Workshop - A Science of Society? Controversies over the Possibility of Social-Scientific Knowledge around 1900

13.04.2018 - 14.04.2018

Ort: Universität Wien, 1010 Wien, Universitätsstraße 7 (NIG), HS (lecture room) 3D

Organized by Martin Kusch and Elisabeth Nemeth; Conception by Martin Kusch, Elisabeth Nemeth, Johannes Steizinger, Bastian Stoppelkamp and Martin Strauss

     13th of April 2018 from 9:15am to 6:15pm

     14th of April 2018 from 9:30am to 5:30pm

     Lecture room 3D (NIG, Universitätsstraße 7)

Although sociology emerged as a distinct discipline more than a hundred years ago, some basic questions about its foundations and scientific status have persisted to this day. Sociologists and philosophers have never stopped debating whether knowledge of human action and society can meet the standards set by the natural sciences. For instance, are (at least some of) the results of the social sciences “objective”, “neutral”, “replicable”, or “law-like”? And if the answer is negative, how can sociological results be justified?

Given the prestige of the natural sciences in early-twentieth-century culture it was almost inevitable that they functioned as a model or foil for the social sciences. Today this issue is often discussed using the opposition between “naturalism” and “anti-naturalism”. Unfortunately, this usage is often historically insensitive. It also tends to leave out the role of other reference points, such as philosophy, psychology, history and economics.

There are many other important concepts and distinctions, too, that are relevant for understanding the social sciences, and that call for a proper historical analysis of their changing uses and meanings: for instance, “humanities vs. the (natural) sciences”, “explaining vs. understanding”, or “holism vs. individualism”.

We also need a better grasp of how epistemology interacts with politics: What follows politically from granting or denying sociological inquiry the status of a science? Early sociologists were keenly aware of this issue. They also asked whether political action can be based on social-scientific knowledge and what role this knowledge might play in political struggles.

This workshop aims to shed new light on the debates around 1900 and to meet some of the desiderata listed above. It will do so in a cross-cultural and international perspective. 




FRIDAY, 13 April 2018


9:15-10:30: Natàlia Cantó Milà (Barcelona): Georg Simmel’s Relational Approach to Sociology and Social Thought


10:45-12:00: Martin Kusch (Wien): The Development of Simmel's Social Theory (1892-1908): From Moral Science to Sociology


14:00-15:15: Martin Strauss (Wien/Paris): Simmel’s contribution to "L’Année sociologique". A transnational controversy on the status of sociology between psychology and philosophy.


15:30-16:45: Wolf Feuerhahn (Paris): An alternative cartography of German-speaking sociology (1875-1908)


17:00-18:15: Elisabeth Nemeth (Wien): Tracing Ernst Mach in Otto Neurath’s attempt to re-define the object of economics

19:00: Conference Dinner


SATURDAY, 14 April 2018


9:30-10:45: Bastian Stoppelkamp (Wien): Vienna Naturalism and the Austrian Roots of the Sociology of Knowledge


11:00-12:15: Monika Wulz (Zürich): Towards a Political Economy of Knowledge: Ernest Solvay’s Energetic Sociology


14:00-15:15: Caterina Zanfi (Wuppertal): The social as a function of the vital. Bergson’s answer to the debate on biological sociology


15:30-16:45 Johannes Steizinger (Wien): Society from the Perspective of Life: Erich Rothacker’s Cultural Anthropology


16:45-17:30: General Discussion