Conceptual Contributions

Let us shift back, then, from the specifics of this urban neighbourhood to the broader theoretical context in which this chapter intervenes. As I suggested at the outset, the theoretical impetus for this chapter derives from my desire to connect two very different literatures: on one side, the relatively esoteric and narrow domain of microsociology, concerned with detailed phenomenological description of the mundane (Goffman 1963, 1983; Rawls 2009; Schutz 1967), and on the other, the big questions of solidarity, justice, and inclusion that form part of the broader concerns of recognition scholarship in liberal and critical political thought over the last quarter century (Fraser 1997, 2001, 2009; Honneth 1996, 2007; Kymlicka 1995; Taylor 1994). To produce an adequately robust and experientially verifiable theory of justice, I draw on conceptual foundations from these unlikely bedfellows. Lacing together the lofty ambitions of justice-oriented political thought with the quotidian obsessions of microsociology will, I believe, serve a range of theoretical, disciplinary, and substantive purposes—notably for critical sociology.

First, theoretically, I broaden the traditionally narrow specializations of microsociology by demonstrating how they can be used to both animate and problematize abstract political thought. Put differently, this chapter takes contemporary recognition scholarship, all too often concerned with formal mechanisms and procedural justice, and gives it some sociological grounding—and thus a thicker social foundation—in the mundane realities of the everyday experience of urban life. This theoretical contribution feeds into a second set of contributions in terms of the discipline of sociology in the Canadian context. My aspirations here concern the division of both intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary labour. While English Canada has a tradition of diverse kinds of microsociology (Michalko 2002; Prus 1996; Shaffir and Stebbins 1991; van den Hoonaard 2012),6 it is largely overshadowed by the macro-level concerns of stratification research and the political economy of technology, health, and work that have been ascendant throughout the discipline’s national history (Armstrong et al. 2001; Clement and Myles 1994; Innis 1962; Porter 1968; Watkins 1992). And though the dominant strand of Quebecois sociology has paid close attention to culture, the orientation has been largely towards macro-level articulations of the core socio-cultural traits of Quebecois society and national identity (Dumont 1993; Rioux 1987). When everyday life is taken seriously in Canadian sociology, it is treated as a source of examples and iterations of the intrusion of the state or broader structural forces into everyday life (Braedley and Luxton 2010; Cormack and Cosgrave 2012; Kinsman and Gentile 2010; Rioux et al. 1973; Ruppert 2006; Smith 2005; Valverde 2012). Everyday life amongst strangers beyond formal institutions is rarely treated as a source of data to be analysed, or a thing to be theorized in its own right, and even less so as a social site where we might learn about solidarity.7 Thus, I offer an intradisciplinary corrective by theorizing the production, maintenance, and dissolution of solidarity through some ordinary dimensions of everyday life amongst strangers in cities.

In addition, I work in an interdisciplinary way at the interstices of social and political theory. At the fuzzy boundaries of the discipline, we encounter internationally recognized Canadian political philosophers and theorists (Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, and, to some extent, Michael Ignatieff), who are clearly of relevance to sociologists, but who make little or no reference in their works to sociological findings nor for that matter explicitly reference much social (or sociological) theory. While their work is overarchingly concerned with governance of the political sphere, it is also implicitly concerned with social order and solidarity, which are arguably the founding concerns of sociology. Their focus on the conceptual underpinnings of governance, policy, and proceduralism, and the development of formal means for protecting and expanding rights and solidarity has much to recommend it, but the lived experience and production of solidarity in everyday life has been neglected as a thing to be theorized and a base from which to develop general concepts in Canadian social and political theory.8

In addition to these theoretical, intradisciplinary, and interdisciplinary contributions, I also offer a third contribution of a more substantive nature. This chapter takes seriously urban public spaces as the sites and scenes where encounters between strangers happen ceaselessly, and in so doing, seeks out iterations of soft solidarity in everyday life. I demonstrate how mundane life provides a grounding from which to think anew about how we might go about refusing solidarity and justice without losing sight of the experiential level at which we actually live our lives amongst unknown others. While the range and scope of these contributions may appear to be ambitious, they develop directly out of an ongoing interest in giving sociological flesh to the dry bones of abstract political thought.

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