punk scene in high school. I thought it was silly and it probably was. I then met “real” anarchists in Syracuse, NY, where I went to college. Those folks turned me on to actual literature, philosophy, etc. I fought my internal agreement with it but then eventually surrendered. I remember sitting there reading The Conquest of Bread and thinking, “democracy and capitalism are incompatible—I’m an anarchist.” I then spent the next few years reading everything I could and became deeply enmeshed with the Northeast anarchist scene.
What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?
For me, sociology is a critique of the world from the standpoint of those at the bottom—anarchism is too. Sociology interrogates common sense—anarchism hopes to do that as well. Sociology has an emphasis on finding deep theoretical insights in everyday life—anarchism does too. We sociologists and anarchists look around us and find meaning and possibility in everyday life. So there’s much overlap.
Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?
Recently, a collection of young intellectuals who came of age in the mid to late 1990s have entered the academy as sociologists or, at least, imbued with an anarchist sensibility and a passion for sociological thinking. I think the overlap here is a rejection of the standpoint of economics and political science, and an appreciation of the “bottom-up” nature of much sociological thinking.
What could anarchism contribute to sociology?
In theory, anarchism could imbue the discipline of sociology with a different kind of ethical compass and a greater passion for public sociology. Of course, these could also come from Marxism. Those things would be wins in my book. However, there’s also a danger that what befalls anarchism could easily confound certain branches of sociology—powerlessness, marginality, and intellectual laziness. Anarchists in the US tend to be scared of power, not interested in exercising it. I think this is unfortunate. They are often in deep loving relationships with marginality and their own alleged victimization. Sociologists on occasion act out similar self-crucifixions, as though the Political Scientists and Psychologists really are out to kill us. What both need is a strategy to further their visions. This means inserting a sociological imagination and a more critical-intellectual emphasis into anarchism and a more overt political vision into sociology. Those who view sociology as a neutral science should be sidelined.
What classical sociologist is the most anarchistic?
Marx, of course. And there’s the rub!
Why has anarchism not had as much impact upon Sociology as other movements (e.g., Marxism, feminism)?
Anarchism is not as theoretically rich or deep as other perspectives. It has relied on too many normative claims and has shrunken from real analysis too often.
How could academic sociology be more anarchist?
It could be less professionalized I guess. But not sure.
Ever encountered anarchists in the classroom? What was their response to Sociology?
Yes, all the time. They tend to push back on it. Sometimes in a productive way and other times not. Sometimes it’s reactionary (why are we studying dead white men) and sometimes it’s critical (did he really mean a dictatorship of the proletariat?). Usually the anarchists are the ones who object to grades, especially when theirs are low. There is often an air of intellectual laziness.
Is it possible for anarchists to work as professional sociologists? (Especially within the academy?)
Given your past experiences, what do you think is the role of (1) a sociologist and (2) an anarchist in working with projects like the Left Forum (or other similar things)?
I think sociologists expose the underlying assumptions beneath common sense. It sounds like a small thing. But it’s important. In the best cases, we do this in a way that also can support social movements for change. I recently resigned from the board of directors of Left Forum, along with four others, out of frustration with the organization. As far as what anarchists do, well, I suppose we stand up for as many kinds of oppression as we can. Anarchists are good at recognizing oppression, even if we aren’t always good at doing something about it.