|Dr. Chris Powell|
Sociologist Chris Powell asks why does “difference” mean “danger” so persistently throughout Western cultures? Why does hierarchy keep cropping up, even in radically egalitarian social movements?
How can a global society premised on constant economic expansion adjust to ecological limits to growth, without catastrophic violence? And what contribution can academic sociology make to the practical struggles on the ground for a free, equal, inclusive, and sustainable human society?
A reluctant theorist, he is driven by questions of practical social change, but persistently drawn to analytic problems and conceptual questions. His work draws on Marx, feminism, Foucault, deconstruction, historical sociology, postmodernism, science studies and postcolonial theory.
Powell's research program focuses on three intertwined threads of inquiry. The first is a historical sociology of genocide, looking at the ways in which genocide has resulted from the expansion of Western civilization, overtly through imperialist conquest, and latently through the non-intentional structural consequences of state-formation. The second is a meta-theoretical examination of concepts of social structure, especially complex system theory and relational sociology. The third is a critical sociology of knowledge that traces out how truths are socially established through power struggles. By joining these three inquiries together, Powell investigates the fate of cultural difference in a globalizing world. Will the extinction of Indigenous peoples and other "traditional" cultures continue apace? Or can the emerging global society be made to guarantee a right to collective difference?
Powell’s new book Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide, recently featured in a Winnipeg Free Press article naming Indian residential schools as genocide, analyzes how Western civilization systematically produces genocides. He proposes a theory of "barbarous civilization" and how it produces, and is produced through, "civilizing genocides."
Powell is also engaged with several article-length projects. The first uses a relational conception of genocide to understand the modern European slave trade in Africa as a form of genocide. Another uses tangled-systems (heterarchical) theory to think about the complex relations between cultural difference, patriarchy, and imperialism, using female genital cutting as its case in point.
In January 2012, Powell led a seminar on Transcendence or Struggle: Competing Narratives of Human Rights, as part of the seminar series on The Idea of a Human Rights Museum hosted by the Centre for Human Rights Research. Check here for the full schedule.