World Sociology at Its Making: The Reception of Weber 1920-1937 in Germany, the US and Japan

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Reinhold SACKMANN, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
The traditional history of sociology uses the concept of “national traditions” of sociology. The analysis of the presentation examines the alternative thesis that central ideas of “classical” sociology were coproduced in the early multi-national translation process of texts and authors: Especially a higher degree of generalization is achieved by a certain type of recipients, called translators (people with knowledge in different languages and scientific traditions).

Material I used concentrates on the early reception of Max Weber in Germany, the US and Japan after his death in 1920.

Analysis of Lukács, Freyer, Mannheim, Mises, Walther and von Wiese reveals that a heated discussion on the fruitfulness of Weber’s approach took place in the 1920s and early 1930s. Characteristic of the German discussion was that many criticised Weber’s break with philosophy of history, his methodology and his probabilistic concept of society.

The debate in American shows by looking into Sorokin, Abel and Parsons that the latter two functioned as crucial translators of the Weberian way of thinking. Whereas Abel’s path-breaking interpretation is nowadays forgotten, Parsons’ “structure of social action” set the stage for canonizing “classic sociology” for post-war world sociology (ignoring American sociological traditions).

In analysing the work of Ōtsuka and Maruyama, one sees that in Japan a new reading set in of Weber as an author relevant for reflection on processes of catch up- modernisation. Already at this early stage, both universalisation of Western ways (Ōtsuka) and search for multiple ways to modernity (Maruyama), were spelled out. The lack of translators from Japanese into Western scientific languages delayed the world-wide perception of this Eastern reception of Weber.

Comparing the three cases, one can conclude that the “Weberian tradition” was formed in the 1920s and 1930s in a multi-national translation process, however distorted by power-relations.