Re-Thinking Democracy 1: The Hidden Political Agenda of Modern Sociology

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:00-17:30
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
RC16 Sociological Theory (host committee)

Language: English

The rise of modernity (in Europe and the US) gave way to democratic political orders based on legal and rational forms of authority and structures of reciprocity in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Whereas in the 19th century such modernizing processes could be taken for granted, the 20th century saw the breakdown of the social structures that had emerged in the earlier decades. As it happened, modern epistemology in Germany (e.g. Max Weber’s methodology) and America (e.g. Whitehead) accused utilitarian social thought for falling into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, and social scientists had to accept that “Spencer is dead” (Parsons). 
During the 1930s and through the 1940s, modern society and its crisis were put center stage and were discussed fervently by social theory. Fascism in Germany and Italy and communism in Soviet Russia gained momentum and threatened democracy and the state of law.
In the US, Austria, France, and England, and in Germany until 1933, sociological debates addressed problems of dictatorship, the authoritarian order and totalitarianism. Sociology, in a way, got a political agenda. The agenda was to defend democracy both in terms of methodological freedom and of civil freedom. 
Contemporary sociology has almost forgotten these discussions which are nevertheless highly relevant today. In order to understand today’s authoritarian developments in Russia, Eastern Europe or North Africa, sociology might benefit from the ideas that were developed mainly in the 1930s. Taking a comparative stance, the session obrings these noteworthy issues to the fore.
Session Organizer:
Christopher SCHLEMBACH, University of Vienna, Austria
Totalitarianism and Collective Memory
Andreas HESS, University College Dublin, Ireland
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