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Sociology and History: a Common Interest

The International Summer School ‘Intellectual History vis-a-vis the Sociology of Knowledge: Between Models and Cases,’ organized by HSE’s Poletayev Institute for Historical and Theoretical Studies in the Humanities, has come to an end. Researchers from Russia, England, France, Hungary, the U.S., and Germany discussed general mechanisms concerning the development of socio-humanitarian knowledge, its processes and its decay over the last several centuries.

Sociological Methodology and Historical Reality

According to one of the event’s organizers, Leading Research Fellow at Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities (IGITI) Alexander Dmitriev, the school is on the one hand an attempt to show how the conceptual apparatus of classical and contemporary sociology can be applied to the study of historical materials, and on the other to demonstrate that the history of the social sciences is a prospective field for applying and improving methods of intellectual history.

In her opening speech, IGITI Director Irina Savilieva said that the synthesis of intellectual history and the sociology of science was unlikely to occur in the near future, but a dialogue between the two could be productive for each of the disciplines. All participants of the school noted an obvious demand for sociology among historians and social scientists’ reciprocal interest in the history of knowledge, especially those interested in theoretical problems or the history of their respective discipline.

Researching Ideas and Intellectuals

Gisele Shapiro, the Director of France’s European Centre for Sociology and Political Science, gave a general overview of the history of studying intellectual activity. She takes a sociological approach in her research, which has already begun as part of the large-scale project International Cooperation in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Professor Sergey Zenkin of the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU) discussed the status of ideas in literary works. He posits that literature interacts with ideas in its own way; it sets ideas in motion, brings them to life, and radicalizes, often reaching the limit and a point of absurdity.

Intellectuals and Government

Part of the papers was devoted to the biographies of famous scientists – figures such as Robert Merton, Herbert Marcuse, and Helmut Schelsky – and an understanding of their heritage. An important topic was the relationship between intellectuals and the government, in particular, working in the government alongside maintaining an academic career.

Greg Yudin (HSE) presented on the intellectual biography of Helmut Schelsky, who was a member of the Nazi Party and the dean of Germany’s first faculty of sociology in the 1960s.

Scientific Reputation, ‘Native" Science,’ and Research Programmes

During a special seminar there was a discussion of the arguments Christopher Donohue makes in his new book Forms of Reasoning: from Social Selection to Social Biology, Social Mobility and Biosocial Anthropology. Participants of the seminar discussed the subject of ‘social selection’ in social science at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the limits of its application.

Professor Mikhail Sokolov of the European University at St. Petersburg presented a sociological analysis of modern science organizations. He spoke about two possible poles of progress in ‘local’ social science in Russia — the ‘native’ and the ‘peripheral.’

The presentation by Christian Fleck (University of Graz) was a manifesto for the thorough measurement and analysis of the tools of the social sciences.

The final stage of the Summer School was a discussion of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) programme, which began in the early 1970s, and its impact on sociological development. Presentations by Andrey Kozhanov (HSE) and Rodger Smith (University of Lancaster) focused on this programme. Andrey Kozhanov studies STS as an object of sociological analysis, while Rodger Smith, as a historian of science, investigates the reasons behind the appearance of new research programmes in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ludmila Mezentseva, HSE News Service

Video and photo report

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