The recent death of Peter McHugh becomes an occasion for the remembrance and recollection of the distinctive form of reflexive or analytic social inquiry, which framed his work and that of his longtime friend and collaborator, Alan Blum. Following dual appointments at York University, Toronto, Canada in 1972, Blum and McHugh’s partnership formed the basis for a community of scholars and students throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. A brief review of McHugh and Blum’s works shows theoretical roots in social constructivism and a deep appreciation of the linguistic turn, which in turn lead to the development of a form of social analysis that meets the stringent requirements of a reflexive sociology by repudiating any claim to a privileged exemption of theoretical speech (practice) from the hermeneutical circle of speech and language. Blum and McHugh are shown to embrace and not to evade the hermeneutical circle by a form of social inquiry that subverts the inherent possibilities available within speech and social convention to make available an encounter with the (moral) authority or form of life for that self-same speech. With each example of everyday life or conventional usage, McHugh (and Blum) move from theorizing which formulates the complexity of a particular instance of social interaction through its rules, to the question of the form of life that make that particular instance of the rules possible. It is the pursuit of transparency between speech and its roots in language that informed and continues to inform the distinctive style of social theory fostered at York-Toronto under the orchestration of McHugh and Blum.
Peter McHughAlan BlumReflexive sociologySocial theoryHermeneutical circleYork University-Toronto