Public debates about climate change have brought the relevance of the sciences to contemporary societies back to the fore. And while the sciences had frequently been critiqued on issues such as biologism, environmental policy or technocracy by liberals in the late 20th century, the relevance of scientific knowledge to democracy is presently stressed again. But what has been conceived of as “scientific” (broadly construed, as in Wissenschaften) within academia and beyond in the last century? This seminar analyzes this and related issues historically by introducing different conceptions on the relationship of science as an institution to society and the state, ranging from autonomy to politicization (e.g., J.D. Bernal, L. Fleck, K. Mannheim, R. Merton, M. Polanyi). We will also explore conceptions of the scientists’ role in between disinterested professional, citizen, activist or entrepreneur (e.g., M. Weber, S. Shapin, N. Oreskes), thereby discussing current issues such as climate science, genetics/race or commercialization. In addition to asking what informed concept of knowledge we can forge for current debates, we will also ask for the place of a history of science/knowledge within the humanities. While discussions will be held in English, the willingness to engage with German language texts is expected as well. No prior experience in the field is required; beginners and/or participants from other areas are welcome!
For a controversial position on the topic, see Steven Shapin, “Is there a crisis of truth?”, Los Angeles Review of Books, Dec. 2nd, 2019