My research interests include history of sociology, knowledge and power, law and society, sociology of death and dying, sociology of Iran, interconnections of sociological research and social policy.
I investigate how things become ‘problems’. Sociologists study social ‘problems’, such as class, power, labour, gender, death, suicide, inequality, from empirical or theoretical points of view. I study how these things have become ‘problems’ to begin with. My research is primarily historical and focuses on the pre-classical period of sociology: mid-17th to mid-19th centuries, especially the statistical tradition in the UK. My research interests were shaped by my first major project, which examined how death became a problem for early modern scientists, especially statisticians and demographers. This problematization transformed death from a divine ‘fate’ into a calculable ‘risk’. This project focused on how the invention of statistics in Western Europe and its application to the topic of mortality enabled a new cultural approach to death characterized by a desire to make death more quantifiable and therefore more ‘orderly’, predictable and preventable.
Building on that early project, I have carried out a SSHRC-funded project, entitled ‘Statistics and the Genealogy of the Sociological Imagination, 1662-1897. The main objective of this project is to argue that the domain of sociological analysis as well as its most central theoretical and methodological debates originate as far back as the late seventeenth century. Far from engaging in a mere historical dispute over key figures and breakthrough moments, this study will seek to relocate the epistemological foundations of social thought from the urban anxieties of the nineteenth century as defined by the emerging awareness of the socio-cultural crises of the industrial societies, and place it, instead, in the security concerns of the early modern nation-state building phase. Within this context, the fields of ‘political arithmetic’ and bio-social statistics provided a discursive framework within which it became possible to identify and study aggregate dynamics and structures underlying seemingly individual episodes. These developments did not amount to or directly result in the creation of the discipline of sociology, yet, they made it possible to conceive of the ‘population’ and later of society itself as a relatively unitary (and potentially quantifiable) phenomenon and thus as a category of systematic analysis with its own laws and dynamics.
I am also interested in the history of sociology in Iran as a case of the global expansion of the social sciences in the post-WWII period. In particular, I have examined the political role of sociology and social thought in Iran in several of my recent writings.
Lastly, and in relation to the two streams mentioned above, I am interested in the interconnections of research and policy-making. If sociology creates new ‘problems’ from previously taken-for-granted aspects of life, it does so with the expectation to influence how these aspects of life are acted upon. These expectations are greater when sociological research and problematization is funded by state, NGO, or private sector agencies. To ask how sociology influences policy-making is also to ask how external funding influences sociological research.