Pragmatist Philosophy and Social Research: A Proposal

Patrick Baert
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The paper reflects on the possibility of a social science that aims at self-referential knowledge-acquisition. This form of social research explores and questions deep-seated presuppositions prevalent in contemporary culture and strives to become aware of other forms of life. This view of social sciences, therefore, is perfectly in line with the pragmatist perspective that language and knowledge, rather than acts of representation, allow people to increase the scope of human possibilities. Various forms of social research, in a wide range of disciplines, have already explored this self-referential knowledge: for instance, genealogical history and sociology, post-processual archaeology and the critical turn in anthropology. The paper locates this self-referential knowledge within the context of contemporary American pragmatism (e.g. Rorty, Bernstein). It is argued that this type of knowledge ties in with the radical tradition in neo-pragmatism, in particular its anti-foundationalist notion of critique.

Keywords: Anti-foundationalism, Method, Genealogy, Philosophy of social science, Pragmatism, Rorty
Presentation Type: Plenary Presentation in English
Paper: The Relationship between Social Theory and Empirical Research

Patrick Baert

University Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Cambridge University and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge

Patrick Baert is University Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Cambridge University and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He studied at the Universities of Brussels and Oxford. He works on social theory and philosophy of social science. His forthcoming book ‘Philosophy of Social Science: Toward Pragmatism’ (Polity Press, 2005) explores the relevance of American Pragmatism for contemporary philosophy of social science. His pragmatist perspective explores how various types of social research aim at self-referential knowledge: rather than aiming to represent or predict an external realm, this type of research uses the encounter with difference to re-describe our own culture and to re-assess our own presuppositions. Examples of this research can be found in sociology, history, archaeology and anthropology. Patrick Baert’s previous publications include ‘Social Theory in the Twentieth Century’ (Polity Press, 1998) and ‘Time, Self and Social Being’ (Ashgate, 1992). He is a member of the Executive Committee of the European Sociological Association and the Coordinator of the Social Theory Network of the same organisation. He held various visiting positions abroad; for instance, at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (as holder of ‘la Chaire Internationale Henri Janne’), the University of British Columbia, the Université de Paris IV Sorbonne and the Humboldt Universität Berlin.

Ref: H05P0913