Sociology of Emergences

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Discussion

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, on how this sociology is practiced in the context of the World Social Forum:


"Whereas the goal of the sociology of absences is to identify and valorise social experiences available in the world — although declared non-existent by hegemonic rationality — the sociology of emergences aims to identify and enlarge the signs of possible future experiences, under the guise of tendencies and latencies, that are actively ignored by hegemonic rationality and knowledge.

For some thinkers, the possible is the most uncertain and the most ignored concept in western philosophy.8 Yet, only the possible permits to reveal the inexhaustible wealth of the world. Besides All and Nothing, Bloch, for instance, introduces two new concepts: Not (Nicht) and Not Yet (Noch Nicht). The Not is the lack of something, but also the expression of the will to surmount that lack. The Not is thus distinguished from the Nothing.9 To say No is to say yes to something different.

The Not Yet is the more complex category because it expresses what exists as mere tendency, a movement that is latent in the very process of manifesting itself. The Not Yet is the way in which the future is inscribed in the present. It is not an indeterminate or infinite future, rather a concrete possibility and a capacity that neither exists in a vacuum nor are completely predetermined. Subjectively, the Not Yet is anticipatory consciousness, a form of consciousness that is extremely important in people’s lives. Objectively, the Not Yet is, on the one hand, capacity (potency) and, on the other, possibility (potentiality).

Possibility has a dimension of darkness as it originates in the lived moment, which is never fully visible to it. Also, as a crucial component of uncertainty that derives from a double want : one, the fact that conditions that render possibility concrete are only partially known; and two, the fact that such conditions only exist partially. At every moment, there is a limited horizon of possibilities, and so it is important not to waste the unique opportunity of a specific change offered by the present : carpe diem (seize the day). Considering the three modal categories of existence — reality, necessity, and possibility — hegemonic rationality and knowledge focus on the first two and neglect the third one entirely. The sociology of emergences focuses on possibility. Possibility is the world’s engine. Its moments are want (the manifestation of something lacking), tendency (process and meaning), and latency (what goes ahead in the process). Want is the realm of the Not, tendency the realm of the Not Yet, and latency the realm of the Nothing and the All, for latency can end up either in frustration or hope.

The sociology of emergences is the inquiry into the alternatives that are contained in the horizon of concrete possibilities. It consists in undertaking a symbolic enlargement of knowledge, practices and agents in order to identify therein the tendencies of the future (the Not Yet) upon which it is possible to intervene so as to maximise the probability of hope vis-à-vis the probability of frustration. Such symbolic enlargement is actually a form of sociological imagination with a double aimm : on the one hand, to know better the conditions of the possibility of hope; on the other, to define principles of action to promote the fulfilment of those conditions. The Not Yet has meaning (as possibility), but no direction, for it can end either in hope or disaster.

The sociology of emergences therefore replaces the idea of determination by the idea of care. The axiology of progress and development, which have justified untold destruction, is thus replaced by the axiology of care. Whereas in the sociology of absences the axiology of care is exerted vis-à-vis alternatives available in the present, in the sociology of emergences the axiology of care is exerted vis-à-vis possible future alternatives. Because of this ethical dimension, neither the sociology of absences nor the sociology of emergences are conventional sociologies. But they are not conventional for another reason : their objectivity depends upon the quality of their subjective dimension. The subjective element of the sociology of absences is cosmopolitan consciousness and non-conformism before the waste of experience. The subjective element of the sociology of emergences is anticipatory consciousness and non-conformism before a want whose fulfillment is within the horizon of possibilities.

The symbolic enlargement brought about by a sociology of emergences consists in identifying signals, clues, or traces of future possibilities in whatever exists. Hegemonic rationality and science has totally dismissed this kind of inquiry, either because it assumes that the future is predetermined, or can only be identified by precise indicators. For them, clues are too vague, subjective, and chaotic to be credible predictors. By focusing intensely on the clue side of reality, the sociology of emergences aims to enlarge symbolically the possibilities of the future that lie, in latent form, in concrete social experiences. The sociology of emergences valorises clues as pathways toward discussing and arguing for concrete alternative futures. The care of the future exerts itself in such argumentation and negotiation.

As in the case of the sociology of absences, the practices of the WSF also come more or less close to the ideal type of the sociology of emergences. I submit as a working hypothesis that the stronger and more consolidated movements and organisations tend to engage less in the sociology of emergences than the less strong or consolidated. As regards the relations between movements or organisations, the signs and clues given by the less consolidated movements may be devalued as subjective or inconsistent by the more consolidated movements. In this as well, the practice of the sociology of emergences is unequal, and inequalities must be the object of analysis and evaluation."

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