Address to the conference CONTEMPORARY RESEARCH TRENDS OF YOUNG SCIENTISTS – POZNAN, OCTOBER 24TH, 2013

Having been invited to be member of the Scientific Committee of this conference had been a special honour for me for several reasons – one being that I could maintain and extend good contacts to Poland, continuing an experiences which had always been very enriching and also pleasant for me. And saying “good” contacts is not least a matter of having been able to attend several conferences and workshops – this and the collaboration with various colleagues brings me to two points that guide this short address to you as participants.

* The contacts and experiences, which had been academically and politically reflecting a wide range of different positions, had been for me very encouraging. In some respect these experiences had been opposing a mainstream trend in (social) science that we may identify as extrinsic motivation: positions and reputation, guidance by peer-reviews instead of open discourse, structured by administrative requirements and funding opportunities instead of fostering open processes. All such criteria that are extern and alien to the actual matter of research are part of a scale that may be seen as suicide of science – with this wording I allude to an excellent study undertaken by Carin Holmquist and Elisabeth Sundin (see Holmquist, Carin/Sundin, Elisabeth (2010) ‘The suicide of the social sciences: causes and effects’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 23: 1, 13 — 23; DOI: 10.1080/13511611003791141).

* Nevertheless we have to face of course a common challenge: an entirely self-referential system is equally dangerous – and we know too well from the early periods of social science that these systems had been disjoined: academia as a world that had been sealed off in an ivory tower, careers depending to a large extent on patronage.

Actually many of the current processes and structures – peer-reviewing, administrative and managerial control etc. can be seen as reply on these self-referential systems, and paradoxically establishing similarly estranged patterns of encapsulation.

Indeed it is highly problematic if we see academic work being undertaken without any responsibility in terms of external standards.

Of course, we are entering here a complex field – and we have to be careful with any one-sided explanation and critique. I want to take up on just one aspect – a general one that is concerned with the economic setting within which we are working as researchers and also as teachers. And I do not want to take up the surely important aspect of ‘commodification’ of science and academic work and its subordination under the requirement of immediate profitability. A issue that is more fundamental is the general concern with the mode of production – in a less ambitious formulation the concern with the question: What is actually the reasoning that is guiding our economic activities and thinking? Again and in its own terms a complex field that had been employing the thinking of the three adversaries that are also determining contemporary debates in alphabetical order: Keynes, Marx and Mills.

Keynes talked about reaching a level of saturation with material goods that would allow us to concentrate again on those issues that are of real importance:

The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems / the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion. (http://thinkexist.com/quotes/john_maynard_keynes/ – 17/06/2013)

Marx highlighted that we move towards a mode of production that allows working in a completely different way. In the German Ideology we read:

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of
activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

(Marx, Karl/Engels, Frederick, 1845-46: The German Ideology. Critique of modern German Philosophy According to its Representatives Feuerbach, Ba. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to its Various Prophets; in: Karl Marx/Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 5. Marx and Engels: 1845-47; London: Lawrence& Wishart, 1976: passim)

And in the Critique of the Gotha Programme we read that distribution is guided by needs.

Mills finally talks about the developed society as ‘static society’, not geared to growth as ultimate aim.

There is one important aspect, though coming from different perspectives, underlying all three paradigms – and this could also be seen as something important as guideline and challenge for academic work: We can summarise it by saying that we are dealing with complex soci(et)al practice. This practice in its complexity has to be motive, the foundation from which we start and at the very same time its ultimate goal.

Importantly we all, if we are working in social science or any field of science in the strict sense of English language have to think about this question – what the social and its practice is about.

I cannot present this in detail – but I want to point out one direction that I think is highly valuable in this respect and that employs much of my work: the theory of social quality. It is an approach that systematically develops an understanding of what the social, understood as noun, is about. The understanding is guided by three dimensions: conditional, constitutional and normative factors. Me may translate and say: it is a matter of considering the conditions which we find and have to develop, constituting through our practice the processes that these conditions become real and considering the meaning and impact this practice has for others and our environment – and of course with this we are back to the conditions that are not once and forever given but shaped by our own practice.

With this I want to close my remarks by quoting Boaventura de Sousa Santos

It is important not to reduce realism on what exists. Doing so we would only justify the existing, not withstanding how injustice and suppressing it may be.

(Sousa Santos, Boaventura de, 1997: Hacia una concepción multicultural de los derechos humanos: 15; http://democraciayterritorio.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hacia-una-concepcion-multicultural-de-los-derechos-humanos/ – 06/10/13)

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