In response to the ideological distortions that function to legitimate world-system structures of domination (see “European universalism” 3/31/2014), Wallerstein maintains that social scientists and historians must seek a genuine universalism (2006:79-84).
There are, however, major obstacles to overcome. Among them are the structures of the modern university, which emerged during the nineteenth century. The modern university is “a bureaucratic institution, with fulltime paid faculty, some kind of centralized decision making about educational matters, and for the most part full-time students. Instead of curriculum being organized around professors, it is now organized within departmental structures, which offer clear paths to obtaining degrees, which in turn serve as social credentials” (Wallerstein 2006:59-60).
The departmental organization of the bureaucratized university is dysfunctional for understanding. Most problematic is the division between science and philosophy, which divides the quest for the truth from the quest for the good, a division unique to the modern West. In addition, the various disciplinary boundaries separating history, economics, political science and anthropology divide areas that are interconnected. They emerged because they were integral to a microscopic approach in the three nomothetic social sciences and an ideographic particularism in history and anthropology. Both microscopic positivism and particularism are functional, inasmuch as they leave unchallenged the fundamental assumptions and structures of the world-system. Social science emerged as a response to the threat posed by the political demands of workers, artisans, peasants, and migrants. It functioned as a tool to enable competent and meritorious representatives of the intellectual class to manage change in accordance with the middle pace of change that was the liberal road, thus forging a link between social science and the dominant liberal ideology of the world system. Some social scientists were radicals, but they tended to accept the premise of rationality as the foundation of social science, without reflecting on the implications of Weber’s distinction between formal and substantive rationality. In addition, rooted in a division of the world into the West, the so-called non-Western high civilizations, and the so-called primitive peoples, Western knowledge and universities continue to face the challenge of Eurocentrism (Wallerstein 2006:61-65; 1999a:168-84; 1999b:205-12; 1999c:246-47; 1999d:145-47).
The revolution of the 1960s critiqued the epistemological assumptions of science and social science, stimulating many historians, social scientists, and philosophers to move beyond the disciplinary boundaries and to search for the true and the good through alternative epistemological assumptions. But they have done so in a context in which the dysfunctional organization of the fields of knowledge remains institutionally strong (Wallerstein 1999b:246), thus preventing the emergence of a new epistemological consensus.
In light of the increasingly limited resources of universities, it is possible that knowledge will be reorganized by ministries of education and university administrations, seeking to reduce costs. Far better, Wallerstein maintains, would be the reorganization from below by social scientists. He proposes that:
“social scientists themselves take the lead in reunifying and redividing social science so as to create a more intelligent division of labor, one that would permit significant intellectual advance in the twenty-first century. I think such a reunification can be achieved only if we consider that we are all pursuing a singular task, which I call historical social science. This task must be based on the epistemological assumption that all useful descriptions of social reality are necessarily both ‘historical’ (that is, they take into account not only the specificity of the situation but the continual and endless changes in the structures under study) and ‘social scientific’ (that is, they search for structural explanations of the longue durée, which explanations are not, however, and cannot be eternal). . . . In such a reunified (and eventually redivided) social science, it would not be possible to assume a significant divide between economic, political, and sociocultural arenas” (2004:163-64).
Moreover, he suggests that the reorganization of the university requires a broader social revolution: “At the most fundamental level, a transformation of the world of knowledge is intrinsically linked to the process of transformation of the world-system itself” (2004:165).
We will discuss the implications of these proposals in the next post.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1999a. “Eurocentrism and its Avatars: The Dilemmas of Social Science” in The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. [Keynote address at the International Sociological Association´s East Asian regional colloquium, “The Future of Sociology in East Asia,” November 22-23, 1996, Seoul, Korea].
__________. 1999b. “Social Science and the Quest for a Just Society” in The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. [Opening lecture, Social Science Study-Day 1996, Netherlands Universities Institute for Coordination of Research in Social Sciences, April 11, 1996].
__________. 1999c. “The Heritage of Sociology, the Promise of Social Science” in The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. [Presidential address, Fourteenth World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, July 26, 1998].
__________. 1999d. “Social Science and Contemporary Society: The Vanishing Guarantees of Rationality” in The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. [Inaugural Address, International Colloquium of the Italian Association of Sociology, Palermo, October 26-28, 1995].
__________. 2004. “From Sociology to Historical Social Science” in The Uncertainties of Knowledge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. [Originally published in British Journal of Sociology 51, no. 1, Jan.-Mar. 2000:25-35].
__________. 2006. European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York: The New Press.
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