SAI Social Theory Study Group

Meeting Monthly to discuss new ideas and perennial issues: For times and links get in touch:


Tom Boland, University College Cork (

Diana Stypinska, University of Galway ( )


Why is Social Theory essential to Sociology? It is not just that without theory, academic study descends into mere reportage, data and empirical findings presented as though they speak for themselves. Rather, there is no discourse which does not derive from some form of perspective, from the pedestrian and pragmatic to philosophical positions. Without theoretical reflection, our studies articulate unacknowledged ideas, for instance, individualism, rationalism, liberalism and neo-liberalism, economic, psychological and even theological notions which animate our culture and thought.


For centuries Social Theory has interrogated and challenged existing theoretical perspectives, not simply by being critical or deconstructing each and every position, but by offering insights and models which allow us to conceive of life and society differently. Vibrant and thriving Social Theory is essential not just to Sociology but society in general. As such, this Study Group proposes to cover the field of social theory, broadly conceived. It will facilitate productive exchange between not only sociologists, but also those who work in other disciplines across social sciences and the humanities.


Regrettably, the work of social theorists is often under-recognised in contemporary scholarship, more widely in academia and even within Sociology, both in Ireland and abroad. Arguably, the field of Social Theory is the strand of Sociology that has been most severely impacted by the progressive marketisation of universities because it does not yield short-term measurable ‘impact’ as other strands of Sociology promise. Research and teaching within Social Theory needs to be actively supported, not just as one strand of Sociology, but its core.


Ireland is an interesting vantage point from which to reconsider Social Theory; Irish history is entangled with both imperialism and post-colonial thinking, a peculiar position in an era of de-colonising theory. Like many countries, Ireland imports much of its theory from French and German thinkers, but balances this with British rationalist empiricism. Historically, many of the most prominent Social Theorists in Ireland have been outsiders, or in turn, exiles who found recognition abroad. Is there is a distinctively Irish contribution to Social Theory, beyond the work of individuals? The possibility of reconsidering Social Theory from the margins remains open in the Irish context.


Intrinsically, Social Theory is both an intense and diverse field, with various perspectives and paradigms having their own advocates, and inevitably tensions and differences exist between these. The SAI Social Theory group aspires to allow serious discussion and debate, tempered with generosity. Being committed or even passionate about Social Theory also means being open to other voices, and we hope for fruitful rather than fractious dialogue.


This Social Theory Study Group has the following aims:

  • To facilitate national and international collaborations between academics – as well as postgraduate and postdoctoral students – working in the field of social theory.
  • To promote Irish social theory scholarship both nationally and internationally.
  • To support Irish Universities’ expertise in social theory research and teaching.


Proposed activities of the Study Group:

  • Organize online thematic Social Theory reading groups open to academics as well as postgraduate and postdoctoral students.
  • Organize symposia and colloquia, showcasing the relevance of social theory to other strands of sociology.
  • Promote latest developments in Irish social theory through book launches and other promotional events.
  • Encourage and support joint projects and publications.


Proposed promotion avenues for the group:

  • SAI membership.
  • Interdisciplinary Theory networks.
  • Existing social theory networks..



Tom Boland, University College Cork (

Diana Stypinska, University of Galway (


The following current SAI members declared their support for this proposal:


Su-ming Khoo, University of Galway

Carmen Kuhling, University of Limerick

Jonathon Heaney, Queen’s University Belfast

Maggie O’Neill, Kieran Keohane, John O’Brien, Tracey Skillington, all UCC