From Hegel to Weber: The Peculiar Relationship Between German Historiography and Sociology in the Long 19th Century

Friday, July 18, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Wolfgang KNÖBL , Institut für Soziologie, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
From Hegel to Weber: The peculiar relationship between German historiography and sociology in the long 19th century

(Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Knöbl, Institut fuer Soziologie, University of Goettingen, Germany)

The first part of the paper focuses on the period when influential German historians tried to emancipate themselves from Hegel’s philosophy of history in order to create a truly empirical science – and failed! The problem was that they couldn’t solve the problem of relativism which comes up in any historical account that distances itself from Hegel’s teleological perspective. Thus, historians such as Ranke and Droysen again and again came up with arguments that in the end were not too dissimilar to the Hegelian ones.

But getting rid of Hegel’s teleological philosophy of history was not only a problem of historiography. It was at the centre of the emerging social sciences in general as can be seen in the writings of the most important Neo-Kantians who influenced Max Weber. Weber clearly saw the problem and deliberately tried to cut off all links leading to a philosophy of history. This was accompanied by some costs and Weber’s particular conceptual move – the coining of highly robust processual terms which seemingly could not be doubted (and thus could not be relativized!) with respect to their analytical usefulness – was not a necessary one as contemporary developments in other philosophical traditions show. But it was Weber’s theoretical apparatus which became most influential so that sociology followed his lines of arguments and continued to base its narratives of social change on the assumption that social reality is to be understood as a cosmos driven by robust processes (like “bureaucratization”, rationalization”, “secularization”, etc). This move, so it is argued, might have been convincing in Weber’s days, but it is not any longer.