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Archive for October, 2010

When Fox Talbot “invented” photography in 1839 – although we should not fully believe such creational myths to begin with – he surely did not imagine that his invention would pose  a threat to the core of sociology, an academic discipline that did not exist as such in his era. Many (though not all)  sociologists believe that, at its very heart, sociology is  a child of industrialization and rests on the discovery of the “fact” – merely an epistemic thing, though – that society is and always was  largely subject to and driven by the ongoing and never-ending process of differentiation. (It should be noted that this author, who considers himself a natural philosopher, happens to hold a doctorate in sociology, yet he believes that sociology is but an accident, a creative misunderstanding between philosophy and biology. Respectively, his sociological brethren in his native Germany, a country that has a history of “making silent” those that dare be different, do not like him very much. Shame.)

Photography, somehow, seems to illustrate that the idea of differentiation is not very clear cut in actuality, at least once under scrutiny from a critical realist’s point of view. Think of it: In the early years of photography, the “art” was a craft practiced by specialists, whereas today these specialists are a slowly dying professions. Everybody can be a photographer, knowledge about  photography and its most artistic techniques as well as equipment are readily available to everybody.  People in other professions, such as journalists or web-designers, etc., create their own photos for their respective “professional” work. In short, the whole idea of differentiation as “specialization” of the professions is becoming a bit of a hotchpotch. Oooops, ey?

So now, today, at the same time, Donald Levine and a few others have correctly stated that we suffer from hyperspecialization. Now here I say, think of it, did the hype(r) come into specialization because sociology began to ontologize and reify what was but an “ideal-type”, aka an analytical category?   In the same way that economics (in particular in Germany) is still Nationaloekonomie, and rests on the reified category of “growth”, even while economies are deeply divided on one axis between global and local acting entities, and different types of money (virtual money, that is ends rather than means,  and actual, cash-type money, which is – following the Say definition – means rather than ends) on the other, politicians, voters and economists treat them all the same and make a generalized idea of “money” and a generalized process of “growth” the basis of their (policy-)decisions. This is just not about differentiation or no differentiation, it’s about a messy, vague, and deeply aleatoric reality that we have to make sense of and draw meaning from. By onologizing, reifying, and imputing categories (such as differentiation or growth) and treating them as “natural kinds”, we end up understanding nothing and fail as scientists of any kind in the face of social reality.

The medium is just not the message, but who will make the message intelligible if we have killed our only source for clarification, the messenger?

Is photography a medium, what kind of medium is it, what do photographers do, what did they do in the early ages of photography other than be photographers, were they specialists or what were they? With the imputation of reified categories, we have not really answered those questions with regard to the ephemeral contexts. We need to redraw the maps of our social and science history by creating a better sociology, a sociology that is not on the “hyper”, meaning a sociology that does not end up imputing what it seeks to explain as its cause. that is why German sociology, as we know it, is already dead. It just doesn’t know it yet. It’s but an old and decaying black&white  photograph in an iron frame.  But who knows, perhaps it can differentiate itself into new life.

(Editorial Note: This is the second of a 14 essay-strong series of Phillipicae against German Sociology)

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  My dear friends,

with regard to the state of German society, as you well know, I continue to be concerned and voice this concern on occasion with emails to you. Bothersome and officious as they may be, at present, the situation in this country has reached a state that people abroad need to hear and should be very concerned about.

When several social researchers and intellectuals who study immigration and culture receive death threats (german source: http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=/kulturzeit/themen/148656/index.html), politicians in high office openly declare that Germany needs to stop all immigration to stop foreign elements polluting German society, and argue that we need to defend against the anti-German sentiments, and a rising number of people who have received „higher education“ share this attitude and audience of supposedly intellectuals go as far as boo off discussants whose differing opinions they do not like, when studies show that more than a third of Germans agree with such statements and one quarter of Germans wish for a one-party state (see in German: http://blog.zeit.de/stoerungsmelder/2010/10/13/rechtsextreme-einstellungen-verfestigen-sich_4768 and the full study:http://www.tagesspiegel.de/downloads/1956088/1/Studie%20zu%20rechtsextremen%20Einstellungen) , not to mention 15% agreeing with anti-semitic statements, and, finally, half of Germans think that Islam in general is a danger to I think this is cause for much concern.

This is not simply a German problem alone. Over the past two years, France has forced large numbers of Roma (a gypsy tribe) out of their country. 10,000 last year and more in recent weeks. The protest by other EU members was meager, even though the deportations are illegal by EU laws France is going through with it. The deported are left without means to sustain themselves in the countries they are deported to.

For somewhat of a decade, little unimportant me has been warning of these developments, arguing that the decline in quality in higher education and research, lack of resources for maintenance of civil society, etc., etc., will lead to this and, beyond this stage, even worse. Events follow dark and dire prognoses that I and a few others have made years ago rather that they do get better. Stuck here, there is little I can do, for now, except try my best to create awareness.

So, in the spirit of the German-American friendship, this is all I ask of you: Be aware, get informed, and help prevent the worst.

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