Sociology in the time of crisis faces both a challenge and an opportunity. As explored in the previous chapter, historically, sociology was considered a radical science because it introduced a new way of understanding, inquiring and thinking about society. In particular, it signaled and established the move from distant theoretical constructions to the empiricism of the ﬁeld. In this sense, sociological research methods were both the vehicles for radical thinking and the tools for engaged investigations of the social world. However, in the twenty-ﬁrst century the same empirical techniques of investigation passed down to us after a century of social science can no longer claim exclusive unpacking of the social fabric. This is mainly because they tend to work on the assumption that social realities can be understood as a set of more or less speciﬁc and predictable processes (Back and Puwar, 2012: 6). In his renowned critique of classical sociological methods, German sociologist Ulrich Beck (2006) refers to ‘methodological nationalism’, which, he asserts, reinforces the notion that societies are contained by nation states and are generally seen as subordinate to the international. The core of Beck’s critique of methodological nationalism concerns the unit of focus and analysis, as he destabilises the practice of equating society with national society. This, he argues, indicates that the study of any social phenomenon should be spatially ﬁxed to the level of the nation state. Yet, in the highly connected, globalised world of the second modernity1 this is hardly the case. Beck’s argumentation introduces a new dialectic between the local and the global, which if applied to methodology suggests that the enacting of the social should include the study of multiple locations; of diverse trajectories, geographies and mobilities; and of the new conceptual ground created by these interdependencies. This is also the case with the study of the current ﬁscal crisis and the concomitant spatial, social and political diffusion of its effects: from the aggressive patterns of proﬁt making and the housing bubble in the States, via the increase in the use of food-banks in the UK, to the precarious lives of youths in Greece, to the alarming rise of the far-right in Europe. Crisis, even if experienced primarily locally, should be connected with wider processes and practices in order to grasp the whole picture. Beck was not alone in his critique of classical sociological research tools. John Urry’s Mobile Sociology boldly proposes the replacement of the ‘social as
society’ by the ‘social as mobility’ (2000: 348). The diverse tangle of mobilities composing the social world creates challenging terrains for social research that demand new sets of research lenses, that can adequately capture the ﬂow, shifting connectivity, and morphology of the social.2 The changes in our social realities pose new challenges for empirical sociology, yet this is hardly a new proposition.3 What is new is the speed and interdependencies of such alterations. As Savage and Burrows argue in The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology (2007), in the era of knowing capitalism new technologies produce endless information about the social world at a frequency and speed that was almost impossible to imagine in the past. They focus on the proliferation of ‘social transactional data which are now routinely collected, processed and analysed by a wide variety of private and public institutions’ (2007: 885). Savage and Burrows use the example of the multinational online retailer Amazon and its generator of preferences in order to argue that no sociological study would be able to provide results on the preferences of such a diverse group of people in such a short timeframe. This obviously poses a challenge: to rethink the sociological craft and the tools of representing social realities, as the in-depth interview and the sample survey methods – two of the most widely used tools of sociological research – as they ‘are unlikely to provide a robust base for the jurisdiction of empirical sociologists in coming decades’ (2007: 885). Yet, at the same time, this coming crisis of empirical sociology creates a space of opportunities, as what Savage and Burrows propose as a response to this crisis is taking up new interests in the ‘politics of method’ (2007: 885). In accordance with the current renewal of interest in the politics of methods in social sciences (Adkins and Lury, 2009; Law, 2004; Savage and Burrows, 2007; 2009) and in order to expand the repertoire of sociological research tools, this study engages with the tenets of visual methodologies alongside more traditional tools of sociological research. In line with Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford’s call for inventive methodologies the hope is that the methods collected here will variously ‘enable the happening of the social world – its ongoingness, relationality, contingency and sensuousness – to be investigated’ (2014: 2). The notion of the politics of method implies that research lenses are not neutral tools that describe social realities but mainly active agents in their creation. The ethical implications of this argument are highly signiﬁcant for the future trajectories of empirical sociology. If methods are always already political, then this raises the question of what kind of realities we as social scientists want to represent and create. Anthropologist David Graeber (2002) pushes the argument a step further when he claims that it is through forms of ethical engagement that we can help foster ‘preﬁgurative action’ by embodying visions of transformation as if they are already achieved, thereby calling them into being. It is also through this kind of insistence on the politics of methods and the creation of new categories of meaning that social sciences can be made relevant to the everyday concerns of communities beyond the academy. The idea of preﬁgurative action becomes relevant in times of intensiﬁed social tension and crisis, when people are usually trapped in patterns of dispossession, conditions of living precarity and mainstream xenophobic narrations.