Working Outlines for the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

By Tamdgidi, Mohammad | Human Architecture, Fall-Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Working Outlines for the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Tamdgidi, Mohammad, Human Architecture

In this working paper I present an outline1 for a sociology of self-knowledge concerned with the study of how the investigator's own self-knowledges and world-historical social structures constitute one another. The outline is built upon critical assimilation of contributions made in three seemingly independent traditions in sociology: 1-Sociology of Knowledge; 2-Social Psychology (broadly defined); and 3-World-Systems/Historical Studies.


Sociology of knowledge historically challenged the conventional interpretations of "objectivity" in the methodological foundations of science by insisting on the social relationality of all knowledge, especially that held by the investigator. Social psychology historically questioned reified sociological theorizing by incorporating the study of individual selves and lives of social actors into broader sociological inquiries. World-systems studies moved beyond the logico-deductive constructions of our understanding of the modern world based on narrow national or civilizational models, insisting on the value of inductive historical investigations of singular longterm large-scale processes of social change in an increasingly world-historical framework. Research in the sociology of selfknowledge cannot be fruitfully carried out unless the conceptual tools and frameworks within each and every one of its three constitutive intellectual sources are taken as variables, subjected to critical investigation and not assumed as givens.

The sociology of self-knowledge may be considered as a sub-field in the scholarly tradition of sociology of knowledge which has historically been concerned with the study of the relationship between knowledge and social existence. However, it does not necessarily follow or confine itself to either the classical methodological assumptions or the theoretical frameworks and historical preoccupations of its parent sociological field. The literary environment which the sociology of self-knowledge draws upon is not limited to only those sources which use the rubric "sociology of knowledge" to define themselves. It is the content relevance that matters rather than common semantics and labels. Therefore, contemporary literature in the socalled cultural studies, postmodernism, discourses on poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and deconstructionism, the literature on methodological individualism and psychologism, controversies over determinism and reductivism, and the classical or more contemporary scientific, philosophical and epistemological literature on dialectics and dialectical logic, are as much a part of the literary environment of the sociology of selfknowledge as those specifically labeled as "sociology of knowledge."


The sociology of self-knowledge has close affinities with what C. Wright Mills has coined as the sociological imagination, but is also different from and goes beyond its classic formulation. In Mills's view, the legacy of sociology may best be served through the development of a sociological imagination that is able to comprehend the relationship between personal troubles and broader public issues. Mills was quite clear about the elements of what constituted his sociological imagination as a whole:

1. An awareness of the structure of society in which the individual presently lives;

2. A world-historical awareness of the spatiotemporal position and peculiarity of the given society in the context of human history as a whole;

3. The kinds of "human nature" associated with that society, and the nature of troubles commonly experienced by men and women living in that society as compared with those in other worldhistorical spacetimes.

(Mills, 1959, 6-7)

Of particular interest in Mills's formulation was that of distinguishing not only the private troubles and public issues from one another, but specificily contrasting on one hand (at the macro level) of the contemporary social awareness with the worldhistorical contexts in which the person finds her/himself, and on the other hand (at the micro level) of the inner life of the person with the variously stated "external career,"1 "the range of his immediate relations with others,"2 or "local environments of the individual. …

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Working Outlines for the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


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