WP204 Durkheim and the internet: On sociolinguistics and the sociological imagination

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Sociolinguists have rarely attempted to draw the social-theoretical implications from their findings, and in spite of the tremendous theoretical relevance of sociolinguistic insights, most sociolinguists themselves continue to rely on established, mainstream forms of sociological imagination ? often at odds with their own results. In this text, I explore the ways in which contemporary sociolinguistics can contribute to a new sociological imagination, and I use Emile Durkheim?s work as the take-off point for this exercise. Durkheim ? one of the founding fathers of sociology ? emphasized the crucial importance of normativity in his work, and saw normativity itself as ?the social fact?. Normativity was collective and compelling, and thus provided the glue to hold diverse segments of society together in forms of social cohesion and integration. His view of the social fact became the foundation for defining the very possibility of sociology, and by extension sociolinguistics as well. It was dismissed, however, in the tradition called Rational Choice.
After outlining Durkheim?s concept of the social fact, I engage with the Durkheimian legacy in two ways. One, I use contemporary sociolinguistic empirical findings as arguments to demonstrate the validity of the social fact, and eo ipso the absurdity of Rational Choice. The very nature of language as a sociolinguistic system revolving around ordered indexical patterns renders impossible any methodologically-individualistic approach, and basic facts about language variation and sociolinguistic inequality suffice to establish that. Sociolinguistics, thus, provides extensive empirical arguments in favor of the possibility of a sociology grounded in collective normatively organized sociality. Having established that, I can proceed to the second layer. Most mainstream sociology ? Durkheim?s included ? theorized an ?offline? world, and contemporary sociolinguistics can offer a range of new theories based on the growing body of empirical work on the online-offline nexus. Such work, quite often, penetrates into the deep fibers of new, emerging or transforming social processes, and can thus be made relevant for higher-level theorizing. On the basis of such work, I formulate a range of ?grounded? theories that can henceforth be used as hypotheses in further research: on norms, social action, identity, groups, integration, structure and power. Together, I argue, they maximize the potential of sociolinguistics to comprehensively theorize what Appadurai defined as the new phase of modernity we inhabit: vernacular globalization.