The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins, Twenty Years Later: A Postscript

[Note: The following is an editorial postscript written by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, for the twentieth anniversary second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements: Colloquium in Honor of Terence K. Hopkins by His Former Students and the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations, co-edited by Immanuel Wallerstein and Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, recently published on Jan. 3rd, 2017, by Ahead Publishing House (imprint: Okcir Press), Belmont, MA.]

I. Introduction

As a student of Terence K. Hopkins, I did not have the good fortune of attending the NYC colloquium organized by his students in his honor in August, 1996; I was visiting Iran at the time. However, when Immanuel Wallerstein subsequently invited me to co-publish with the Fernand Braudel Center (which he was still directing at the time in Binghamton) the proceedings of the colloquium following the sudden and untimely passing of Hopkins just a few months later on January 3rd, 1997, I could not be more appreciative and honored. The first edition of the colloquium’s proceedings was co-published in November, 1998.

As a doctoral student of sociology at Binghamton University, I had been attracted alongside my studies to the idea of developing autonomous publishing venues for the kind of alternative visions I was exploring in my research at the time. Immanuel’s gesture in inviting me to collaborate on the co-publication of the proceedings of the student-organized colloquium in honor of Terence was in line with the ways in which he and Terence conducted their mentoring and support of students—by building on the students’ own ways of defining and constructing their identities, studies, careers, and lives. Inviting me to help put together the collection was a kind and beautiful gesture in rounding out the Hopkins Colloquium and publishing its proceedings by involving an alternative, though at the time still preliminary, initiative by one of Terence’s students.

I recall when, a few years before then, I sent a brochure and regular newsletters of the publishing press I had established in Binghamton, NY, in 1991—called Ahead Desktop Publishing House at the time, now continuing as Ahead Publishing House, with an imprint as Okcir Press—I oddly found Hopkins sending me back in mail his usual margin notes on the brochure and the newsletters, offering his support and advice on how to go about building the project. He later gave me some of his margin-noted feedbacks on the newsletters while I was meeting him during “office hours” at his house. He was treating my initiative itself as a “term paper,” this one of a practical nature, to be commented on. Reflecting back on this matter now, twenty plus years later, I am struck by the boundless way in which Terence conceived of the mentoring of his students amid their own on and off campus ways of going about their scholarship and its dissemination toward building what I later called “othersystemic” movements.

Looking back now, I see that Hopkins was recognizing my involvement in building an alternative press to be itself a moment in what he regarded as efforts in appropriating movements. It was a way of turning the usually alienated and alienating conditions of mainstream (especially academic) publishing procedures and industry into ones that empower students, authors, scholars, and activists themselves. Consider how the embracing of such independent publishing efforts by Hopkins (and Wallerstein, of which the two editions of this volume are examples) compares with the stigmatized manner in which the effort is met in usual tenure and promotional review procedures in academia. After all, Terence and Immanuel (and colleagues) had their own experience of building the Fernand Braudel Center and its journal, and must have appreciated the self-empowering nature of those efforts. Claiming the publishing process for the producers of knowledge themselves is an instance of what may be regarded as othersystemic and not just antisystemic efforts in appropriating specific cycles of the publishing commodity chain. It challenges the system not through antisystemic rhetoric, but by the reality of its own alternative presence amid the mainstream (in this case, publishing) culture.

In fact, the independent scholarly journal I subsequently launched, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge (27 issues of which were published from 2002 to 2013 and are accessible online and through major academic databases worldwide), was inspired and fundamentally grew out of a “class-book” project entitled “I” in the World-System: Stories from an Odd Sociology Class, which my students and I self-published in Spring 1997 (using a hypothetical publishing imprint proposed by a student in the class) while teaching a course at Binghamton following Terence’s passing in January 1997. The book was dedicated to him.

When a part of my dissertation whose preliminary draft Hopkins, as the chair of my dissertation committee before his passing, had marked as “do-able” in his characteristic pencil-marked notes—while, as he told me, traveling on a well-deserved post-retirement cruise ship with his beloved wife Gloria Hopkins—was first published by Paradigm (now a part of Routledge) under the title Advancing Utopistics: The Three Component Parts and Errors of Marxism (2007), I could not think of anything better to illustrate Wallerstein’s concept “utopistics” than by drawing on the pedagogical othersystemicity and utopistics of his lifelong friend and colleague, Terence K. Hopkins. The reflections had been originally presented in my dissertation account, later on being updated and included as an epilogue in Advancing Utopistics.

I recently approached Wallerstein, a few months short of twenty years following the passing of Hopkins in January 1997, to suggest publishing an updated second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements to commemorate his memory and legacy again. I thought this would allow for a wider distribution of the valuable insights contained in the book by his former students about the role Hopkins played in their mentoring and in advancing world-systems studies more broadly. As part of the republication effort, I also wished to improve on its organization (later on found to be in need of an index, a works and citations bibliography for Hopkins, and biographical notes on the contributors which were lacking in the first edition) and to include some reflections of my own, by way of sharing again my earlier essay “The Utopistics of Terence Hopkins” which is included at the end of this postscript. Wallerstein kindly welcomed and encouraged the idea of publishing the second edition.

As I began writing this postscript to the colloquium proceedings, however, I realized that I could also, as a co-editor of this second edition, add a few notes regarding others’ contributions, sharing as well some reflections on my own experience in academia during the past twenty years since I wrote my essay on the utopistics of Hopkins.

II. Sociologically Imaginative World-Systems Analyses

In the essays included in this volume, contributors share, using illustrations from their own experiences of meeting and working with Terence K. Hopkins, their thoughts on whether, why, and how he succeeded in founding an alternative graduate program of sociology amid the mainstream academia.

Just consider what Lu Aiguo shares about her experience as a Chinese scholar and intellectual and how it relates to her experience moving back and forth between Beijing and Binghamton to study in the graduate program. Echoing what Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein (1989) have argued about antisystemic movements often becoming, upon seizing power, a part of the status quo in the postrevolutionary period and thereby resistant to further social change, Aiguo also argues that, in her view, movements that build their agenda on negative rejections of a system in hopes of a better future have lesser chances of success and survival than those relying on more patient and positive building of alternative social and organizational realities that empower people in the here and now. While Aiguo credits the graduate program in sociology founded by Hopkins for having provided an opportunity for her to deepen her realization of that important point, one should note that in many ways the reality of the graduate program itself as built by Hopkins signifies a self-empowering strategy and example of what Aiguo appreciates for being more effective in advancing alternative pedagogical outcomes.

Walter Goldfrank explains, amid his anecdotal commentary on the importance of rereading the sociology classics, why Hopkins succeeded in building such an alternative pedagogical environment amid the mainstream academia. Reminding us of the centrality of “relational thinking” in Hopkins’s teaching, Goldfrank lays his primary emphasis, when recalling Hopkins’s approach to the agency-structure dialectic, on the side of the agencies’ role in shaping relations and building new social structures. Without this emphasis it would be impossible to understand why Hopkins dedicated such efforts in building an alternative pedagogical enclave amid an existing (academic) world-system.

It would have been much easier, in other words, to resign to the fatalism of an existing academic systemic logic reproducing the wider educational structures of the modern world-system, and follow status quo academic procedures of coursework, doctoral examination, and research. However, by the example of what actually happened, we find a world-systems analysis at work that treats the larger system not as a supposedly functioning monolith but as a contradictory process that offers relatively short-term, small-scale, opportunities in its everyday micro (or even macro, during crisis periods) dynamics to build new “small group” structures—ones that can in time, as Hopkins stated in his own dissertation, undermine long-term, large-scale structures of the system as a whole.

Hopkins’s Columbia dissertation on small groups can thus be regarded as a conceptual dress rehearsal for the building of small, alternative graduate programs in the belly of a larger academic system. And for this, a recognition of the creative role played by the actors and agencies in building new pedagogical structures is crucial. In fact, it is interesting to ask and explore how the subsequent world­-systems studies program Hopkins founded in collaboration with Immanuel Wallerstein for the “study of long-term, large-scale social change” depended, simultaneously, on a mastery of knowledge about and the practice of relatively small-scale, short-term, social change in the spacetimes of the modern world-system’s everyday, here and now events—including those going on in the departmental offices, corridors, and class/seminar rooms of its mainstream academia.

Bill Martin significantly asks, for good reasons, “How did Terry do it?” and in doing so reminds us of two things. One, again, is the role of agency (in this case, that of Hopkins) in building new structures in academia and, second, that the other side of the Hopkinsian dialectic of relational thinking is also important for understanding how its large-scale/long-term and small-scale/short-term dimensions co-participate in perpetuating, challenging, or undermining the reality of the world-system. Martin reviews the structural and conjunctural trends in contemporary academia and points to the contradictory dynamics of failed traditional academic models of teaching, research, and department building amid ever more “globalizing” trends in the world-system that continue to open new opportunities for the kind of alternative academic programs Hopkins initiated at Binghamton.

However, Ravi Palat again reminds us, by specifying examples from the questions raised by Hopkins about his doctoral studies, that objectively contradictory conditions of academic life amid a broader global context and the opportunities they may present cannot automatically result in an Hopkinsian agenda without the minute everyday dynamics of mentoring, methodological guidance, and movement inspiration that characterized Hopkins’s pedagogy and the alternative program of graduate study in sociology he built in Binghamton. The subsequent joining of the sociology department faculty at Binghamton University by Bill Martin, Ravi Palat, and Richard Lee (who has also directed the Fernand Braudel Center) following the passing of Hopkins and the publication of the first edition of this volume, itself represents the methodological emphasis Hopkins and his students (alongside other faculty) laid on the role actors and agencies play in the continuation of the graduate program.

Wallerstein offers important insights regarding the unique nature of the pedagogical system Hopkins built at SUNY-Binghamton and the vital role the program played in the emergence and development of world-systems studies itself as a sociological tradition. Wallerstein’s synoptic tract reminds us of the intricate way in which various new threads in Hopkins’s pedagogy were woven into the tapestry of the program he invented at Binghamton. It was the openness and flexibility of the doctoral studies program and how it branched out in diverse ways, for those interested, into the research working groups and activities of the Fernand Braudel Center that allowed for the simultaneous building of new insights and skills among and across the involved faculty and students, and the deepening of discourses that shaped and continue to shape world-systems analysis. Various elements of conventional doctoral program procedures and structures were subjected to radical rethinking and redesign. The emphasis on the inductive procedures of moving from substantive to theoretical and methodological coursework, the mutually engaging dynamics of young and not-so-young scholars, the inventive nature and procedures of sociological specialization and new area study design, the transdisciplinary nature of the historical sociological inquiry advanced, etc., were elements of an alternative pedagogical system that offered coherence and an autopoietic logic to the new graduate study program—novelties that, as Wallerstein notes, are yet to be recognized for their worth in advancing critical and engaged social scientific and sociological knowledge.

The contribution by Beverly Silver reminds us of the close attention that was required from Hopkins’s students to appreciate the feedbacks received from him—comments that only revealed their value in persistent reading and rereading/reconsideration of his words (and/ or silent gestures). She also reminds us of the self-critical spirit of Hopkins’s pedagogy, inspiring students to be always on guard for not taking any ideas, including Hopkins’s own words elsewhere expressed, for granted as applicable in advancing particular research endeavors.

It is noteworthy that among the recollections of Hopkins’s students of their studies at Binghamton, the minute dramaturgy of personal interactions performed by Hopkins are as much recalled and cherished as the more substantive issues discussed in those interactions. While such “personal recollections” may seem marginal to the substantive discussions of world-systems analysis, I think it is worth considering—in terms of their mentoring, methodological, and movement-inspiring import considered within a Millsian sociological imagination framework—how personal troubles and public issues of learning are intimately interrelated, and their neglect often a cause of failures by social movements in appreciating the humanist content of their efforts at social transformation.

Commentaries by Reşat Kasaba, Richard Lee, and Phillip McMichael, as well as those by Rod Bush, Nancy Forsythe, and Evan Stark (plus Lu Aiguo, as commented on previously) offer important self-critical opportunities for world-systems analysis to continually rethink and reinvent itself.

Kasaba reminds us of how Hopkins did not dualistically separate the personal from the world-systemic in his pedagogy, and from the experience of his teaching about methods and movements. On the contrary, he illustrates well how for Hopkins the trees were the forest, and what made the forest worth understanding, improving, and recultivating. Kasaba shares the mentoring advice he received from Hopkins in terms of cultivating an ability to sift the crops from the weeds in anything we learn, including those offered by world-systems analysis, highlighting the need for adopting self-critical approaches to developing its concepts and analytical frameworks.

Richard Lee emphasizes the need for considering newly emerging insights on the nature of knowledge in an era marked by transitions beyond Newtonian scientific paradigms, in favor of imaginative, creative, and artistic practices of knowledge production and scientific inquiry. He particularly reminds us of the emergence of new scientific imaginations characterized by the erosion of objective/subjective dualism previously shaping our knowledges of systems.

McMichael turns the opportunity of his presentation into a research-sharing experience inspired by Hopkins, offering an example of how by being self-critical and open to questioning the inherited concepts and theories of labor, we would be able to consider more effectively how wage labor may be reconsidered in a new global context marked by the increasing predominance of informalized labor as the new “pedestal of capitalism.”

And the late Rod Bush, who sadly passed away in 2013 following decades of activism and scholarly contributions in the area of race studies and Black Liberation movement, offers valuable insights on how his own intellectual development was shaped by his meeting Wallerstein and Hopkins and the openness with which he, as a mature student returning to academia, exchanged views and learning with them. The self-critical approach to mentoring, methods, and movements Bush learned in the program offered him an opportunity to rethink his activism during his doctoral studies in ways that he found transformative and consequential for his many years of research and activism to come.

I think the self-critical insights offered by Elizabeth Petras, Nancy Forsythe, and Evan Stark in encouraging world-systems analysis to take more seriously questions of place/space, of gender, domestic violence and of problems with academia itself, further add value to this collection in advancing world-systems analysis as an open and self-reinventing scholarly tradition.

What Petras argues for is a world-systems analysis that pays attention to the specificities of space and place in shaping the identities and motivations of actors, small or large, amid diverse social, political, and cultural contexts. We should not forget, after all, that it was the opportunity opened up in a “place” called Binghamton that allowed for decades of scholarship from which world-systems analysis itself emerged and the specific scholarly culture and identities of its adherents shaped and reshaped.

Forsythe offers a rigorous and fascinating argument, worth many rereadings, for taking gender and women’s studies seriously, for it radically points to the need for revisiting the “unit of analysis” debates and discussions that shaped the structures of world-systems analysis itself. She argues that serious consideration must be given to incorporating discussions of self and society, the personal, and the private, in the foundational structures of world-systems analysis. In many ways, this is a further and deeper extension of Petras’s argument for appropriating the discourses of cultural place, space, and of microsociology for world-systems analysis, by expanding their notions to the inter/intrasubjective spacetimes of personal life that necessarily involve intimate questions of gender and sexuality.

Evan Stark’s vivid biographical reflections on issues of domestic violence and battery in women’s lives and studies offer further insights about how world-systems analysis is not just about “long-term, large-scale social change” but also, simultaneously, about the short-term, small-scale dynamics of personal self-knowledge and change in everyday here and now, and that the two can never happen apart from one another, so long as we consider the key role played, amid a dialectical and relational context, by agencies and actors in building alternatively better, utopistic futures amid and beginning from the presents of the modern world-system.

However, Evan Stark’s contribution stands apart from others in the volume in that he subjects academia itself to serious criticism, revealing the political and social constructedness of academia in highly graphic and personal terms, in order to make us aware of how often we take the university itself for granted, even when we acknowledge the unique and liberating ways in which Terence K. Hopkins personally and/or administratively outmaneuvered the academic system to make way for alternative mentoring, methods, and movements.

The questions that arise in my view from this latter vantage point are: should one always assume that the kind of experiment Hopkins and his colleagues led at Binghamton can and should be emulated at any cost as part of academia elsewhere? Should we be led to the conclusion that the only and the best way to pursue Hopkins’s legacy is to remain in academia at any cost and try to carve out similar spacetimes, no matter how temporary, for advancing liberating world-systems analyses? Would we, or should we, be looking down upon those who find “academia,” “scholarship,” and “sociology” to be much wider in scope than that found in their inherited institutional forms? Should we continue to regard universities and sociology departments as the primary, the pivotal, structures or arenas of knowledge production and dissemination so that we end up, like Hopkins, dedicating our lives to carving “makeshift trenches” amid them to bring about social change? And consider all the above while being aware of world-systems studies, such as those conducted by Wallerstein and Hopkins themselves, that shed important critical light on the structural limits of modern academia and its narrow and fragmented disciplinary organization and dichotomized science/humanities cultures, acknowledging the diminishing roles played by universities in the process of knowledge production and dissemination in the world today? Can alternative futures emerge from mainstream university realities, no matter how critically approached, or do they require (as well) experimenting with and building alternative university (research, teaching, and publishing) realities off the mainstream campuses?

Here, it may be helpful to briefly share my own thoughts on and experience in academia since graduating from Binghamton.

When I was completing my doctoral studies at Binghamton, I was quite ambivalent about pursuing an academic career. Having witnessed from a student’s standpoint the politics of the department, I wondered much about whether an academic job was something I should pursue. It was in consideration of advice from another dear advisor from my undergraduate years, Jesse Reichek (who also sadly passed away in 2005), and the practical example of Hopkins’s experiment in academia, that I found myself encouraged to give academic career a try, which resulted in joining the sociology department at UMass Boston in 2003 as a tenure-track faculty (following two years of full-time lectureship at SUNY-Oneonta and other teaching opportunities at Binghamton University previously).

Without the inspiration from Hopkins, one that essentially involved a commitment to regard mainstream academia as an arena for initiating new opportunities for alternative pedagogy, research, and practice, I would not have launched the kind of projects that helped me find my academic experience to a considerable extent enjoyable and rewarding—such as developing Millsian sociological imagination approaches to teaching and mentoring students and cofounding and launching an internationally recognized annual conference/publication series (the Social Theory Forum) at UMass Boston that during the initial four years of my involvement advanced transdisciplinary and cross-cultural sociological discourses and publications by revisiting the works of Paulo Freire, Edward Said, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Frantz Fanon.

However, I also personally experienced, first-hand, the oppressive aspects of mainstream departmental life that were often excused and enabled by a broader university system despite the friendly front-stage behaviors of some of its faculty and administrators. I often asked myself how much of the bitterness of my experience as a tenure-track and then tenured faculty at UMass Boston was a result of the behaviors of a few “bad apple” faculty members mixed in with several other tenure-track and tenure-trapped faculty who wished not to rock their boats to formally acknowledge even basic facts of administrative abuse, let alone the verbal and personal kinds. However, I was also reminded time and again of the structural embeddedness of most (if not all) such abusive, or abuse-condoning, behaviors on the part of academic actors who otherwise, in their annual faculty report reviews, remained duplicitously appreciative of the contributions of their hard working, “impressive,” “outstanding,” and “excellent,” “wonderful junior faculty.”

The fact is that in my academic experience I came to a deeper understanding of the tenure system as a panoptic trap that often serves well the functional needs of a mainstream academia for marginalizing, or at least tolerating and domesticating, if not silencing, alternative mentoring, methodological, and movement visions and energies of their new faculty. This is made possible by means of maintaining two-faced front-stage appreciations and back-stage stigmatizations/devaluations of critically-minded faculty efforts through, among others, pseudo­scientific mechanisms of “academic reviews.” And this is not simply a departmental or university practic