Sociology Between Historicity and Present-Day Relevance: The Case of Early Austrian Social Thinking

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 13:00
Location: Auditorium Maximum (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Gertraude MIKL-HORKE, Vienna University of Economy and Business, Austria
Social thought in the last decades of the Habsburg monarchy and the immediate aftermath showed specific characteristics due to the great influence of a rational-empirical logic and natural science monism, a specific form of socialism and an individualistic social science springing from political economy. It was also profoundly influenced by the special condition of the multi-ethnic structure of the empire. Looking at the history of Austrian sociology may seem of purely local and archival importance as an instance of the historicity of social ideas. But not only had Austrian social thinking some influence on international currents within the social sciences, looking at its history shows also the breadth and the diversity of sociology before it became an academic discipline centred around definitions of an ahistorical modern industrial society. The present challenges for sociology amidst a multiplicity of profound and disturbing changes require new ways of thinking about social science, its approaches in research and its role in the world. The historical situation at the end of the Habsburg Empire was, of course, very different from that of our own times, but some of the problems, nevertheless, show a certain similarity to the present ones. These are especially the problems of ethnic and cultural relations and of the increasing heterogeneity of societies, and those of market capitalism resulting in rising socioeconomic inequality and high public debts. Moreover, Austrian social thought around 1900 shows a distinct consciousness of the transformations that were going on, and of the contribution of social science to making and improving the real world through knowledge. This may - from today’s viewpoint – be seen as naively optimistic and unscientifically value-laden, but in spite of this the problem of the role of social science in the transformation process of society needs to be addressed again in our days.