from 12 to 13 September 2014
Globalization and the Social Sciences

How have global processes and global histories shaped the social sciences?  While social scientists have thought a great deal about globalization, few have asked how the scales and depth of interdependence between societies have shaped the models and techniques – the cognitive styles – of the social sciences.  This symposium aims to discuss the past, present, and future of the social sciences from an international perspective.   With hubs in Princeton University and the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris, we plan to explore how new global scales remap disciplinary inquiry.   This event, we hope, will evolve into a working group and yield an anthology of future-oriented essays that chart alternative pathways for social science research.

Organized by Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme and Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

For further information, contact Patricia Zimmer at

or 609-258-4851.

The conference program and papers can be found at Papers will be available September 1.

Panel Themes:

Friday September 12

8:30-10:00  Global Order
Andrew Hurrell (Oxford) 
Kristin Hoganson  (University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign)
John Ikenberry (Princeton)

Comments: Miguel Centeno (Princeton)

Coffee break

10:30-12:00 A World of Regions - Regions of the World
Deborah Posel (University of Cape Town)
Alain Diekhoff (Sciences Po) 
Peter Gourevitch  (University of California, San Diego)

Comments: Olivier Bouin  (FMSH-Paris)


1:30-3:00 Conceptualizing Disciplines
M. Victoria Murillo  (Columbia)
Rohini Somanathan (Delhi School of Economics)
Sebastian Conrad (Freie Universitat)

Comments: Andreas Wimmer (Princeton)

Coffee break

3:30-5:00 Ethics: Universal vs Global?
Marc Fleurbaey (Princeton-FMSH)
Sirrku Hellsten (University of Helsinki-University of Dar es Salaam)

Comments: Melissa Lane (Princeton)

Dinner for invited guests

Saturday September 13

9:00-10:30 Pluralism and Globalization
Judit Bokser (UNAM-Academia Nacional de Ciencias, Mexico)
Mahmood Mamdami  (Columbia-Makerere University)
Nancy Fraser (New School for Social Research)

Comments: Ira Katznelson (Social Science Research Council)

Coffee break

11:00-12:30 The Public Square and the Global Age
Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm University)
Martin Grossman (University of São Paulo)

Comments: Didier Fassin  (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) and Daniel Rodgers  (Princeton)

12:30-1:00 Wrap-up
Jeremy Adelman (Princeton)
Michel Wieviorka (FMSH-Paris)



It may be banal to say that developments unfolding at a global level have shaped subjective identities and economic relations; globalization is accepted as part of social life.  But how has it affected social science?  We are inviting a select group of scholars to consider how the processes we lump under “globalization” have shaped the disciplines by asking two sub-sets of questions.

First, to what extent are the current frameworks for understanding global phenomena constrained by the fundaments of a social science created in the age of the emerging nation-state?  To what extent does the emergent global order require re-imagining these fundaments?  It is well known that the social sciences became institutionalized in the later nineteenth century with the emergence of universities as settings for the production knowledge with the compass of new directions in science.  Their cultural influence has descended to our day in the form of our modern disciplines.  From the start, this enterprise was fraught with tension.  One source was the conflict between the pursuit of generalizations versus insights from specific cases, universal versus particular claims, nomothetic versus idiographic frameworks.  If there was a gap between a model of social science which took natural sciences as its reference and another that grew out of a hermeneutic approach drawing from literature, it was smoothed over by the service of nation-building (and empire) – like training ruling elites or producing patriotic narratives.  The differences were to some extent obscured by a common civic purpose.   How do these coordinates function in a different age, in which understandings of citizenship, practices of economic regulation, and ethics and norms of spiritual and territorial affinity do not conform to national boundaries?

Second, how does the news of our day push us towards new models for organizing the production of social scientific knowledge?   The schism of the “two Europes”, the intervisibility of social protest in Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, new claims and understandings of social justice, the spread of the debate over displays of sacred identity from France to Quebec, the public consternation about global norms governing chemical weapons, the challenges of workplace and financial regulation, the list goes on.  A long catalogue of current events has prompted social scientists to devise new terms and categories to explain them.  Networks, transnationalism, multiculturalism, multiple scales, systemic risk, complexity, diversity, uncertainty, globality, and so on… this arsenal of keywords helps to explain current events.  Does this vocabulary accumulate into different models, or do old models simply adapt by absorbing it? We are not suggesting that we should look for a single guiding concept to explain the new world, as if all of the news could be rolled into a unitary scheme.  Previous efforts, “world systems,” “empire” fared no better than precursors (modernization being perhaps the most durable one).  “Globalization” – if the word means anything at all – serves more as a portmanteau for multiple processes unfolding at different scales; it is a descriptor of many things and not itself a framework of analysis.  We are struck, however, by the generalized search for new keys and rediscovery of forgotten ones.  We are mindful also of how gathering global challenges – like climate change, or governance in the age of the doctrine of “right to protect” and SARS – press against the inherited models of social change and political agency.

Of course, divides and tensions of the disciplines and the way they have framed questions and research practices are easier to see in retrospect.  Perhaps the present has pulled the curtain back on divisions between social sciences that once cohabited within universities and their plural arrangement of departments, schools, and programs – where the disciplines evolved in their own vernacular forms.  But it is also true that there emerged, by the 1950s, a sense that the disciplines were running aground and outmoded; at the very least they had difficulty dealing with social processes they had not originally been conceived to explain.  One result was a rush to interdisciplinarity to stem the anxiety.  Institutions like The RAND Corporation created training systems and methodological initiatives in part to get around hidebound disciplines.  Harvard inaugurated its Department of Social Relations, held together in large measure by the commanding presence of Talcott Parsons.  The Robertson family bestowed a gift to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton in 1961 in an effort to throw open its doors to preparing students for public service in a way (so the story goes) that disciplines were not.  The Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme was founded in large part to stem the centrifugal dynamics of social and human sciences in France, and create a framework for them to cohabit – and even co-shape – under one roof. 

Here the commanding presence was Fernand Braudel.  But this hardly proved the salvation it once seemed to be; to many, interdisciplinarity simply reinforced the divides.   Another response was to create new fields, like “development studies,” “international studies,” or “area studies,” to set up latticework between disciplines and to address alternative experiences of the modern world and strategic concerns posed by the Cold War.  All of this was heftily supported by large funds from governments, and important, if disputed, foundation influences around the world.  This, too, ran up against internal criticisms, external skeptics, and efforts to formulate alternative styles.   And finally, disciplines began to splinter internally, as departmental structures became placeholders for multiple styles.  Some departments broke up altogether, though in the main they hung in – not least because administrators could not envision a better way to apportion resources or to reproduce human capital. 

Perhaps this is where we should leave it – our social sciences as a work in progress.  And yet, a half-century after area studies and international studies were created to recombine disciplinary knowledge, much has changed in the world.  Globalization and the efforts to transcend the overarching frame of the nation as the unit that binds markets, societies and cultures, have profoundly altered the coordinates of the social sciences.  No longer is the external or foreign something that can be treated as an afterthought or an appendage, as if the world exists only “out there.”  With the de-centering of the nation, some of the latent disputes sown into disciplinary structures of universities have broken into the open.  With the end of the Cold War, the controversy over the status of area studies was but one example.  The running debate over the status of a universal history or the controversy over global enforceable norms, are others.  There is no shortage of evidence of fragmentation, uncertainty, and precariousness about the social science disciplines. 

Some decry this as a crisis.  Others treat the conjuncture of the social sciences as an opportunity to move beyond older divides, replacing certainty with complexity, a single truth with multiple perspectives. 

On one level, this should not be too surprising, unless one thinks that universities should be severed from the social processes that sustain them – as was once the 19th century idyll of the sanctuary of knowledge.  Nowadays, social systems affect most social science.  But there is more: universities are seen as agents of global social change and not just social mobility.  MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, the work of Harvard’s Paul Farmer in Haiti, Oxford’s research center in Vietnam, the rise of engineering schools around the world employing more social scientists are just a small sample of ways in which universities have embraced social intervention as part of their mandate.  The fact is, changing fields of social relations, and the way they have been altered by global processes, have effects on the way we inquire as social scientists. 

We propose to interrogate this relationship in the current historic conjuncture and explore the ways in which globalization has remapped social science fields.  The objective is to consider the current state of the social sciences from angles that cross disciplines and national traditions, taking our cue from our interest in global history and global studies.  There have been previous global shifts, like the simultaneous advent of the Cold War and the emergence of the “American” university system after 1945; the effects on the social sciences were profound.  Is there a similar move afoot nowadays?


Localisation : Princeton University
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