Christopher Powell, Ph.D
Department of Sociology
University of Manitoba
Department of Sociology
University of Manitoba
Carleton University 2005
Carleton University 1998
Sociology & Political Science
University of Toronto 1996
Phone: (204) 474-8150
Fax: (204) 261-1216
Why does “difference” mean “danger” so persistently throughout Western cultures? Why does hierarchy keep cropping up, even in radically egalitarian social movements? How can bottom-up politics be practically effective without buying in to one single program, identity, or value-system? 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? These are some of the key questions that animate my engagement with sociological theory.
I am a reluctant theorist, driven by questions of practical social change, but persistently drawn to analytic problems and conceptual questions. My work draws on Marx, feminism, Foucault, deconstruction, historical sociology, postmodernism, science studies, and postcolonial theory. I’m invested in taking “the material turn after the cultural turn”, making off with the radically relativising insights of critical cultural theory, in order to work them into a revised and rejuvenated materialist sociology.
About my work
My research has been in the area of comparative genocide studies. My book project Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide analyzes how Western civilization systematically produces genocides, using deconstructionist theory and Norbert Elias’s figurational sociology to propose a theory of ‘barbarous civilization’ and how it produces, and is produced through, ‘civilizing genocides’.
Now that the main writing for Barbaric Civilization is complete, I am engaged with three article-length projects. The first of these uses a relational conception of genocide to understand the modern European slave trade in Africa as a form of genocide. The second applies a relational heterarchical analysis to possibilities and limitations of Michael Burawoy’s project of public sociology. The third uses tangled-systems (heterarchical) theory to think about the complex relations between cultural difference, patriarchy, and imperialism, using female genital cutting (FGC) as its case in point.
Other article projects planned for the future include a piece exploring how Norbert Elias’s figurational theory of civilization can complement radical feminist theories of patriarchy as a historical social system, and a critical examination of the possibilities and limitations of post-modernist historical materialism.
Powell, Christopher (forthcoming, 2011) Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Powell, Christopher (forthcoming, 2011) “Genocidal Moralities: A Critique”, in Adam Jones, ed., New Directions in Genocide Research. London: Routledge.
Powell, Christopher (forthcoming, 2010) “Four Concepts of Morality: Differing Epistemic Strategies in the Classical Tradition”, in Stephen Vaisey and Steven Hitlin, eds., Handbook of the Sociology of Morality. New York: Springer.
Powell, Christopher (2009) “The Wound at the Heart of the World.” Evoking Genocide: Scholars and Activists Describe the Works that Shaped Their Lives. Adam Jones, ed. Toronto: The Key Publishing House. Pp. 11-17.
Powell, Christopher (2008) “Reasonable and Senseless Chains of Consequence.” Poolside. Winnipeg: Video Pool Media Arts Centre. Pp. 38-45.
Powell, Christopher (2007) “What do genocides kill? A relational conception of genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research, v. 9(4), pp. 527-547. [Download PDF]
Powell, Christopher (2007) “Reply to Keith Doubt.” Canadian Journal of Sociology Online, November-December 2007. http://www.cjsonline.ca/reviews/replytodoubt.html
Powell, Christopher (2007) “Review of Keith Doubt, Understanding Evil: Lessons From Bosnia” Canadian Journal of Sociology Online, July-August 2007. http://www.cjsonline.ca/reviews/evil.html
Recent Conference Papers
“The Criminalization of Dissent in Canada: A Pessimistic Prognosis”, G20 Perspectives: A Panel Discussion on Civil Liberties and Global Justice, Millennium Library, Winnipeg, 19 August 2010.
“The Moralization of Genocide in Canada”, Prairie Perspectives on Indian Residential Schools, Truth and Reconciliation, University of Manitoba Centre for Human Rights Research Planning Initiative and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, The Forks, Winnipeg, 17 June 2010.
“Universal Human Rights and Persistent Cultural Difference”, Unfinished Business: Human Rights Issues in the 21st Century, University of Manitoba Centre for Human Rights Research Planning Initiative, 4 May 2010.
“How Can I Change the World With My Mind? Dilemmas of a Materialist”, Symposium: Practicing Public Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba, 22 January 2010. [Viewable online]
“Critical Theory, Meet Critical Theory: Getting Marxism and Postmodernism Tangled Up in Each Other”, 44th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Sociology Association, Carleton University, 28 May 2009.
“The End of Justice? Tactics of Justice in Tangled Systems”, Theorizing Justice: Interdisciplining the Divide, University of Winnipeg, 24 April 2009.
“Post-Modernist Historical Materialism”, World History and Historical Materialism, University of Manitoba, 13 March 2009.
“Genocidal Moralities: How Atrocity Becomes a Duty”, Arthur Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice ‘Brown Bag Lecture’ Series, University of Manitoba, 28 November 2008.
“The Life of Nations: Lemkin’s Functionalism and the Meaning of ‘Genocide’”, at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, University of Saskatchewan, 30 May 2007.
“A World After Civilization: Theorizing Security Without Sovereignty”, at the 41st Annual Meeting of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, York University, 30 May 2006.
“Genocidal Civilization: Deconstruction, Figuration and Violence”, at Elias in the 21st Century, University of Leicester, 12 April 2006.
“Is Our Civilization Genocidal?” at Global Violence, Global Justice, University of Manitoba, 24 February 2006.
In the winter term of 2011 I will be teaching:
•SOC 3350 Feminism and Sociological Theory – Syllabus and Readings (one file)
Please note that these course syllabi may be subject to revision before the start of term.
In other years I usually teach SOC 2220 Sociological Theoretical Foundations, SOC 4560 Advanced Sociological Theory, and SOC 7190 Selected Topics in Sociological Theory – Relational Sociology. I often teach SOC 1200 Introduction to Sociology.
My Teaching Ethos:
I am increasingly interested in practice-oriented teaching, or teaching the content of sociology by teaching skills that can be taken outside the university.
Students in my Foundations course, for example, learn critical reading skills, by pulling out an author’s conceptual framework and expressing that in their own language, as much as they learn about classical sociological theory in itself.
Theory, as I teach it, is a wild and messy network of debates, disagreements, differences, rather than a settled body of received knowledge.