Sociology's late colonial roots in France, Britain, Belgium, and their former colonies

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 12:30
Oral Presentation
George STEINMETZ, University of Michigan, USA
This article develops a revisionist history of postwar European sociology through the mid-1960s, arguing that colonial research represented a crucial part of the renascent academic discipline after 1945, especially in Britain, France, and Belgium. Colonies became a privileged object and terrain of investigation and a key employment site for sociologists, engaging 33-55% of the British and French sociology professions between 1945 and 1960. Colonial developmentalism contributed to the rising demand for new forms of social scientific expertise, including sociology. The article begins by showing that sociologists became favored scientific partners of colonial governments, and that this fueled new forms of applied sociology focused on urbanization, detribalization, labor migration, industrialization, poverty, and resettlement of subject populations. The article then establishes the existence of networks of colonial sociologists, charts their size and composition, and reconstructs their relations to neighboring academic disciplines, especially anthropology, and to the metrocentric majorities in their own national disciplinary fields. While some colonial sociologists served colonial powerholders, others pursued more autonomous intellectual agendas, even when they were located in heteronomous conditions and marginal institutions. Colonial sociologists made theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions that shaped the subsequent discipline, though usually in unacknowledged ways, foreshadowing transnational and global history, historical anthropology, and postcolonial studies.