'Technology as Such Never Simply Marks Progress'
In his lecture on 3rd December at the HSE St Petersburg on Progress: A Reconstruction, Professor Peter Wagner (University of Barcelona) raised questions like, what happened to progress? Why did we stop believing in it, if indeed we did? Professor Wagner is ICREA Research Professor in the Department of Sociological Theory, Philosophy of Law and Methodology of the Social Sciences at the University of Barcelona. He has been cooperating with HSE since 2014. Before his lecture, Editor of HSE English News, Anya Chernyakhovskaya put some questions to Professor Wagner about the elusive and changing nature of progress.
— You've been researching different aspects of progress for a long time. How would you describe the difference, if it exists at all, between the development of progress in the 20th century and 21st? Or progress is always progress?
— There is a significant difference, but not exactly between those two centuries, but between the period from the late eighteenth century to the 1970s, and the period from then to the present, the past half century. During the early period, after Enlightenment and the revolutions of the late eighteenth century, many believed in a strong force of progress that would assert itself almost automatically. This expectation was already shaken during the wars and oppressive regimes of the first half of the twentieth century, and by now only very single-minded observers believe this any longer. Now we have to become much more aware of the fact that there will be progress only when we human beings identify what kind of progress is needed and possible and then act to bring it about.
— Do people always recognize the steps of progress?
— People are able to distinguish between different aspects of progress, such as progress in material well-being, progress in knowledge or progress of freedom. But we all need to think more carefully about the relation between these different aspects of progress and about the ways they are brought about. And, most importantly, we need to be more aware that there are not always 'steps' ahead, towards a better future. Progress can be ambivalent and create regress in other respects.
There will be progress only when we human beings identify what kind of progress is needed and possible and then act to bring it about
— What's the connection and influence of the rapid growth of social media and progress, if any?
— We may call this progress in communication, the ability to connect to others across the planet in almost no time, and to do so by now also in quite sophisticated ways. But technology as such never simply marks progress: very much depends on how it is used. In the past and in the present, technological innovations have also made social and political catastrophes possible.
— What's your favorite moment in progress research?
— The most interesting and most difficult task is the attempt to identify as precisely as possible what progress we can and have to aim for today, under those new conditions that are in place since the late twentieth century.
— How did your cooperation with HSE start? Do you have any further joint plans?
— I have been at HSE for the first time in April 2014, talking then about the new approaches to comparative and historical sociology that we need to understand varieties of modernity. From then on, we have been exploring further ways of working together. The next step will be a graduate conference on BRICS Studies to be held at HSE in May 2016. Hopefully, this will lead to an extended co-operation in the comparative analysis of the major challenges to contemporary societies in their variety.
— What would you recommend students to read to get the essence of varieties of global modernity?
— This is a very active research area with innovative work steadily forthcoming. Maybe the best is to point to three recent edited volumes looking from slightly different angles at this question: Said Arjomand, ed., Social theory and regional studies in a global age, New York: SUNY Press; Breno Bringel and Mauricio Domingues, eds, Global modernity and social contestation, London: Sage; and Elisa Reis and Said Arjomand, eds, World of difference, London: Sage.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service
On March 14, 2017, at 6:00 pm Moscow time, the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences will hold its first webinar for prospective international Master’s students. During the webinar, academic supervisors and leading lecturers will cover HSE’s English-taught Master’s programmes in political science, sociology and public administration.
The contemporary world and society involve highly complex systems, requiring more than specialized knowledge. The MA programme 'Politics. Economics. Philosophy' helps students go beyond the limits of specific social sciences.
On December 12-24 a series of workshops on experimental methods for researchers by Prashant Loyalka, Leading Research Fellow of the International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis at the HSE Graduate School of Education took place at HSE Institute of Education. He also delivered a series of lectures on ‘Quasi-experimental Research in Education’ for master’s students in Educational and Psychological Measurement.