Analyzing Social Science: On the Possibility of a Sociology of the Social Sciences

  • Peter Wagner
  • Björn Wittrock
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 15)


The historical development of the social sciences is often seen in terms of a gradual liberation from traditional bonds which prevented them from realizing their full potential as producers of true, undistorted knowledge of society. The emancipation of social science is then regarded as a process of institutional autonomization to be accompanied by, and enhancing, scientific maturation in epistemological and methodological terms. In contrast, the contributors to this volume argue that the nature of institutionalization and its alleged consequences have to be questioned on a number of grounds.


Social Science Political Science Knowledge Claim Intellectual History Analyze Social 
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  1. 1.
    For a comparative account of the increasing distance of academic institutions to other societal institutions see Rolf Torstendahl, “The Transformation of Professional Education in the 19th Century”, in: Sheldon Rothblatt and Björn Wittrock, eds., The Three Missions. Universities in the Western World, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See for Germany, McClelland, State, Society and University in Germany, 1700–1914, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980; for France, George Weisz, The Emergence of Modern Universities in France, 1861–1914, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1983; for the U.S., Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds., The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860–1920, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979; for Italy, Antonio la Penna, “Università e istruzione pubblica”, in: Storia d’Italia, Vol. V.2, Torino, Einaudi, 1973.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Both authors go, thus, considerably beyond the standard accounts of “professionalization” of the social sciences (see, e.g., Thomas S. Haskell, The Emergence of Professional Science, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1977; Mary O. Furner, Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science 1865–1905, Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1975; Dorothy Ross, “The Development of the Social Sciences”, in: Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds., The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860–1920, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979) and relate social strategies of intellectuals to institutional possibilities and cognitive contents. For a related perspective, in English-American comparison, see Libby Schweber, “Social Policy-Making and the Institutionalization of Social Science in Britain and the United States”, in: Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol, eds., Social Knowledge and the Origins of Modern Social Policies, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Pierre Favre, “Les Sciences de l’Etat entre déterminisme et libéralisme”, in: Revue Française de Sociologie, 22,No. 3, 1981, and Johan Heilbron, in this volume.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A well-informed example of this species is Charles C. Lemert, “Reading French Sociology”, in: Charles C. Lemert, ed., French Sociology, Rupture and Renewal Since 1968, Columbia University Press, New York, 1981, and “Literary Politics and the Champ of French Sociology” in: Theory and Society, 10, No. 5,1981.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Besides the works of Favre, already mentioned, one should name Jean Leca, “La science politique dans le champs intellectual frangais”, in: Revue Française de Science Politique, 32,No. 4–5, 1982, for instance.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Joseph A. Schumpeter, a keen observer of developments in the economic sciences in the first half of this century, already noted this peculiarity: History of Economic Analysis, London, 1955. See otherwise Lucette LeVan-Lemesle, “L’économie politique à la conquête d’une légitimité”, in: Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, No. 47/48, 1983, and Pierre Rosanvallon, “Histoire des idées keynésiennes en France”, in: Revue Française d’Economie, 2, No. 4,1987.Google Scholar
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    Richard Whitley, “The Structure and Context of Economics as a Scientific Field”, in: Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, 4, 1986; p. 186.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Examples of the former kind are Hans Maier, Die ältere deutsche Stoats-und Verwaltungslehre, Munich, Beck, 1980 (first 1966); Norberto Bobbio, “Profilo ideologico del novecento”, in Storia della letteratura, Vol. 9, Milan, Garzanti, 1969; and Fritz K. Ringer, The Decline of the German Mandarins, Boston, Harvard University Press, 1969; for the latter, Pierangelo Schiera, Il laboratorio borghese. Scienza e politico nella Germania dell’Ottocento, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1987; Peter Wagner, Sozialwissenschaften und Staat, Frankfurt/M. Campus, 1990; and to some extent Giorgio Sola, “Sviluppi e scenari della sociologia italiana, 1861–1890”, in: Giorgio Sola and Filippo Barbano, Sociologia e scienze sociali in Italia, 1861–1890, Milan, Angeli, 1985.Google Scholar
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    The notion goes back to the mercantilist type of state regulation of the economy; see James E. King, “The Origin of the Term ‘Political Economy’”, in: The Journal of Modern History, 20, 1948. Its connotations prevailed until far into the nineteenth century; see the respective remarks by Gioli and Tribe in this volume. It was only Marshall who in his 1890 volume on the “Principles of Economics” explicitly tried to rid the subject of its political character.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    See Göran Therborn, Science, Class and Society, Göteborg, Revopress, 1974; Geoffrey Hawthorn, Enlightenment and Despair. A History of Sociology, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976; and Wagner in this volume.Google Scholar
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    Stephan Collini et al., That Noble Science of Politics. A Study in 19th Century Intellectual History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    See Pierangelo Schiera in this volume, as well as Kenneth H.F. Dyson, The State Tradition in Western Europe, Oxford, Robertson, 1980; Peter von Oertzen, Die soziale Funktion des staatsrechtlichen Positivismus, Frankfurt/M. Suhrkamp, 1974; Cesare Mozzarelli and Stefano Nespor, Giuristi e scienze sociali nell’Italia liberale, Venice, Marsilio, 1981, and Peter Wagner op. cit.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    To use the problematic term introduced by J.P. Nettl, “The State as a Conceptual Variable”, in: World Politics, 20, 1968, pp. 559–592; for a discussion of the more-or-less state-oriented character of societies see Bertrand Badie and Pierre Birnbaum, The Sociology of the State, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1983 (French original 1979); Dieter Grimm, “The Modern State: Continental Traditions”, in: Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, Giandomenico Majone, Vincent Ostrom, eds., Guidance, Control and Evaluation in the Public Sector, Berlin, De Gruyter, 1986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 17.
    On the College see Ernst Jaeckh, Die “alte” Hochschule für Politik, Berlin, Büxenstein, 1952; Detlef Lehnert, “‘Politik als Wissenschaft’: Beiträge zur Institutionalisierung einer Fachdisziplin”, in: Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 30, No. 3, 1989, pp. 443–465, for example.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    For ways of characterizing similar transformations in other countries see Jean Stoetzel, “Sociology in France: An Empiricist View”, in: Howard Becker and Alvin Boskoff, eds., Modern Sociological Theory in Continuity and Change, New York, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1956; and Theodor W. Adorno, “Zum gegenwärtigen Stand der deutschen Soziologie”, in: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 11, 1959, on Germany and France, with different, almost opposite evaluations.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    For a development of this argument with reference to Continental European experiences see Peter Wagner, “The Place of the Discourse on Politics among the Social Sciences”, in: Kari Palonen, ed., Politics: Texts, Concepts, Languages, Helsinki, Finnish Political Science Association, 1990.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    For these notions, referring to the 1890s and the 1960s and developed for the case of French sociology, see Johan Heilbron, Sociologie in Frankrijk, Amsterdam, SISWO, 1983.Google Scholar
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    For other countries see William Barber, ed., Breaking the Academic Mould: Economists and American Higher Education in the 19th Century, Middletown, Wesleyan University Press, 1988; Lucette LeVan-Lemesle, op. cit.; Norbert Waszek, ed., Die Institutionalisierung der Nationalökonomie an deutschen Universitäten, St. Katherinen, Scripta Mercuriae, 1988.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    For an analysis of post-Second World War economics in these terms see Richard Whitley, op. cit. Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    This is not the place to give a detailed analysis of recent sociology of science. We have made such an attempt ourselves in Peter Wagner and Björn Wittrock, Social Sciences and Societal Developments, Berlin, Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung, Paper P 87-4, 1987; other critical overviews are Richard Whitley, “From the Sociology of Scientific Communities to the Study of Scientists’ Negotiations and Beyond”, in: Social Science Information, 22, No. 4/5, 1983, pp. 681–720; Steven Shapin, “History of Science and Its Sociological Reconstruction”, in: History of Science, 20, 1982, pp. 157–211; Karin Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay, “Introduction: Emerging Principles in Social Studies of Science”, in: Karin Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay, eds, Science Observed, London, Sage, 1983, pp. 1–17; with special regard to social science, Wolfgang Bonsz and Heinz Hartmann, “Konst ruierte Gesellschaft, rationale Deutung. Zum Wirklichkeitscharakter soziologischer Diskurse”, in: Wolfgang Bonsz and Heinz Hartmann, eds., Entzauberte Wissenschaft, Sonderband 3 der Sozialen Welt, Göttingen, Schwartz, 1985.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    On other occasions we have tried to sketch how a theory of “discourse structuration” in the social sciences would look like; see Björn Wittrock, Peter Wagner and Hellmut Wollmann, “Social Sciences and Modern States”, in Peter Wagner, Carol H. Weiss, Björn Wittrock and Hellmut Wollmann, eds. Social Sciences and Modern States, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990; Björn Wittrock and Peter Wagner, “Social Sciences and State Developments”, in Stephen Brooks and Alain G. Gagnon, eds., Social Science, Policy and the State, New York, Praeger, 1990; and Peter Wagner, “Social Science and the State in Continental Western Europe”, International Social Science Journal, 36, No. 4, 1989, pp. 509–528; and Wagner, Sozialwissenschaften, op. cit. See also Chapter 13 in this volume.Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    Pierre Bourdieu, “The Specificity of the Scientific Field and the Social Conditions of the Progress of Reason”, in: Social Science Information, 14,No. 6, 1975, pp. 19–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 28.
    Trevor Pinch and Trevor Pinch, “Reservations about Reflexivity and New Literary Forms: Or Why Let the Devil Have All the Good Tunes”, in: Steve Woolgar, ed., Knowledge and Reflexivity, London, Sage, 1987.Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    Peter T. Manicas and Alan Rosenberg, “Naturalism, Epistemological Individualism and the’ strong Programme’ in the Sociology of Knowledge”, in: Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 15, 1985, and Peter T. Manicas and Alan Rosenberg, “The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge: Can We Ever Get It Straight”, in: Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 18, No. 1, 1988, pp. 51–76; as well as his History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Oxford, Blackwell, 1987. See also Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism, Brighton, Harvester, 1979, and Reclaiming Reality, London, Verso, 1989.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Wagner
  • Björn Wittrock

There are no affiliations available

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