Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

The Order of Social Sciences: Sociology in Dialogue with Neighbouring Disciplines

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

The Order of Social Sciences: Sociology in Dialogue with Neighbouring Disciplines

Article excerpt

The order of social sciences: introductory remarks

The development of academic thought during the twentieth century is marked by a rapid and continual process of accumulation of a vast quantity of scientific material. If the field is narrowed down and the social sciences are considered merely, a considerable accumulation of academic output is evident during the course of the twentieth century. The result is that the social sciences find themselves in an entirely different position at the beginning of the twenty-first century than the one they occupied at the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century (Wallerstein 1991). What is the background to this change? The increasing consolidation and delimitation of economics and the social sciences is of prime importance. Social sciences for their part have separated into autonomous subjects: history, sociology, political science, pedagogy, media studies, geography and, of course, economics, as well as a few others. Taking Michel Foucault's view as he delivered it in his famous The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1970), one can discover permanently new landscapes of scientific arrangements.

This paper was initially conceived a plenary address at the 3rd Forum of Sociology of the International Sociological Association held in Vienna, July 2016. Therefore, the audience was a sociological one, and the message was by a sociologist to sociologists, arguing that the academic subject should be framed by an acknowledgement and reflection of global contours of scientific change. Permanently new topics arise in economy and society, and provoke and modify the division of sciences. When discussing the up-to-date status of our academic domains it is essential to take into account that our current body of knowledge is itself part of a permanent storm of renewal. What the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said once, namely that 'everything flows', must be valid for our own domains too: we have to employ historicizing reflections as a tool in order to find the current location and related opportunities and challenges.

Taking a less narrow perspective, which goes beyond sociology and which takes the sociological reflections just as an example for different other disciplines and their positive or even negative destinies, the discussion provides some ideas about the academic interplay of different subjects. The whole system of social sciences can be treated as an involuntary concert, which, analogous to the Italian 'concertare' or 'concerto', means both, fighting, competing, struggling on the one and bringing together, harmonizing and unifying on the other hand. The division of labour between economics, sociology, anthropology, history, psychology and regional and urban sciences has and has always had fragile balances. It seems that economics as the only academic field in which Nobel prizes are awarded has become a rather dominant actor in the concerto, but even this view may be deceiving. One of the main messages of the paper is that, most recently, many substantial concepts from psychology, history and sociology have been taken up by economists and incorporated into their body of knowledge without really or fully being informed by their early originators. This relative idea theft could be seen negatively or, indeed, positively as the emergence of new interdisciplinary domains and synergies. In fact, from a perspective of philosophical economics, one can speak about an ongoing social-scientification of economics (Bögenhold 2010), which is increasingly incorporating ideas brought forth by neighbouring social science disciplines.

Looking back over the last 120 years

Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, prominent academics in social sciences held professorships and chairs in the fields of economics. Economics existed without competition as a subject, since professorships for the newer subjects, such as sociology, that have now become standard, did not exist yet. …

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