Professor Dan Silver seeks empirical knowledge to define the sociological “canon”

With funding from a SSHRC Insight Grant, Professor Dan Silver has recently commenced research seeking to understand how the theory taught in Sociology departments reflects the discipline’s understanding of its “canon.”  Sociology is distinctive as a discipline for holding a core group of theorists as core to its identity as a discipline.  All departments teach theory courses and require at least some theory for their majors and specialists. Silver’s preliminary research, conducted with graduate student Cinthya Guzman, showed very little variation in the theorists included in courses in “Classical” theory but more variation in courses in “Contemporary” theory.

This project expands on this preliminary research to empirically investigate the institutional structure of sociological theory within universities in Canada, Germany and France.  By identifying continuity and change in the sociological canon from the 1950s to the present in the narratives of theory courses and textbooks, it seeks to understand how academic institutions use their curriculum to define and reproduce disciplinary boundaries and forms of thought. It will also discover sources of variation in theoretical education from national, regional, institutional, departmental and instructor characteristics, and the subjective motivations that influence the inclusion or exclusion of particular authors, texts or ideas in sociological theory courses. He and his team will gather evidence from syllabi and textbooks, a cross-national survey of instructors of sociology, and by conducting interviews with instructors who complete the survey. Ultimately, the project will provide insight on the social, political and intellectual processes involved with shaping the identities of academic fields and disciplines.

Professor Silver is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching duties at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. His research areas of interest include social theory, culture and cultural policy. He is co-editor of The Politics of Urban Cultural Policy, and the author of Scenescapes: how qualities of place shape social life. Professor Silver’s current research studies the role of arts and culture in city politics, economics, and residential patterns. He is acclaimed for his work, as evidenced by his 2013 Theory Prize and honourable mention for the 2015 Junior Theorist Award.