UBC Sociology’s Distinguished Speaker Series hosts Dr. Erika Summers-Effler (Notre Dame) for a talk titled, “The Trouble with Levels.”
Though much of sociological theory has moved towards process thinking, there are significant gaps between theorizing social organization as social processes and studying social organization as social processes. One way to foster process thinking is to consider social phenomena in terms of verbs. Selves become selfing, interactions become interacting, and so on. When we think this way, imagining disruptions in processes that can look like static entities from afar becomes easier. It becomes clear that, generally, all apparent entities must absorb, reconcile, or respond to disruptions if they are to persist. When we see entities as open and regularly responding to and managing unanticipated interactions with other open processes, the notion of the social world organized in discrete levels becomes less intuitive, convincing, and helpful. Levels-thinking can obscure how boundaries are permeable and how continuous entities are active achievements. Focusing on permeable interpenetrating dynamics stands in sharp contrast to looking for ontologically real, emergent, and discrete levels. This talk considers potential alternative heuristics to levels-thinking in order to support connections between process social theory and empirical sociological work.