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Stefan Böschen, Jochen Gläser, Martin Meister and Cornelius Schubert

Recent years have seen an increasing interest in materiality in social research. Some might say that materiality is now back on the agenda of social research. The challenges of bringing materiality back have spurred lively debates about material agency, most of which, however, are leveled at the largely dematerialized theories of the social in the social sciences, for example, in material culture studies (Appadurai 1986; Miller 1998) as well as science and technology studies (Latour 1988; Law/Mol 1995). Since the turn of the century, a marked shift towards the material has emerged (cf. Hicks 2010), ranging from questions concerning nature (Grundmann/Stehr 2000) and everyday objects (Molotch 2003; Costall/Dreier 2006; Miller 2010) to issues of cultural theory (Reckwitz 2002), post-phenomenology (Verbeek 2005), ethnography (Henare et al. 2007), distributed cognition (Hutchins 1995), and materiality in general (Dant 2005; Miller 2005; Knappett/Malafouris 2008). A perspective on materiality is now being developed in diverse fields such as archaeology (Meskell 2005), economic sociology (Pinch/Swedberg 2008), political science (Bennett 2010; Coole/Frost 2010), and organization studies (Carlile et al. 2013). Yet the status of the material remains debated in the evolving fields of various “new” materialisms (cf. Lemke 2015).

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Antagonistic Insights

Evolving Soviet Atheist Critiques of Religion and Why They Matter for Anthropology

Sonja Luehrmann

This article offers a critique of the common notion in contemporary anthropology that a positive attitude toward the people under study is a necessary precondition for a sophisticated understanding of their social world. The empirical sociology of religion that evolved during the last decades of the Soviet Union's existence started from the premise that religion was a harmful phenomenon slated for disappearance. Nonetheless, atheist sociologists produced increasingly complex accounts of religious life in modern socialist societies. Their ideological framework simultaneously constrained Soviet scholars and forced them to pay closer attention to religious phenomena that contradicted political expectations. Drawing on this extreme example of militant atheist scholarship, I argue that studying 'repugnant cultural others' always requires some form of affective motivation. Antagonism can be as powerful, and as problematic, a motivating force as empathetic suspension of judgment.

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András Bálint Kovács

Narrative understanding supposes the viewer's mental activity of constructing causal links, an activity biased by emotions and other mental or psychological circumstances, making the causal links we construct while watching the film sometimes quite different from those the viewers obtain as a consequence of a thorough logical analysis of a narrative. This article argues that this is not the difference between “misunderstanding” and “adequate understanding,” but rather the fact that the viewers cannot discount emotional bias when talking about narrative causality. Because most films are made to be seen and understood after one viewing, they are meant to be understood through emotionally biased causal inference rather than by the pure analytical mind. In order to understand how emotionally biased causal thinking works, it is necessary to conduct empirical research with real audiences. Theories of narrative understanding can only be corroborated by such empirical research.

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Deliberative Democracy

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead - Selen A. Ercan with André Bächtiger

Selen A. Ercan and André Bächtiger

Deliberative democracy is a growing branch of democratic theory. It suggests understanding and assessing democracy in terms of the quality of communication among citizens, politicians, as well as between citizens and politicians. In this interview, drawing on his extensive research on deliberative practice within and beyond parliaments, André Bächtiger reflects on the development of the field over the last two decades, the relationship between normative theory and empirical research, and the prospects for practicing deliberation in populist times.

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Benjamin Abrams and Giovanni A. Travaglino

Just as there are many repertoires of contention, there are also many repertoires of scholarship. Much of our writing on contentious politics utilizes one specific repertoire: the empirical research article. And yet, there is a plurality of forms through which we can advance scholarly knowledge on the subject of protest. This issue was devised, in a broad sense, as a celebration of that plurality. The articles in this issue offer a smorgasbord of scholarly work, highlighting the breadth of scholarly tactics that are available to academics and practitioners in the field of contentious politics.

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Peter R. A. Oeij, Steven Dhondt and Ton Korver

Social innovation is becoming a core value of the EU flagship initiative Innovation Union, but it is not clearly demarcated as it covers a wide field of topics. To understand social innovation within European policymaking a brief outline is given of EC policy developments on innovation and on workplace innovation. Definitions of social innovation formulated at the societal level and the organizational or workplace level are discussed. Empirical research findings of workplace innovation in the Netherlands are presented as examples showing that workplace innovation activities boost organizational performance. The article explores the relation between workplace innovation and social innovation, and concludes that policy developments in the EU can be studied with the theory of social quality, provided that the latter in its empirical approach focuses on how individuals together constitute innovations.

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Ivan Svetlik

Reading 'The Social Quality of Europe' is a challenge, partly because several authors' discussions go beyond the well-structured concepts of social policy, social security and the welfare state, and even more because the protagonists of social quality acknowledge that 'if no application is possible... it will only be used in unproblematic situations and function as a tautology.' It 'will remain an abstract and affirmative concept, of little use in theory and research of social problems in the widest sense' (Baars et al., 1997). That is why, in this article, we would like to make a contribution to the conceptual discussion, with particular reference to the issues of eventual empirical research. Due to the complexity of the concept it will not be possible to examine operationalisation in depth.

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Neoliberalism and the Biophysical Environment

A Synthesis and Evaluation of the Research

Noel Castree

This article both synthesizes and critically evaluates a now large, multi-disciplinary body of published research that examines the neoliberalization of environmental regulation, management, and governance. Since the late 1970s, neoliberal ideas and ideals have gradually made their way into the domain of environmental policy as part of a wider change in the global political economy. While the volume of empirical research is now such that we can draw some conclusions about this policy shift, the fact that the research has evolved piecemeal across so many different disciplines has made identifying points of similarity and difference in the findings more difficult. After clarifying what neoliberalism is and explaining why the term 'neoliberalization' is preferable, the article analyzes the principal components and enumerates the social and environmental effects of this multifaceted process. By offering a comprehensive and probing survey of the salient literature, I hope not only to codify the existing research but also to guide future critical inquiries into neoliberal environmental policy.

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'I Listen to the Soundtrack and I'm Back There in the Day'

Impacts of Performing Memory in Northern Ireland

Magdalena Weiglhofer

This article addresses the function of public presentations of personal memory in a post-conflict context and explores whether they may contribute to a preservation of that conflict. In particular, it examines the reception of performed memories of violence and its aftermath by audiences who have lived through similar experiences. To do this, it will discuss observations from empirical research on a verbatim theatre production in Northern Ireland, Heroes with Their Hands in the Air, that used interviews with relatives of those killed or wounded in an incident that came to be known as 'Bloody Sunday'. Drawing on the responses to the stories portrayed, it argues that, although such performative re-enactment of memory may contribute to an affirmation of collective identity and thus to preserving boundaries, it allows a community of memory to examine past events of suffering and explore impacts that reach into the present.

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The “Democracy-Politics Paradox”

The Dynamics of Political Alienation

Gerry Stoker and Mark Evans

Contemporary political scientists have observed a democratic paradox that has crystallized around the disconnection between how citizens imagine their democracy and how politics is practiced. Citizens continue to believe in the values of liberal democracy but are increasingly disillusioned with how their political systems work and the politics that are practiced in the name of democracy. This article revisits the root causes of political alienation to better understand this democratic paradox. It provides both a conceptual understanding of political alienation and its domain of action and insights into how the concept can be operationalized and measured in empirical research. It argues that while democracy itself may not be in crisis, the politics on which its operation rests is in peril.