Editor’s note: This is the first post of a summer-long series, The Sociology of Trump. Every Friday RI Future will feature an essay written by Brown University sociology students on an aspect of Trumpism.
Does the rise of Trump signal the beginning of a new era for America, for the world? Will he, and his look-alikes across the world, restructure power relations and the distribution of privilege to extend freedom? Or does this mode of governance diminish justice, democracy, peace, and environmental security?
Of course in a time so politically polarized as this, we know answers to such questions are likely to depend on one’s standpoint. Consequently, many doubt that one could discuss such issues in a way that goes beyond conventional partisan divisions, and into deeper, more responsible, engaged scholarship. Sociology must.
As scholars of sociology, we research how power works and how change happens. We are critical sociologists, as we find it impossible in these times to explain change without engaging the values that move our questions. We both engage audiences beyond fellow academics, notably policy makers and publics. In the end, we are also teachers; our students are our most immediate public.
When Kennedy planned to teach introductory sociology for the first time in some 20 years, he anticipated a course dedicated to explaining how culture and power set the parameters for social change, from reform to revolution, from democratization to war. Even after Brexit, when Ortega and he began planning the course in the early fall of 2016, we did not expect that Trump would have been elected. But his election changed everything.
Of course such an absolute declaration depends on where you stand. For many people of color, especially those most vulnerable to police and everyday violence, or whose lands are occupied, or for being undocumented or suspected of terrorist ties, change may not be so dramatic as that which most of those first time protesters in the Women’s March of January 21, 2017 felt. However, because so many people in the USA mark the Time of Trump as a moment of potentially radical change, we may be facing revolutionary times. At the very least, it invites us all to rethink our sociological imaginations with new parameters in mind. And that moved our introductory sociology course to 83 Brown University students over the spring term of 2017.
About midway through the course, with sociological imaginations on fire, we invited these students to reflect on how sociology helps us engage the Time of Trump. With the series of papers that follow, we share some of the excellent papers we read following that assignment. As you will appreciate, questions are many, standpoints various, methods multiple, and styles heterogeneous. They are all, however, expressions of professional, critical, policy and public sociology, exemplifying what it means to be an engaged scholar in these times.
Brown University is known for its liberal reputation among universities, but not always for its connection to its most proximate publics in Rhode Island. With changes in the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, notably with its embrace of Public Policy, and the Swearer Center for Public Service, notably with the extension of its engaged scholars program, the university might find greater common cause with surrounding communities. Indeed, we hope that the papers following can be another signal of that trajectory, in what our discipline calls public sociology. For the two of us, however, this is also inspiring sociology. Learning from our students renews our commitment to refining the sociological imagination for our times, for our future.