‘Disciplinarization’ of Sociology in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Raf VANDERSTRAETEN, University of Chicago, USA, Ghent University, Belgium
The expanding post-World War II academic system was characterized by increasing disciplinarization, by a focus on disciplinary independence. In the academic system, disciplinary differentiation became the dominant type of ‘division of labour’. Shortly after the war, for example, UNESCO initiated several international disciplinary associations, including the International Economic Association (IEA) and the International Sociological Association (ISA). It also stimulated the foundation of national disciplinary societies (such as the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Soziologie, the Sociedad Mexicana de Sociologia, the Société Belge de Sociologie, and the British Sociological Association), all of which were expected to join the international disciplinary associations.

At the same time, however, some prominent sociological theorists also explored the viability of interdisciplinary projects. At Harvard University, Talcott Parsons co-founded in 1946 the Department of Social Relations for Interdisciplinary Social Science Studies, a collaboration among three social science departments at Harvard University (anthropology, psychology, and sociology). Harvard’s “yellow book”, Toward a General Theory of Action, had to lay the groundwork for this project. In Chicago, Edward Shils later spoke of the “indissoluble tie” between sociology and the humanities. A number of his projects, including the interdisciplinary journals Comparative Studies in Society and History and Minerva, were instrumental in distributing and testing this view.

On the basis of detailed archival research, primarily in the Talcott Parsons Archives at Harvard University and the Edward Shils Archives in Chicago, this paper will look at shifting disciplinary and transdisciplinary projects in sociology. The focus will be on mid-twentieth-century diagnoses of the “present state of sociology,” the forms of institutional support then available for disciplinary and interdisciplinary projects, and the lasting effects of the choices made at that time.