Creativity and imagination are central to sociology, as they arguably are to varying extents in all research and analysis. Interestingly, people are really leaning into this creativity—arts practices are increasingly present in social research and in sociological projects that directly engage with Mills’ notion of sociological imagination. This isn’t only in translational ways, i.e. to creatively represent the findings of research for engagement and outreach purposes. Practices like poetry and photography are starting to be used as methods by researchers themselves and in participatory projects. With art we can explore research problems and communicate our ideas in different ways, we can stimulate memory and discussion, and challenge our students to think sociologically. Art can help us understand elements of theory, knowledge, data and experience that are hard to get at otherwise.
Fiction writing is one of many arts-based research methods that has grown in popularity and methodological legitimacy. While completing a project on public sociology about the place of fiction (particularly novels) in the discipline, I had many conversations about why fiction is important. When we read fiction we often feel that is sociological, like the writer has seen the world and people in the same way that we do. These stories feel rich and alive, and drag culture and agency and history and expectation and feeling to the fore. Sociological fiction—sociology done in/with/through fiction writing, or fiction that (arguably) is intentionally sociological—actively aims to achieve this sense. It shows the many complex relationships that make up our lives: between people, and also between times and places and animals and other things. Fiction can help us to show others the value of sociology. Fiction can also help us see sociologically.
So Fi Zine (so fi stands for sociological fiction) is a project that aims to open and creatively extend the promise and craft of sociological imagination. The zine is a space for creative translational and arts-based research, and art inspired by social science. It features fiction and poetry, and welcomes all textual and image-based artistic forms (i.e. printable). Four editions of the zine have been published since mid 2017. With guest editorial contributions by Patricia Leavy, Howard Becker, Les Back, Nirmal Puwar, and Raewyn Connell, these editions have interrogated what we see and what we show as social researchers by focusing on narrative, imagination, the sensorial, and our capacity to create futures. Many pieces in these editions tap into what doing social research really means: seeing and noticing, hearing and listening, questioning, patterning, sharing, showing, shaping and (re)telling. As I said in the edition #4 editorial, art can be used in a translation way, to illustrate research and show ways of thinking sociologically. We can fictionalise already-found findings and selectively engage key disciplinary concepts for impact, engagement, and pedagogical purposes. Art also opens speculative spaces. What stories are we telling? What stories might we tell? For edition #5, I’m asking submitters to also consider who our work is for. Who is involved in our research? Who is implicated? Who is missing? Who benefits from it? Who do we reach?
Edition #5 will include a guest editorial contribution by Michael Burawoy, best known for his work on public sociology. Burawoy’s call to ‘engage multiple publics in multiple ways’ inspires this edition. Pieces are invited that creatively explore what Burawoy calls ‘the common challenges we face in defending society’—fiction and art that does more than deliver sociological knowledge to a vague and faceless public. If you’re interested in being involved, write stories that listen and engage, and make art that is attentive and bold and challenging. Provoke discussion, involvement, interaction, solidarity and imagination.
For full submission information see sofizine.com.