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HOME>NEWS&EVENTS>NEWS BRIEFING>Post-Western perspe...
Post-Western perspective enlivens sociology theory

Author:CHEN MIRONG     Source: Chinese Social Sciences Today     2022-12-16

In recent years, sociologists from such countries as China and France have been engaging in a research project titled “Post-Western Sociologies.” Through both theoretical and empirical studies, they attempt to construct a new sociological knowledge system that goes beyond the dualism of Western and non-Western systems and integrates perspectives from both sides. To introduce the project, CSST recently interviewed two of the pioneers: Xie Lizhong, a professor of sociology from Peking University, and Professor Laurence Roulleau-Berger from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (ENS Lyon), who is also the French director of the International Advanced Laboratory “Post-Western Sociology in Europe and in China” jointly run by ENS Lyon, the French National Center for Scientific Research, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The sociological system constructed by Western countries based on Western discourse systems has long been dominant in the international sociology community. “For several centuries, the history of the West has been synonymous with the history of the world. The global economy of knowledge is structured around epistemic and hegemonic inequalities and domination,” Roulleau-Berger said.

With the rapid socioeconomic development of non-Western countries, most notably China, some scholars have begun to challenge Western knowledge hegemony in sociology. They include not only academics from the non-Western world, but also Western sociologists. These Western scholars actively involve themselves in action against the Western domination of sociology, cooperating with their non-Western counterparts to research Eastern and Western societies, in a bid to expand the vision of Western sociologists and break through existing Western centrism in the field.

However, Xie noted that to counter Western hegemony in sociology, thereby breaking new ground for the development of non-Western sociologies, is not the sole purpose of post-Western sociologies. More importantly, the project aims to set the stage for equal exchanges, dialogues, and integration between Western and non-Western sociologies, so as to promote the healthy development of sociological knowledge around the world.

According to Xie, post-Western sociologies refer to new sociologies formed and developed in the “post” era of the so-called “Western sociologies,” just as the term implies. A sociological theory can be categorized as post-Western “as long as it is not constructed under the guidance and within the restriction of the traditional Western discourse system; as long as it is constructed by sociologists living and working in non-Western countries, or by Western and non-Western sociologists together; and as long as it is initially expressed in non-Western language or in Western and non-Western language together,” Xie said. The formation and development of post-Western sociologies should be an undertaking of both Western and non-Western academia, Xie added.

Roulleau-Berger told CSST that post-Western sociologies rely on different knowledge processes: “knowledge niches”—which appear to be located in “Western-West,” “non-Western-West,” “semi-Western-West,” “Eastern-East,” and “non-Eastern-East;” intermediary epistemological processes that encourage the partial transfer of sociological knowledge along the continuum of “Western-West,” “non-Western-West,” “semi-Western-West,” “Eastern-East,” and “non-Eastern-East;” the identification of theoretical legacies, traditions, and epistemological spaces in these regions; and the co-production of creolized sociological knowledge.

“In post-Western sociologies, the conceptual space is relayed by a methodological space in which sociologists conceive a plurality of temporalities, places, contexts and situations in the construction of tools for field investigations in order to access the plurality of the narratives of societies and their multivocality or polyphony,” Roulleau-Berger said. “Post-Western methodology leads to a multi-situated sociology, which does not necessarily mean fields of investigation in several countries, but rather co-doing fieldwork in several differentiated spaces and temporalities.”

With the establishment of the International Associated Laboratory “Post-Western Sociologies in France and in China” by French and Chinese sociology circles in 2013, which was renamed the International Advanced Laboratory “Post-Western Sociology in Europe and in China” in January 2021, scholars from the two countries, as well as Japan, South Korea, and Bulgaria, have collaboratively shown in a constructed dialogue how “Western” and “non-Western” theories could be exchanged and shared. “In this ecology of connectedness, local and indigenous theories become alive, visible, and active and they are mobilized to produce alternative or heterotopian canons of knowledge,” said Roulleau-Berger.

Editor  :  Yu Hui

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