Towards a Sociology of Power in Ireland

Sociologists, and sociology departments at our universities, regularly engage in scientific examination so as to produce a sociology of Travellers, or single mothers, or the unemployed, or emigrants/immigrants, or the working class/middle class and so on, because it seems we really need to understand these people and these communities or categories in terms of behaviour, attitudes, structures, origins, education, wealth or the lack of, etc.

Wouldn’t it be very enlightening and very useful if the same sociologists and sociology departments turned their attention to producing a sociology of judges, for instance, or of the wider legal profession? Wouldn’t it be very enlightening and useful to have available a sociology of medical practitioners, a sociology of parliamentarians, a sociology of appointees to State boards and public bodies, a sociology of leading capitalists… you get the drift?

It seems to me that that is the work that sociologists should be doing. We have masses of data on the ruled. How about the same detail about the rulers, the powerful, the wealthy, the professional facilitators, the ‘experts’ – including academics whose findings and views are often used to buttress power. A sociology of sociologists, perhaps?

Fifteen years ago, Brian McNair pointed out the need for A Sociology of Journalism in his book of that title. The need for that particular bit of knowledge hardly needs explaining, but fifteen years later, where is the research, where is the analysis of this extraordinarily powerful institution/profession in Ireland? Where is the sociology of state broadcasting and corporate media in Ireland? Nowhere to be seen.

Come on! It is not as if there is not an army of undergrad and post-grad students out there in relevant departments in every one of our universities looking for useful and interesting research with which to engage on their way to qualification and graduation. It is not as if there is not a swarm of sociology lecturers/professors, many of whom indicate they lean, even slightly, towards the political left. Well, come on, give us the goods, stop endlessly replicating previous work, stop gazing at the navel of the working class, the powerless, the ‘problem people’ – gifting to the powerful the information they need to better control society.

We need to know the provenance of power, so that we can understand it and deal with it, and perhaps even correct its faults. We will happily take it in installments, from different sources. We are well able to knit things together, more than capable of understanding the big picture from the sum of its elements.

And if some of this work is already done, as it must be, don’t leave it yellowing on some academic bookcase, or hidden from public view in some academic publication – write it up and put it out in the Public Sphere, where it should be.

We need a comprehensive sociology of the forms and facets and structures of power, and we need it now. Show us the money!

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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