Ethnographies of social sciences as a vocation

Convenors: Gianmarco Navarini (University of Milano Bicocca) & Sebastiano Citroni (University of Milano Bicocca)

Nowadays in circles of youth there is a widespread notion that science has become a problem in calculation, fabricated in laboratories or statistical filing systems just as “in a factory”, a calculation involving only the cool intellect and not one’s “heart and soul”. First of all one must say that such comments lack all clarity about what goes on in a factory or in a laboratory.[1]

Max Weber, Science as a Vocation.

The approaching centenary of the well-known lecture by Max Weber (Munich, November 1917) constitutes both a rite and an opportunity to shed light on how  we now practice and produce “social science”.

The rite is the conference’s panel: a small gathering of researchers who undertook ethnographic research in and on the settings in which social science is produced, or on types of “products”, in different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, economy, pedagogy, history et al…), devoting specific attention to:

- the relationships between, on the one hand, everyday practices in the settings of researchers’ ordinary work and, on the other hand, the broader frame in which such practices take place and which is subject to recent institutional, administrative, bureaucratic and political shifts.

- the implications deriving from the logic (or rhetoric, narration, “doxa”, ideology) of academic “evaluation”, grasped in their concrete outcomes and in the everyday social organization of doing research.

The afore-mentioned opportunity implies setting out from Weber in order to move beyond the German sociologist, also thanks to researches carried out on the two themes – the relationships and the implications – before singled out.  The quotes that follow suggest, but do not exhaust, further ethnographic research topics to be discussed in the panel:

  • «To let “facts speak for themselves” is the most unfair» method. That is to say, how are “facts” used in research reports, writing practices, scientific arguments and public debates?
  • «The concept, one of the great tools of all scientific knowledge». What is the practical use of categories (as a marker of belonging or as a way of thinking) in projecting, doing, analyzing, defend, legitimize and reporting social research?
  • «Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure». What is now at risk  because of this rigorous specialization?
  • «To raise this question is to ask for the vocation of science within the total life of humanity. What is the value of science?» What and who is social science – particularly ethnography – for? What can ethnographies tell us about the general reception of social research? How and in which circumstances does social research, particularly ethnography, have something to offer to people’s “practical life”?

[1] Quotes from Max Weber in this page are taken from the English translation made by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946; Routledge 2013)

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