The Grudging Modernizer. a First Look at the Outliers of Postwar Social Science

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Matteo BORTOLINI, University of Padua, Italy, Padova, PD, Italy
Mohamed GENEDY, Goethe University, Frankfurt aM, Germany, Egypt
In the spring of 1959, a young Harvard lecturer, Robert N. Bellah, traveled through the Middle East during a seven-week study trip. The drafts of Bellah’s travelogue and the letters he wrote to his wife reveal the portrait of a grudging modernizer, an intellectual whose personal, epistemic, and theoretical convictions were miles away from the typical cliché of the “cold warrior” or the modernization theorist. Given that Bellah was Talcott Parsons’s favorite student and a junior member of major first order CWSS circles, it might prove interesting to detect and underline the idiosyncrasies and his many “deviations” from the main paradigm. Moreover, since in the late 1960s Bellah was going to be one of the main agents of the “interpretive revolution,” together with other former apprentices from Parsons’s workshop, such as Clifford Geertz and David Schneider, it might prove interesting to cast some light on the adumbrations of ideas, arguments, and sensibilities that would definitively come of age ten years later. We start from the vantage point of a domain where Cold War preoccupations for national security and the worldwide struggle against Communism really made a difference with respect to the 1920s-1940s: the unprecedented mobility of social scientists in the Postwar era. We then sketch Bellah’s intellectual career and his Middle Eastern trip, the institutions he visited, the people he met, and the troubles he faced in adjusting to an environment he immediately saw as alien and hostile. We then read his sociological travelogue, The Well of the Past, side-to-side with the classic of modernization theory: Daniel Lerner’s The Passing of Traditional Society (1958). We conclude advancing some hypotheses on the diversity of the wider field of mid-century social science and a plea for more scholarly work on the mobility networks of social scientists and humanists during the long 1950s.