Three Years of ‘Understanding Society’

by Henry Farrell on November 10, 2010

I’ve been dealing with multiple deadlines, and am about to fly to Boston for another conference, which has stopped me from blogging about several things I wanted to. Perhaps the most significant of which was the third anniversary last week of Daniel Little’s “Understanding Society”: blog. It’s a wonderful, if atypical blog – Little uses the blog to write a couple of mini-essays a week on topics of interest in the hinterlands between sociology and political science.

bq. 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. … The writing process here is quite different from that involved in more traditional academic writing. … Writing an academic blog has a different structure. It is a question of doing serious thinking, one idea at a time. Each post represents its own moment of thought and development, without the immediate need to fit into a larger architecture of argument. Eventually there emerges a kind of continuity and coherence out of a series of posts; but the writing process doesn’t force sequence and cumulativeness. Instead, coherence begins to emerge over time through recurring threads of thinking and writing.

There really is nothing else quite like it. I also highly recommend Little’s book _Varieties of Social Explanation_, which I’ve taught in graduate seminars (it is twenty years old, and it would be lovely to see a revised edition one of these days, but it is still excellent).



David 11.10.10 at 11:13 pm

Such a fantastic blog and resource; great the you’ve called it out. But there sure does seem to be a whole lot more anthropology than poli sci that little’s talking about there….


James Wimberley 11.11.10 at 9:16 am

This was quite like the way books and public documents were written before the days of printing: dictating to an amanuensis. Unless the amanuensis was very intelligent, the final version could read like a stream of consciousness. Magna Carta for instance is all over the place.


mcd 11.12.10 at 12:54 am

Looks like it might doing “sociology of sociology”. Stepping outside (if you can) a framework to examine it, instead of using a framework to examine typical social subjects.


Fr. 11.14.10 at 6:53 pm

One of my favourite blogs, and one that I have recommended reading to many, many people, including students, colleagues and friends.

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