Dr. Miguel Centeno is Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University and author of numerous articles, chapters and books, including States in the Developing World and State and Nation Making in Latin America and Spain (both from Cambridge University Press). His work focuses on globalization, political sociology and social change—particularly in the Latin American context. He was recently named Section Editor of the Global Epistemologies: Concepts, Methodologies, and Data Systems section of UC Press’s journal Global Perspectives, which publishes its first articles in January 2020.
UC Press: Welcome to Global Perspectives!
Miguel Centeno: Thank you and I am very excited about creating a new venue for research that takes on a much broader interdisciplinary perspective than most.
UC Press: In your section description for the journal, you note that the world is increasingly global, but “the unit of analysis for much of social science remains at the national level at the highest.” How do you propose that the field of sociology might address this disconnect?
Miguel Centeno: I think we have to begin by expanding our unit of analysis to the much larger aggregation of the global society. For example, decades long debates about agency vs. structure might not make much sense in the chaotic adaptive complex system that is contemporary globalization. No society (even semi-autarchic ones like North Korea) can be analyzed in isolation or even only paired with some partners or enemies. Whether it is capital flows, manufacturing, culture, demographics—any aspect of sociology write large must now first analyze the global elements of the issues. This will mean that we need to analyze wages or unemployment, for example, through lenses larger than the national. We cannot understand gender without looking at a changing global structure. We certainly cannot understand inequality without reference to a global system of labor. It is this broader perspective that we want to encourage and promote.
UC Press: We publish this interview right as you are about to embark to the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, where there is a growing section on Global and Transnational Sociology. What are your plans for the meeting?
Miguel Centeno: As with my colleagues, the ASA is partly a time to renew ties and friendships, but we also do some work. I will be attending as many of the relevant sessions as I can and will be bothering participants with handouts and a sales pitch.
UC Press: With the first Global Perspectives articles publishing in early 2020, you have a blank slate to address “global epistemologies” for this increasingly interconnected world we live in. What types of papers would you like to see published in your section? If academics reading this post would like to submit their work to your section, what should they do?
Miguel Centeno: I would love to see papers that take into account how global forces define and help determine even the most local events and phenomena. We need a new epistemology—similar perhaps to the breakthrough with Simmel with size of groups or Harrison and Granovetter with the critical role played by networks. Increasingly, for example, ethnographies have to take into account a digital component of life and this will by definition be global. Similarly, to understand nationalist populism, we have to take into account how much of global contagion effect there may be and, of course, the context of broader immigration. Survey work needs to become more global so that we can replace our perhaps outmoded categories for ones that are much more relevant in a global stage.
UC Press: Thanks for your work on Global Perspectives, and here’s to a successful launch of your section!
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About Global Perspectives
Global Perspectives is a peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary journal seeking to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world, specifically in terms of concepts, theories, methodologies, and evidence bases. The journal is devoted to the study of global patterns and developments across a wide range of topics and fields, among them trade and markets, security and sustainability, communication and media, justice and law, governance and regulation, culture and value systems, identities, environmental interfaces, technology-society interfaces, shifting geographies and migration.