Richard Day

How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?

At a punk concert at Simon Fraser University, when I was still in high school. It was loud, sweaty, and several of my friends couldn’t dance because they almost ended up fighting. I remember the mosh pit as welcoming, though. For whatever reason, I got what it was about, and have a memory of some smiling faces in black outfits.

I was surprised they had information books at a little table, and were giving them away for free. At that point in my life I didn’t have much interest in politics, but I went to look at what was there. One of my friends—who was probably a lot less naive than me—said “Nah, you don’t need that shit’, so I didn’t end up taking any of it home.

What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?

That part of sociology, which some attribute to C Wright Mills, which urges us to become aware of what’s going on around us, and to link our personal experiences to social structures. And not only to make the links, but to do something about them – to become activists, intellectuals. A drive for something like ‘justice’.

Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?

A lot of really high theory? I’m thinking about critiques of so-called ‘postanarchism’, a label I’ve never really liked.

More seriously, Emma Goldman’s critique of liberal feminism, calling men ‘voting cattle’, has had some traction and I think is getting more. At least in ‘women’s studies’, which is becoming ‘gender studies’… with no ill intent I’d say they are doing sociology, among other things.

Some people are starting to notice that Kropotkin had some things to say that are important for sociology, and might help to create arguments against the primacy of the capitalist market.

I guess we’ll be able to answer this question more easily once intro sociology textbooks start to include a section on anarchism…

What could anarchism contribute to sociology?

It could help to create more people with more radical stances on more issues; to push people beyond liberal social democratic approaches. And—though this is increasingly unlikely given the ongoing neoliberalization of the university—anarchism might help to show academics that being merely academic is not enough. They have to work to change their lives and their subcultures as well, they have to work for change where they are. And where they are is a university or college, so they have to take risks that might mean loss of popularity, or shitty timing on the their next sabbatical.

What classical sociologists were the most anarchistic?

I don’t think any of them were actively anarchistic themselves, perhaps other than the very early Marx, but they did have some ideas that resonated with anarchist ideas. Weber’s critique of bureaucratic rationality always struck such a chord for me, even though he was, in so many other ways, an authoritarian prude. Durkheim on anomie—is that not what still drives so many Euro and North American kids out of the suburbs?

What anarchist(s) (whether classical age or contemporary, individuals or a group) seem(ed) to have the strongest sociological imagination?

Interesting, there is Mills’ term. I don’t know. I think of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, the European workers of the First International era. I feel like there might have been large numbers of people, who were just like my family growing up, but who read books, went to meetings, had class consciousness, went on strike, held general strikes, fought hard… because they knew how their lives were being affected by larger forces, and wanted to change things.

Why has anarchism not had as much impact upon Sociology as other movements (e.g., Marxism, feminism)?

Ha! Maybe because the ideas are too radical for a discipline of the state, located in state-sponsored institutions? Maybe because lots of people who are anarchists would refuse, have refused, to be a part of this discipline at all. And maybe because those of us who do spend some time inside the beast leave as soon as we can?

How could sociology (as a discipline, a practice, etc.) be more anarchist?

Find ways to do the best of what we do in the academy in different settings, without relying upon the state for money and status and students. That means not spending all of your time reading, writing, thinking, filling out forms, holding exams. Some of your time has to be spent on growing food, getting to know your neighbours, getting involved in issues that matter to you and them. That means having a land base. That is what I’m doing now.

Have you encountered anarchists in the classroom? What was their response to Sociology?

Yes, and I’ve also helped to create a few in the classroom. I’d say there are two kinds of encounters, or two elements that exist in combination. One, you have kids who know a bit of the culture and have read a few books, and want to impress you with who they are, how cool they are. Some of those are a pain in the ass; from others I’ve learned a lot. The other bunch of anarchists in the classroom don’t know, yet, that they are anarchists. They think it’s amazing that someone is teaching this stuff in the university and they want more and more of it. I know several who have gone from this kind of exposure to life-long involvement in anarchist projects.

Is it possible (to say nothing of desirable?) for anarchists to work as professional sociologists? (Especially within the academy?) What are the concerns or challenges?

That’s for each person to decide, right? I think I covered this above.

Richard Day is a former professor at Queen’s University, and is the author of Gramsci Is Dead (2005) and a number of other academic books and articles. He has been involved with many radical projects over the years, from community education to food and housing co-ops, indigenous solidarity, urban social centres, and rural intentional communities. He is currently living at a regenerating former gravel pit on Denman Island, British Columbia, and is a founding member of the Denman Centre for Alternative Living and Learning (D-Centre).