Today marks the end of the third year of publication of UnderstandingSociety. This is the 481st posting, with prior posts covering a range of themes from “social ontology” to “foundations of the social sciences” to “globalization and economic development.” In beginning this effort in 2007 I had envisioned something different from the kinds of blogs that were in circulation at the time — something more like a dynamic, open-ended book manuscript than a topical series of observations. And now, approaching 500,000 words, I feel that this is exactly what the blog has become — a dynamic web-based monograph on the philosophy of society. It is possible to navigate the document in a variety of ways — choosing key words, choosing themes and “chapters”, or chronologically. And it is also possible to download a full PDF copy of the document up through July, 2010; this will be updated in January 2011.
I find that the discipline of writing the blog has led me into ideas and debates that I would not have encountered otherwise. For example, the thread of postings on “world sociology” and the epistemologies and content of sociology in China, France, or Mexico opens up a new set of perspectives on the social context of the disciplines of sociology. Thanks to Gabriel Abend, Marion Fourcade, Céline Béraud and Baptiste Coulmont for a range of stimulating ideas on this subject. (These discussions can be located under the “disciplines” and “sociology” tags.)
I’ve also been pleased at the way that the social ontology topic has unfolded. The ideas of plasticity, heterogeneity, and contingency as fundamental features of social entities are crucial when we try to understand why social entities and processes are different from natural entities. They give a basis for understanding that the distinction between natural kinds and social kinds is a crucial one. And I don’t think I would have come to the particular formulations and found here without the working palette provided by the blog. (This thread falls under the ontology theme.)
And, of course, I’ve been led into a number of discussion areas that I wouldn’t have anticipated: Michigan’s economic crisis, practical strategies of stimulating regional economic development, analysis of the schooling crisis our major cities face, and current developments in China, for example.
I invite readers to take this opportunity to make suggestions or observations about this experiment in academic writing. Are there topics you’d like to see addressed in future postings? Do you have suggestions for how to make the presentation of the content more useable?