Barbara Celarent (aka Andrew Abbott), “Varieties of Social Imagination” (2017) – Andrew Abbott made a fun decision when he was in charge of the American Journal of Sociology. In each issue for the six years he was in charge, he wrote little (~five page) capsule biographies/analyses of a given sociological figure from the perspective of a “Barbara Celarent,” a scholar writing from a University of Atlantis in the year 2049.
After the first year, all of the sociologists were from outside of the European/American metropole, and a lot of them weren’t sociologists in the conventional, professional sense- including Mariama Ba, a Senegalese novelist, Ali Shariati, the Iranian Islamist philosopher, political leaders like Leopold Senghor, etc. The essays are a good way to learn about a diverse body of interesting figures, especially scholars from peripheral and colonized countries before and around the period of decolonization, who can often be neglected in favor of post-independence figures.
The Celarent framing is fun though sometimes a little forcibly didactic in a twee kind of way. Abbott has some kind of point he wants to make about humanistic social science which sounds agreeable enough, but I could see being irked by someone with a substantial pulpit inventing a cool lady sociologist from the future to pick out a diverse cast of role models to chide his readers with on their assorted inefficiencies. The nature of the medium (and his Borges-gone-all-social-science schtick) means there’s no programmatic statement of how Celarent thinks us pastbound types should be doing it. Still and all, the essays are mostly engaging and edifying, and it’s encouraging to see someone do something a bit off the beaten path in academia for once. ****