Social Research black and white graphic cover for winter 2023 issue

Image Credit: Jamie Prokell for Social Research

The Winter 2023 of Social Research, “Frontiers of Social Inquiry” (Vol. 90, No. 4: Winter, 2023), explores new and newly foregrounded areas of research and scholarship such as memory studies, inequality, race, and climate.


Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, “Doing Politics with Animals
An increasing number of theorists are challenging the idea that only humans can engage in politics and propose that humans must learn how to do politics with animals. But what does it mean to do politics with animals? We consider several recent developments at the frontiers of social inquiry that are relevant, including (1) proposals for the institutional representation of animals’ interests in human political decision-making processes; (2) growing ethological evidence for animals’ own capacities for language, culture, and collective decision-making; and (3) new theoretical accounts of political agency and community that emphasize its embodied, emplaced, and interdependent nature. Each illuminates potential futures for animal politics and for just human-animal relations.

Peter M. Asaro, “That Plan from Rio: The Promise and Limits of Multilateral Climate Governance
The Rio Earth Summit of 1992 was the culmination of three decades of environmental activism and national policy responses. It sought to reduce pressures on nature without curtailing the Global North’s wealth or thwarting the Global South’s economic development. Since Rio, science has become more granular, the world economy has grown phenomenally, greenhouse gas emissions and global heating have accelerated rather than slowed, the climate crisis and inequality have become more extreme, and the status quo interests have become more entrenched. After three lost (wasted, rather) decades, climate mitigation is terribly urgent yet hugely contested. Voodoo technology, such as carbon capture, will not save the day.

Peter M. Asaro, “Politicizing Data: AI Ethics as a Social Critique of Algorithms
The history of AI ethics reflects a mix of competing visions of norms and values for a technological future. While the fundamental tensions within the conceptualization and practice of AI ethics have played out in complex ways, this article examines the weaknesses inherent in trying to examine power from an ethical perspective, as well as to develop social policy from an individualist framework of ethical responsibility. What is needed to fully realize the social critique of AI and guide its legal regulation are theories of value based in social values and theories of technology based in systemic power dynamics. The pursuit of such a critique should also build upon science and technology studies theory and point toward a more critical mode of the social inquiry of technology.

Mark Goodale, “Futures Fixed and Foreclosed
In considering the ways anthropological approaches to the future can help make sense of current debates around energy transition, it is important to understand that “the future” is not a singular temporal placeholder, a category that allows us to talk meaningfully about moments, or events, or epochs, or sequences of days, months, and years that might—or might not—be awaiting us. Even so, if the central paradox of the High Anthropocene is that we are fated to imagine alternative (energy) futures that are at the same time impossible, then the task of anthropology should be to help understand the consequences of this paradox for social life, its nuances, its forms of violence, and its “uncanny” affordances.

Philip Mirowski, “The Evolution of Platform Science
Although we have been living through an era of the commercialization of science since the 1980s, something has dramatically changed over the last decade. Whereas commercialization used to subject research outputs to market considerations, a new development seeks to monetize nearly all aspects of the research process. This has become manifest under the rubric of “open science” as the purported solution to what is perceived to ail modern science. The commercial interests behind top journal publishers are pursuing control over “open science” by imposing the structures of “platform capitalism” upon the research process. The release of ChatGPT is best understood as the latest act in this drama, with Silicon Valley AI platforms threatening to displace the Big Five publishers as the primary protagonists of the commercialization of science.

Mario L. Small, “The Data Revolution and the Study of Social Inequality: Promise and Perils
The social sciences are in the midst of a revolution in access to data, as governments and private companies have accumulated vast digital records of rapidly multiplying aspects of our lives and made those records available to researchers. The accessibility and comprehensiveness of the data are unprecedented. How will the data revolution affect the study of social inequality? I argue that the speed, breadth, and low cost with which large-scale data can be acquired promise a dramatic transformation in the questions we can answer, but this promise can be undercut by size-induced blindness, the tendency to ignore important limitations amidst a source with billions of data points. The likely consequences for what we know about the social world remain unclear.

Jeffrey K. Olick, “The Future of the Mnemonic Turn
Observing the efflorescence of scholarly and public discourse about memory and commemoration since about the 1970s, historians and others have expressed concerns about “the memory boom” and “the memory industry.” Referring instead, and less negatively, to “the mnemonic turn,” this article responds to those concerns. It shows that many critiques were based on a Manichean distinction between “history” and “memory”—and between “historiography” and “memory studies”—that led to faulty predictions about the future of scholarly and public interest in memory. It makes a strong case for a robust memory studies that seeks not to displace historical truth-telling but to work alongside it to understand when, where, and how historiography might or might not be an effective response to problematic memory politics and practices. 

Kerry Whigham, “From Holocaust Studies to Atrocity Prevention: Genocide Studies and the Growth of Transdisciplinary Activist Scholarship
This article examines the transdisciplinary, activist impulse in genocide scholarship by exploring several debates that have shaped and are shaping the field, along with their implications. Although the field of genocide studies certainly includes a number of scholars who are not concerned directly with the question of prevention, this article focuses on several ontological and epistemological debates regarding how genocide scholarship can contribute to prevention. The first debate concerns the question of what the field is actually studying. The second set of debates centers on how to study genocide and its prevention. These include debates on the methodological frictions that exist between focusing on the global, national, and local, as well as between a reliance on quantitative and qualitative research in the field.

Mai Taha, “Thinking through the Home: Work, Rent, and the Reproduction of Society

This essay explores the tensions between two positions on revolutionary subjectivity. The first confines it to the production process and the creation of value, and the second ignores the value-form as economistic Marxist orthodoxy. I consider a third position that tries to capture the reach and open-endedness of capitalism, and in the process imagine a more expansive conception of revolutionary subjectivity. Accounting for the vastness of capitalism’s reach entails thinking with and beyond the production of value—about the preconditions that make the wage-relation possible—that is the reproduction of society, broadly conceived. This not only encompasses reproductive labor but also implicates broader gender and race relations through precarity and the gig economy, as well as struggles over homes and housing, health care, and border crossing.