George Steinmetz, "The Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought: Sociology in the European Empires, 1930s-1960s"

Blumer Room - 402 Social Sciences Building

I will summarize my recent book and forthcoming volume in which I develop a revisionist history of European social thought between the 1930s and 1960s, arguing that colonial research represented a crucial but forgotten part of the academic social sciences including sociology. I propose an approach to intellectual history that combines attention to broadly contextual factors, dynamics within disciplinary fields, close readings of texts, and individual biographies. The key macroscopic context was the postwar “re-occupation” of the European colonial empires and the turn to developmentalist policies, all of which created a demand for new forms of social scientific expertise, including sociology. An entire network of research institutions was created, especially in the French and British empires. While some of these sociologists were involved in repressive colonial policies, the majority were anti-colonial in their politics; moreover they made a number of theoretical and methodological innovations that deeply shaped the disciplines and continue to do so. I conclude that sociological reflexivity should focus on the historical sociology of social science.