Sociology of Knowledge
Tuesday 4:30-7:20, SSRB 401
Office hours: Wednesday 8:45 to 10:15
The term “sociology of knowledge” is Max Scheler’s. But as a research program it was formulated most effectively by Karl Mannheim and it is to this day closely associated with his name. In a nutshell Mannheim put the task of the sociology of knowledge as one of exploring the causal relationships between the ways in which we live our lives both in the everyday and in pursuit of our various professions, and the knowledge we have about the world in which we live. Put thus, it is clear (and Mannheim acknowledges this much) that the sociology of knowledge is much older than Mannheim. It has definite roots in the works of Marx, Nietzsche, Durkheim, Weber and Simmel and of course (mostly ignored by European scholars before Schütz) in the pragmatisms of Peirce, James and Dewey.
Yet, the sociology of knowledge almost died with Mannheim. Not that there were no practitioners of it. However, the works of Elias, Stark, Hauser, Sohn-Rethel and others found only a marginal readership in the United States, leaving no major mark on the discipline. Popper’s critique of Mannheim’s approach led to its denunciation as ideology; synchronic structure-functionalism could hardly warm up to the diachronic approaches characteristic of the Marx inspired sociology of knowledge. The Durkheimian version, finally, which never officially sailed under label “sociology of knowledge” became absorbed into a general theory of culture. Worse perhaps, Mannheim had been mostly interested in political and economic knowledge. In a few ill-conceived, strangely pious places in his work, he placed science outside of the purview of the sociology of science. Science, however, was what Merton and his school were interested in, celebrating it as the crowning achievement of modernity. Finally, the political context was not at all conducive to understanding political and economic knowledge of a liberal-democratic stripe as historically contingent.
The questions of the sociology of knowledge as far as they pertained to the political sphere were revived (without reference to the sociology of knowledge of old) by Foucault. The Wittgenstein-inspired (if you like post-Mertonian) sociology of science saw itself vaguely in the tradition of the sociology of knowledge (through the good offices of Schütz and Berger-Luckmann) and applied some of its ways of posing questions to precisely the field from which Mannheim stayed clear (thus reducing his significance). Most recently sociologists of science (Knorr, Mackenzie, Callon) have ventured into investigations of economic knowledge and thus there are back on Mannheim’s original terrain.
Today, therefore, the sociology of knowledge looks much more central again than it might have only a few decades ago. This is reason enough to try to span the arch from the early investigations of Marx and Durkheim over the works of Mannheim into the present of the Foucauldians and a sociology of science turned into a new economic sociology, to study forms of interrogation, and the theoretization the place of economic and political knowledge in social life over the better part of a century and a half.
Class participation and one empirical research paper (about 15 to 20 pages) based on the readings plus other relevant literature.
Reading and meeting schedule:
Part I: Origins and Foundational Paradigms
Week 2: Nietzschean and Durkheimian Beginnings
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. On the Genealogy of Morals. New York: Vintage.
Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss. 1963. Primitive Classification. Rodney Needham translator and editor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-89
Week 3: Pragmatist Alternatives
Dewey, John. 1997. How We Think. Dover Publications, especially part II and III.
James, William. Pragmatism, Lectures II (What Pragmatism means), Lecture VI (Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth)—and The Meaning of Truth , lecture I (the function of cognition), lecture IV (the relationship between knower and known) and lecture VIII (the pragmatist account of truth and its misundertandings) all available on the internet at Gutenberg.org
Next time: should include: James’ Will to Believe
Week 4: Weimar Heydays
Karl Mannheim, 1936. Ideology and Utopia. San Diego: Harcourt, chs. 1, 2 and last.
Karl Mannheim, “Conservative Thought”, “The Problem of Generations” in Kurt H. Wolff, ed. From Karl Mannheim. New Brunswick: Transaction
Week 5: Speech-Act-Theoretic Reformulations
Searle, John. 1997. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press
Latour, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s Hope. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, chs. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Scott, James. 1998. Seeing Like a State. New Haven: Yale University Press, selections
Week 7: Neofoucauldians
Niklas Rose. 2006. The Politics of Life Itself. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Week 8: Building Institutions of Knowledge Making and Dissemination
Paul Starr. 2003. The Creation of the Media. New York: Basic Books.
Week 9: After Bourdieu
Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot. On Justification. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Donald MacKenzie. 2006. An Engine, Not A Camera. Cambridge: MIT Press.