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Integration of Social Theory and Regional Studies Project

PI: Said Arjomand


Project Summary

The attempt to integrate social theory and what has been called area studies in this country since World War II is much older. It is as old as the social sciences themselves, going as far back as Montesquieu in mid-eighteenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century Durkheim remarked that comparative sociology was not just a branch of sociology but sociology itself. His school tried to live up to this promise and covered a remarkable range of civilizations in the 1920s, but its energies dissipated largely because of the idea of the union of social theory and regional studies was formulated as a distinctly American and post-imperialist approach after the Second World War, and the new idea of area studies went hand in hand with an ambitious project of the comparative study of civilizations directed by Robert Redfield at the University of Chicago. The energies of the participants in that project too dissipated in the 1970s for institutional and political reasons that cannot be discussed here. The failure of these earlier integrative attempts has resulted in a highly unsatisfactory pattern of production of knowledge in which the theory is done in the metropolitan centers, overwhelmingly on the basis of the Western historical experience, while the research in the global periphery is either confined to data collection or mechanical application.

The current school of interdisciplinary civilizational analysis, which is led by the SBIGS Board of Advisors member, S.N. Eisenstadt and includes this Project’s principal investigator, resumes the earlier attempts at the interdisciplinary integration of social theory and regional studies. We believe that current globalization creates much more favorable institutional and cultural conditions for the success of this third wave of comparative study of civilizations than the previous two waves, and are therefore confident about the success of SBIGS’s Integration of Social Theory and Regional Studies Project.

As the Founder and President of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies and Editor of the  Journal of Persianate Studies housed in SBIGS, the principal investigator is engaged in active research in the interdisciplinary study of one of the major global regions where he has taken the lead in introducing social theory and shaping it as a framework for interdisciplinary integration in historical and socio-cultural research. A former Editor of International Sociology, the organ of the International Sociological Association (ISA), he has remained active at the ISA and participated in the program committee for the World Congress of Sociology at Gothenburg, Sweden, July, 11-18, 2010. He will edit the inaugural volume in the book series, “Pangea II: Global/Local Studies,” to be published under the auspices of SBIGS by State University of New York Press. The volume will include the following papers scheduled for presentation at the plenary and regular sessions of the World Congress of Sociology:

Johann Arnason, “Historicizing Axial Civilizations”
Said Arjomand, “Multiple Modernities and the Promise of Comparative Sociologies”
Manuela Boatcă, “Second Slavery vs. Second Serfdom: Local Labor Regimes of the Global Periphery”
Eiko Ikegami, “Japanese Civilization in Comparative Perspective”
Wolfgang Knöbl, “The Americas and Civilizational Analysis”
Sujata Patel, “Social Theory and Indian Studies”
Wolf Schäfer, “The Challenge of Global History and the Future of Area Studies”
Willfried Spohn, “Civilizational Analysis and Power”
Edward Tiryakian, “Civilization in the Global Era: One, Many ... or None?”
Peter Wagner, “The modernity of so-called new societies (Brazil and South-Africa)”
Björn Wittrock, “Axial Civilizations and the Renaissance of Historical Thought in Social Theory”

A follow-up one-day intensive symposium in Stony Brook-Manhattan is tentatively scheduled in October 2010, and is expected to generate five more papers for the volume.

As a founding member of the new Global-Transnational Section of the American Sociological Association, the principal investigator will also try to involve the section in this venture and in the integration of social theory and regional studies more generally. Other conferences in the following years and a year-long lecture series at Stony Brook under the Integration of Social Theory and Regional Studies Project include:

  • Civilizational Perspective on Symbolism of Power and Political Regimes
  • Empire, Civilization and Production of Knowledge
  • Worlds of Difference and Alternative Modernities
  • Islamicate and Persianate Social and Political Thought

Selected papers from the conferences and lecture series will, as a rule, be published by State University of New York Press in the monograph series “Pangea II: Global/Local Studies,” edited by Said Arjomand and Wolf Schäfer.

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