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The CSA and Advocacy: Position Paper
Prepared by the CSA Policy Ethics and Professional Concerns Subcommittee and submitted by Chair, Mark J. Stoddart
At the recent 2013 CSA Executive meeting in Victoria, B.C., there was discussion about when and under what circumstances the CSA should adopt an advocacy role on social and political issues, including issues as diverse as supporting daycare at Congress to supporting ongoing protests in Turkey. In the past, policy within the CSA on these issues has been ad hoc. As such, the PEPC Subcommittee was asked to prepare a brief position paper outlining possible policy scenarios that could guide CSA decision-making on when to adopt an advocacy role in a transparent and consistent manner. The following three alternatives are suggestions that are intended to move the discussion forward. They range from a more restricted position to more open positions:
1. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) is a professional association that promotes research, publication and teaching in Sociology in Canada. Its membership is incredibly diverse, however, they are united by the fact that they work in sociology. The CSA will refrain from adopting an advocacy role on social or political issues that do not directly impact the working conditions of Sociologists in Canada in order to respect the diverse political views of our membership. The CSA Executive may occasionally adopt an advocacy role on issues that directly impact the working conditions of Sociologists in Canada, in relation to their teaching, research and other scholarly activities.
If we adopt this position, or something similar, we would be in a position to speak out on issues like changes to Census data collection or daycare at Congress. The definition of what ‘impacts the working conditions of Sociologists’ in this this scenario could also be interpreted to include many political issues in Canada. However, it would mean that the CSA wouldn't make political statements about the current situation in Turkey or changes to environmental legislation in Canada, for example. This may be desirable. Strategically speaking, advocacy is often most impactful when it reflects an engagement with the conditions of our own labour, as opposed to sentiments that many members might agree with in spirit, but do not directly affect us as sociologists. Furthermore, it might not be possible to find a consensus position among the membership on contentious issues; even if a certain view is supported by the Executive or a majority of CSA members, it might not represent the view of all members.
2. As a discipline that researches and engages a diversity of communities, Sociology is inevitably linked to the social and political issues of the societies in which Sociologists operate. Following from this tradition of social engagement, the CSA Executive may, from time to time, adopt an advocacy role on a range of social or political issues of importance to Sociologists in Canada. Consistent with CSA bylaws, the following existing mechanism would allow CSA members to propose that the CSA adopt an advocacy position. It is important to note that it is only at the General Meeting (once a year) that such motions could be passed:
a. A motion to include the proposal on the agenda of an Annual, General or Special Meeting must be proposed by five (5) members in good standing. Such a motion must be received by the Secretary or the National Office six (6) weeks prior to the date of the Annual, General or Special Meeting, and the general membership must be notified one month prior to the date of the meeting.
This option allows for the more exceptional situation where the CSA may want to comment on issues that do not affect us as sociologists but that sociological research can help illuminate. In practice, this is similar to the policy of the ASA. However, it would be useful to understand the process the ASA uses for approving an advocacy statement. Currently, the ASA website contains few public statements that are not directly related to sociology as a discipline, or promoting sociological research. When the ASA takes positions on social issues it does so mainly in regards to those issues upon which there are consensus research findings. This is to be contrasted with expressing the opinions of sociologists. For example, the ASA issued a public statement describing consensus research that finds that children fare equally well with same-sex or hetero-sex parents. However, they had also filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court that was hearing a case about same-sex marriage.
3. We may wish to adapt a combination of the previous two approaches. For the narrower, range of issues relation to the conditions of labours as sociologists identified in Scenario 1, it would often be beneficial to be able to make timely interventions, rather than having all issues go to the general membership for approval through the mechanism of an AGM. At the same time, if we want the CSA to have the ability to address the type of broader issues described in Scenario 2, the formal approval of the membership through the AGM, or another other mechanism consistent with CSA bylaws might be desirable to at least ensure some degree of representation.
At present, the CSA is moving towards obtaining charitable status. As such, it is important to be aware that adopting a more open position on advocacy (as per scenario 2 or 3) may make it more difficult to obtain charitable status or operate within the limitations on political activity that are inherent to organizations with charitable status.
Nov 27, 2013
It's great seeing this and thanks to those who got the ball rolling.
I feel that a bit of confusion seeps into the existing three scenarios on the level of implementation. My thought is that we might do better to think of the ends and means separately. The question of ends seems to me to have three incarnations here:
1a. We advocate for issues relating to the work and existence of the discipline, but not much else.
1b. We advocate for 1a as well as issues that have something approaching a consensus finding from our collective research.
1c. We open the process up so that members can bring to the table any issue, but this would of course be restricted by due process.
I think there will be a lot of challenges in thinking through due process for 1b or 1c. It sounds like 1a is more or less what we have already, but perhaps only tacitly. For 1b, the big "means" question seems to be to have some sort of measure of "strong/ consensus" findings. This might be something along the lines of three articles in journals of a certain impact factor or higher confirming the core proposition. Due to the infrequency of people actually reproducing results, I think we'd need to word this carefully. The "means" question for 1c might be resolved by tying the number of "yes" votes to total membership or something along those lines.
But bracketing the question of means, my own position in terms of ends is 1b. My reasoning is that sociologists have a responsibility to acknowledge and follow through on the inherently political value of their research. I think 1a skates too thinly over that point: if we are willing to teach our students our findings, we should be comfortable presenting these findings to the broader public, when the occasion arises. On the other hand, I'm not entirely comfortable with 1c since this may undermine the organization's credibility down the road and cause unnecessary strife. (I'm willing to be convinced to the contrary, however!)
My last point: the new Political Sociology and Social Movements section has proposed a panel at the next conference that addresses the balance between advocacy and analytical detachment in political sociology. This might prove to be a perfect opportunity to discuss this specific issue as well.
Nov 27, 2013
Nov 27, 2013