The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Power

The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Power

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By Dorothy E. Smith
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 1990
256 Pages
ISBN 9780802067968
Published Jun 1990
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 $30.95    $23.21

Sociologists generate idology instead of knowledge - particularly where women are concerned. By starting with the theoretical formulations of their discipline and then interpreting people's activities as expressions of those ideas, sociologists both participate in and perpetuate society's traditional power relations.

So argues Dorothy E. Smith in this provocative study of her own discipline and its relationship to women's lives.

While acknowledging that social science is ideological, Smith argues that for sociologists idology affects methods of inquiry and transforms what actually happens in people's lives into a formalized picture that lacks subjectiveness. She explicates the need for an alternative sociology that better explores everyday experience, suggesting a Marxist materialist ideology, and emphasizing that ideology is not content but practice.

Smith is especially concerned with the application of sociological ideology to the human service bureaucracy and the way institutions of mental health reconstruct women's lives. She provides meticulous accounts of the ways in with police reports, governments statistics, hospital records, and psychiatric files and ideologically interpreted, transforming a person's life history in the process. In a reveatory chapter on biographer Quentin Bell's exploration of Virginia Woolf's suicide, Smith demonstrates once again how the professional who claims to report an event acurrately also shapes it.

Highly critical of current sociological practice, she also hopes that alternative appraoches will change the discipline.

Dorothy E. Smith is a professor emerita at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Victoria.