Interview completed: 01/10/2019
How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?
The first time I heard about anarchism in a real sense, I was in a record store in New Jersey as a teenager and I came across a pile of CRASS records, the British anarcho-punk band. And I spent a lot of time reading through the liner notes. I was quite struck by the visuals, the art by Gee Vaucher, and the design. I bought some and listened to them and paid a lot of attention to them. So, yeah, it’d be mostly through music and particularly through CRASS. And I did a lot of reading after that. I think the album I got was “Christ: The Album”. That’d be my first encounter with anarchism. Then I spent a lot of time in the library reading after that.
What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?
Well, I suppose a lot of this depends on how you understand sociology and how you understand anarchism. I would start from the idea that I’m not sure that anything would be incompatible between the two, depending on how you define the two. If I was trying to find a point of overlap that sociology could contribute most to an anarchist politics I would probably start with, let’s say, C. Wright Mills’s idea that sociology is where you go from showing how something that appears as an individual problem is actually a historical, collective problem. So, sociology taking the study of social forms, patterns and showing how they exist in continuum. That would be of use to an anarchist political project, depending on how you defined it. I’m not quite sure I get what is most compatible, but that’s where I’d start.
Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?
This sounds like a historical question, I honestly… My impression is for the most part, anarchist theory and politics and practice is not taken too seriously within sociology. I expect if there are influences, they’re probably fairly minor and disguised. What’s that one book about the relationship between Max Weber and anarchism, where he was going to Ascona? Yeah, might have something there. We can look at things, like, who was the thinker who started writing about anarchism and cybernetics back in the Sixties? I’m blanking on the name… Yeah, there’s probably little bits here and there, but it’s probably fairly minor. Mostly because I suspect that because those forms of influence have been discounted or ignored by sociologists.
What could anarchism contribute to sociology?
I suppose I would say there is a certain tendency—and I must say I haven’t been in a sociology department since 2004, so it’s a bit hard for me to answer. But, let’s say there’s a certain tendency within, at least, mainstream sociology to assume or fall back on the assumption of state-forms. Conceptually, anarchism could contribute a lot to understanding forms of non-state organization and network-forms, which would be also interesting to sociology outside of a political purpose. That’s probably where I’d start. That’s probably a question for people more invested in sociology and more invested in anarchism than I am.
What classical sociologists were the most anarchistic?
Honestly, I don’t know. Again, this is a question for someone who is more invested in knowing that kind of thing. I don’t really know. Off the top of my head, I would probably start with someone like Weber, because Weber gave us a much more in-depth understanding of the nature of power and organization and bureaucracy and control, which might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first. But I think that’s why—perhaps because he was most interested in trying to understand that, he might be the most anarchistic. Again, that’s not something I know about in-depth.
What anarchist(s) (whether classical age or contemporary, individuals or a group) seem(ed) to have the strongest sociological imagination?
I’m not really sure. If you look at people like Peter Lamborn Wilson (i.e., Hakim Bey), one thing that I think is rather intriguing about his writing is he’s one of the writers who started in the Seventies and Eighties, who most explicitly started looking outside of the Western European canon and looking to things like indigenous societies to the Islamic spiritual traditions, as being places to gain insight, knowledge, and inspiration. I would see that as being a quite valuable contribution to developing a sociological imagination for anarchism. Because a lot when you read anarchist histories, particularly within most class-war-oriented tradition, you’re stuck with the same story of a bunch of European dudes over and over and over again. So, he’s one of the first authors that I read that was specifically trying to go outside of that kind of story, outside of that kind of Euro-centric history. So, maybe someone like him? Again, I’m sure they’re many other people who’ve done that a lot more.
Why has anarchism not had as much impact upon Sociology as other movements (e.g., Marxism, feminism)?
Hard to say. The answer of someone like David Graeber would be good about this kind of thing. Because anarchism is above all an ethics of practice rather than a unified, coherent theoretical project. And therefore it’s a lot harder to just say, “here’s how I’m going to apply it in my work…” You might say it’s much more rooted in a practical kind of ethic of doing, more so than creating a unified theoretical system. That’d be one possible answer.
How could sociology (as a discipline, a practice, etc.) be more anarchist?
Yeah, I’m going to pass on that. I don’t really know. A lot of really depends on what kind of anarchism you’re talking about, how you’re defining it. For me the question would be “What forms of knowledge can be developed with sociology that would be useful to anarchist project?” And the answer that I gave before, would be to map out different kinds of non-hierarchical forms of social cooperation, whether coops or time-sharing economies, or whatever form of mutuality that can be mapped out sociologically and that can be a contribution to an anarchist politics, or be used by it. I’m not sure, but that’s where I’d start.
Have you encountered anarchists in the classroom? What was their response to Sociology?
I’m not sure. Very possibly yes. They weren’t necessarily brandishing name badges and weren’t club card holders, saying “hi, we’re the anarchists!”. I could’ve but I wouldn’t have known. It’s hard to say, they weren’t wearing a badge saying “hey, we’re the anarchists”. Keeping in mind that I work at a business school, so probably somewhat less likely for that to be the case. And, also I don’t work in a sociology department. So, “what was your response to sociology?”, well you’d have to ask some one in sociology.
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?
Well, I think there’s some challenges. I guess, there are constraints, particularly within the functioning of a much more neo-liberalized, market-based education system, which is become much more the case now in the UK than it used to be. There are constraints in working in almost any university regardless of the field. For me, the question would be: How do you see working within those constraints, regardless of what the particular discipline or department is. So, yeah, maybe an anarchist-sociology would be useful or nice. Doesn’t strike me as a top priority, but it could be useful.
Stevphen Shukaitis is Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex, Centre for Work and Organization, and a member of the Autonomedia editorial collective. Since 2009 he has coordinated and edited Minor Compositions (http://www.minorcompositions.info). He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Day (2009) and The Composition of Movements to Come: Aesthetics and Cultural Labor After the Avant-Garde (2016), and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.