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Farewell to Peers: Community, Belonging, and the Heterodoxy of the Social Sciences

Workshop June 9
Friday, June 9, 2023, 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Farewell to Peers: Community, Belonging, and the Heterodoxy of the Social Sciences

Workshop in honor of Jean-Louis Fabiani

Invited guests only

June 9, 2023

Venue: CEU, Quellenstrasse campus, B 505

“A scholar's sole earthly reward is the envy of peers,” as a novelist once put it. It would be hard to come up with a more succinct formulation that captures so well the complex social psychology of our relationship with our academic peers. Indeed, the relational web of peers defines our field, justifies our existence, nurtures and supports us, but also mercilessly evaluates and judges us. As Jean-Louis Fabiani notes, "the peer review was one of the first modes of justification of our collective existence as a community of knowledge, sharing the same goal beyond subjective and situational differences." Yet, more often than not we may feel frustrated and misunderstood by our peers’ reviews, almost as if they were speaking a different language and not sharing the same goals as ourselves. At times, it feels as if we had no true peers. This is particularly the case in the critical social sciences today. Indeed, the social sciences have always been characterized by “epistemological exuberance” (Fabiani), and the reflexive turn and growing historical awareness of much social research have led to interrogating the provisional certainties of disciplines and escalated doubts concerning the universality of social theory. Is the apparent disunity of social sciences a sign of inherent weakness or, to the contrary, a guarantee of epistemological vigilance, constant (self-)renewal and critical potential? Did we ever have a shared consensual understanding about our field, or is this merely a nostalgic retrospective illusion? Should we strive for such unity at all today?

The workshop examines these issues in the contexts of history, sociology and anthropology, which have long acted as the constitutive ‘others’ of each other: in various contexts, the identities of these three disciplines have been significantly shaped through this interaction (witness some of the more recent “turns” inspired by each of them), even if borrowings or contestations were not always acknowledged.

Part 1

Opening: Judit Bodnar (CEU)

1.30 - 3.30 p.m.

1. Sabina Loriga (EHESS, Paris) and Jacques Revel (EHESS, Paris): Troubles in History (online)

2. Ivan Ermakoff (University of Wisconsin - Madison): Coordinating Against Legal Authoritarian Offensives

3. Laurent Jeanpierre (Paris 1, Panthéon - Sorbonne): Revolution and ‘Etatization:’ An Attempt at Synthesis

Discussant: Jean-Louis Fabiani (CEU)

Moderator: Vlad Naumescu (CEU)


Part 2

4 - 5.30 p.m.

Roundtable with the participation of the speakers, the members of the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, and Gábor Klaniczay (Medieval Studies, CEU), moderated by Judit Bodnar (CEU)

"The past is a foreign country:" disciplinary nationalism, division, and co-operation among history, anthropology, and sociology

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” reads the opening sentence of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. While the novel is mainly about personal memory and the experience of ruptured time, this phrase came to be used as a description of the modern historical profession: by focusing on the radical difference of past societies, historians also denaturalize the present. If we were to think of the past as a foreign country, should we then not also rely on the toolkit of the anthropologist, or even the sociologist to understand it? For widely read, open-minded, and less disciplinarily entrenched scholars it has always been difficult to compartmentalize neatly the core socio-historical sciences (anthropology, history, and sociology). Instead of viewing them in ‘insular’ isolation from each other, we should grasp their disciplinary distinctions and inflections in terms of contingent trajectories stemming from institutional histories. The conscious bringing together of the study of sociology and social anthropology at CEU, for example, was motivated by similar theoretical premises/considerations. By now, almost every student properly trained in social theory is suspicious of disciplinary boundaries as artifacts of power. Yet, most of scholarship is still very much organized along disciplinary logics and rules, and the epistemic universes they generate and maintain may thus not completely overlap. Having pioneered an integrated program for two decades, our department is particularly well-positioned to reflect on some of these premises, as well as on the practical experience and dilemmas of inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinarity.