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Engaging pluralist perspectives in civic interventions: neopragmatism and social research» (session 2 of 2)

June 29, 2021 15:00
June 29, 2021 16:30

Rainer Diaz-Bone, University of Lucerne; Kenneth Horvath, University of Lucerne; Guy Schwegler, University of Lucerne; Simon Schrör, Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin, Humboldt University


Simon Schrör, Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin, Humboldt University

Sinisa Hadziabdic, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne

More and more sociological theorizing and methodological strategies set out to highlight pluralities in the social world. Recent pragmatist and neopragmatist approaches have played a key role for deciphering such pluralities and outlining their relevance for understanding social orders and the dynamics of their transformation (e.g. situational analysis, relational sociology, actor-network theory, economics and sociology of convention; see Barthe et al. 2013; Corcuff 2011; Nachi 2006). Compared with older and more traditional research paradigms (e.g. positivism, neofunctionalism, rational-choice approach), these contemporary sociological perspectives on the question of plurality refrain from any definite judgment regarding what counts as good, right, or fair. In this sense, one could be led to believe that the practice of “critique” is left to social actors alone. Any attempt of social researchers to intervene in a given social context would therefore become harder both to articulate and to legitimize. 

At the same time, we recognize an increasing request for scientific knowledge by civic actors and agencies in the face of unfolding societal crises and against the background of a growing awareness of social inequalities and institutional deficiencies (accelerated in times the COVID19 pandemic). Already in classical pragmatism, social research was regarded as a resource to be applied and tested for its capacity to improve societal institutions. Neopragmatist sociology continues the pragmatist position to link science to a common good and focuses the tensions of different ways of engagement and critique (see the book series “Raisons pratiques” at EHESS, Paris and “Soziologie der Konventionen” at Springer VS.). In contrast to classical pragmatism, however, neopragmatist sociology is aware of the close interrelation of science and society articulated in the concept of “performativity” of the sciences (Michel Callon): the social sciences perform society. Therefore, social research cannot be restricted to an analytical standpoint only, but is itself entangled in the plurality of empirical normativities, being, among others, coined by epistemic values which correspond to different views of “the social.”

We would like to present research approaches and methodologies that explore and display perspectives and possibilities for interventions and social experimentations in light of their embeddedness in pluralities. Applying the neopragmatist approach, the contributions will discuss ways of designing social research for situations which are structured by a plurality of everyday rationalities to decide on matters of “truth” and “justice” (i.e. orders of justification). In situations like these, scientific actors (knowingly or not) ally with civic agencies to mobilize, apply, test, and adopt knowledge, which enables informed civic intervention. 

Scientific Investigations as Part of Practical Discourses? Pluralities of engagement in professional debates on copyright reform.

Simon Schrör, Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin, Humboldt University

The self-conception of law as a scientific discipline has always been embedded in the tension with law as a practical craft (Engel & Schön 2008). At the same time, academic legal studies need their practical linkage to the practice of law as a condition of their own existence. On the one hand, law professors write expert opinions, study the effects of legislative projects and sometimes are even appointed as judges. Lawyers, at the same time, not only engage in court and contract negotiations, but also use their training in academic writing to write abstract and case-detached papers on relevant issues in the administration of justice.  In German legal writing, academics and practitioners meet and express themselves in a professional legal discourse. Discourses on ongoing regulatory projects, which are by definition contingent and still open to design, turn out to be a field in which practical coordinating interests are difficult to distinguish from academic analysis, especially because they are closely intertwined in discursive forums and contributions. The economics of convention (EC), with its endogenous understanding of law (Bessy 2015), is offering a pragmatic analytical framework that allows for a coherent study of the coordinative actions - including discourse contributions - of specific actors (Barthe et al. 2016). At the same time, it provides a framework for theoretical self-reflection when it comes to research that can influence the field it studies. This contribution provides insight into an empirical study of the professional legal discourse regarding the European Copyright Directive, which comes into force this year. The research is an interdisciplinary project between law and social sciences attempting to identify typical narratives of a practical and academic nature that argue over the pros and cons of the reform. Therefore, it is combining legal in-depth expertise of the substantive lines of conflict with a qualitative approach on discourse analysis. With such an approach, a publication of the research would not only contribute to the academic debate on legal discourses, it is also likely to make a certain kind of contribution to the very discourse it examines. This situation highlights the interconnection of analytical research to its subject in a distinctive way. The presentation on this panel will reflect on different normativities that can be brought to the study and tries to include itself in the overall structure of the existing logics of coordination within the discourse.


Barthe, Y. et al. (2016). Pragmatische Soziologie: Eine Anleitung. Soziale Welt 67(2): 205-232.

Bessy, C. (2015). The dynamics of law and convention. Historical Social Research 40(1): 62-77.

Engel, C. & W. Schön (2008). Das Proprium der Rechtswissenschaft. Tübingen. Mohr Siebeck.

Living and Dying with Your Own Ideas? Generational Replacement vs. Within-Individual Paradigm Change among Economists

Sinisa Hadziabdic, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne

Focusing on the most influential economists in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France after World War II, the paper examines the extent to which shifts in the dominant economic paradigm materialize through a replacement of older economists by younger generations or whether the same individuals are able to present themselves as advocates of different paradigms throughout their life-course. Adopting a pragmatist approach and combining automated textual analyses with regression tools, economists’ public discourse is used to infer how their economic beliefs are simultaneously influenced by interpretative rationality, historical legacies, and present constraints. Preliminary findings reveal that, while generational substitution is clearly the dominant process at play when a new paradigm comes to the fore, specific educational and professional trajectories and exposure to historical, academic, and ideological pressures can trigger within-individual paradigm change. The different legacy of the wartime experience explains the cross-country variability in the diffusion of Keynesian ideas, embraced and disseminated almost exclusively either by economists already aligned with them before the war or by young academics. In contrast, while generational replacement still remains the dominant process, the neoliberal turn after the 70s is characterized by an increasing number of economists who are able to reconcile and/or replace their Keynesian ideas with those of the neoclassical synthesis. The increased within-individual paradigmatic variability is explained, on the one hand, by the versatile character of neoliberal ideas and, on the other hand, by the performativity of the hegemonic discourse appearing in the academic and political fields after the 70s. Interestingly, factual economic reality is never the main driver of paradigm change, being in most cases either ignored or subject to ad hoc interpretations in order to be consistent with a predefined view of the economy. It was during this phase that economics emerged as a structured professional field, achieving academic, but also ethical autonomy in examining economic phenomena through the construction of a moral order based on individual meritocratic instrumentality equated with the common good. By showing that economists themselves are performatively influenced by these professional and moral logics, the paper argues that the dominant position of their academic field, but also the privileged role of economists as "conseillers du prince" in policy-making over other social sciences should be reconsidered by recognizing the contingent and conventional nature of its fundamental tenets.