Sociology and Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline

Sociology and Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline

by George Steinmetz

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ISBN-13: 9780822395409
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/05/2013
Series: Politics, History, and Culture
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 632
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

George Steinmetz is the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Devil’s Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa and Regulating the Social: The Welfare State and Local Politics in Imperial Germany. He is the editor of The Politics of Method in the Human Sciences: Positivism and Its Epistemological Others, also published by Duke University Press.

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The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline

By George Steinmetz

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5258-7


Major Contributions to Sociological Theory and Research on Empire, 1830s–Present



Sociologists have analyzed empires throughout the entire history of their discipline. This chapter offers an overview of the major theoretical and conceptual developments in sociological research on empires, imperial states, and colonial societies during the past two centuries. I will focus on sociologists' theoretical and empirical contributions to understanding the forms and developmental trajectories of these political entities.

The genealogy of sociological research on empires is largely a hidden one. The most general reason for this invisibility is disciplinary amnesia (Agger 2000: 168), that is, sociology's general lack of interest in its own past. Another reason is the ritualized practices of training sociologists, undergirded by references to a handful of founders (Connell 1997). Sociology often seems committed to a vestigial view of science as progressing in a linear fashion, and this approach discourages investigations of earlier thinkers. Even among sociological specialists in empire there is little knowledge of the contents and the contours of sociological work on empires. Colonial researchers who were seen as full-fledged participants in the sociological field during their lifetimes, such as Roger Bastide or Richard Thurnwald, are retroactively reassigned to anthropology. Thus sociologists attribute theories of colonial syncretism and transculturation to cultural anthropology and literary criticism, for example, even though these theories were partly pioneered by sociologists. A more detailed investigation, as inaugurated in the first part of this volume, finds that sociologists have conducted imperial research since the beginning of the intellectual field of sociology in the nineteenth century. There have been huge changes in emphasis and argumentation over time, of course. Sociological interest in ancient empires declined after the 1920s and resurfaced briefly during and after World War II (Eisenstadt 1963; Freyer 1948; Rüstow [1950–1957] 1980; Weber 1935) and again with the resurgence of historical sociology in the 1980s (Goldstone and Haldon 2010; Mann 1986). There have also been geographical shifts in the center of sociological interest in empire, with a concentration in France, Germany, and Italy during the interwar and immediate post-1945 periods and in the United States since the 1990s. This chapter will not map out these geo graph i cal shifts in much detail, much less try to explain them, but the chapters in the first section will fill some of these lacunae.

What follows is an overview of sociological resources for research on empires and the intellectual history of sociological research on empires. I am especially interested in the ways sociologists have analyzed the forms, developmental trajectories, determinants, and effects of empires. Let me briefly clarify these terms. "Forms of empire" concerns definitions of empires, colonies, and related imperial formations. Here the major sociological contributions include theories of colonialism and models of twentieth-century empires in which the sovereignty of dominated states is left largely intact even as they are brought under the sway of an imperial power. The word trajectory refers to the ways sociologists have described the developmental paths of geopolitical history. Theories of "alternative," "multiple," and "entangled" modernities have largely replaced earlier views of societies as moving along a common path from tribe to state to empire, or from tradition to modernity.

With regard to the determinants and effects of empires, I identify four main theoretical developments. First, earlier theories of empire typically sought to identity a single, primary, determining source of imperial politics. Contemporary sociological work, by contrast, emphasizes conjunctural, contingent, multicausal patterns of causality. Second, earlier theories tended to foreground political, military, or economic causal mechanisms, whereas current work integrates all these factors with attention to ideological, linguistic, psychic, and cultural processes. Third, earlier theories tended to be "metrocentric," locating the driving source of imperial expansion and techniques of colonial governance in the global core. A more recent set of theorists twisted the stick in the opposite, "ex-centric," direction, emphasizing the power of events, processes, and structures in the peripheries to shape the forms and even the very existence of colonialism (Robinson 1986). Most recently, analysts have integrated the metrocentric and ex-centric optics, analyzing imperial systems as complex, overdetermined totalities in which powerful impulses may come from both directions, with cores shaping peripheries and vice versa. Theorists of imperial "fields" of social action, including colonial science (Petitjean et al. 1992; Steinmetz 2009a), development policy (Garth and Dezalay 2002), and the colonial state (Steinmetz 2008a), see those fields as sometimes being located entirely within the core or the periphery and at other times spanning these imperial spaces (Go 2008b; Steinmetz 2012c). The fourth, overarching development is the movement within political and historical sociology away from a focus on states as the highest-level order of political organization. Empires are increasingly understood as encompassing states and as having emergent properties that cannot be reduced to the properties of states (see chapter 9).

Since I am interested in charting theoretical contributions to the study of empires here and not in conducting a sociology of sociology, I will follow a diachronic organizational scheme. A diachronic approach is especially appropriate since it allows us to see how theorists and researchers are drawing on, rejecting, reconstructing, suppressing, or simply overlooking earlier members of their discipline. These patterns of disciplinary memory and amnesia, continuity and disavowal, can yield valuable insights for the sociology of science. Even if transdisciplinarity (Steinmetz 2007c) is a necessary goal in the human sciences, sociologists are best advised to enter into transdisciplinary encounters with a good understanding of their own discipline and its history. A diachronic analysis is useful for restoring to sociology some sense of its own accomplishments. This is especially important in the field of empire and colonial studies, which have been completely dominated in recent years by other disciplines. As we will see, several insights that have been claimed in recent years by postcolonial theory, anthropology, or history were actually pioneered by sociologists.

Of course, a transnational approach to the history of modern sociology (e.g., Heilbron 1995; Platt 2010; Schrecker 2010) needs to be combined with nation-based comparisons (e.g., Abend 2006; Levine 1995; Wagner et al. 1999) if we are interested in understanding the field's evolution. National intellectual fields are often distinct enough to produce radical misunderstandings when exiles or texts circulate without their original contexts (Bourdieu 1991b). The symbolic capital of sociological ideas or individual sociologists undergoes radical devaluation or inflation due to migration (Cusset 2003; Steinmetz 2010c). Each imperial state had a nationally specific system of higher education and unique intellectual traditions. Sociologists were recruited from a differing array of disciplines in each country during each period of disciplinary foundation and refoundation. Sociology has therefore often had strong national peculiarities (Heilbron 2008) in spite of streams of international and transnational circulation. At the same time, because of the central role of emigration, exile, and scholarly exchange in many scholars' lives, it can be highly misleading to assign sociologists or their schools and ideas to one or the other national tradition. The dangers of error due to a nation-state-based approach are exacerbated in the case of imperial sociologists, many of whom spend a great deal of time overseas in research sites or historical archives, interacting with scholars and laypeople from the colonized population and from other metropolitan nations. The socio-spatial contours of imperial social-scientific fields are shaped by the analytic object itself—by the empires being studied.

The discussion that follows is broken into four periods: 1830–1890, 1890–1918, 1918–1945, and 1945 to the present. Each period corresponds to important global developments and events in imperial practice and to developments in sociological theories of empire. It is important to caution against two possible readings of this periodizing scheme. Most of the imperial sociologists I discuss lived through more than one of these four periods, and some, including Alfred Weber and Richard Thurnwald, were active scientifically in at least three of them. In the discussion that follows, I usually introduce individual scholars in the context of the historical period when they first entered the intellectual or academic field. If I were engaged in an explanation rather than a presentation of their work, I would also discuss their social and psychic background before they entered the sociological field, since, pace Pierre Bourdieu, the professional field is not the only field "with which and against which one has been formed" (2007: 4). Second, this periodization is not meant to suggest any necessary or direct connection between science and imperial politics, each of which is usually able to remain relatively in de pen dent of the other. Indeed, patterns of sociological attentiveness to questions of colonialism and empire have often been extremely in de pen dent of ongoing geopolitics. For example, German sociologists became more, not less, interested in colonialism after World War I, even though Germany had lost its colonies and stood little chance of regaining them (Steinmetz 2009b). Nonetheless, ongoing imperial events do often shape intellectual thinking about empire.

Some of the most original sociological contributors to the study of empires and colonialisms include Ludwig Gumplowicz, Friedrich Ratzel, Gabriel Tarde, J. A. Hobson, Max and Alfred Weber, Maurice Leenhardt, René Maunier, Carl Schmitt, Paul Mus, Roger Bastide, Jacques Berque, Albert Memmi, Georges Balandier, Paul Mercier, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Michael Mann. It is their contributions that I emphasize here, rather than the work of the many sociologists involved in practical imperial policymaking or anti-colonial activism.


Who counts as a sociologist? Any disciplinary history must offer a working definition of the discipline in question. The extant research presents a spectrum of minimalist and maximalist definitional strategies. At one extreme, a discipline like sociology is defined as including anyone who defines himself or herself as a sociologist or who conducts research or teaches on topics he or she designates as "sociological." This approach has the drawback of willfully ignoring the social processes of boundary creation that are emphasized in all social theories and that are especially prominent in intellectual and scientific life (Bourdieu 1993a; Luhmann 1995: 28–31). Equally problematic, I think, are studies that count as a sociologist anyone who publishes in a predefined list of sociological journals or uses the word or the language of sociology in their publication titles (Fleck 2007: 189; Hardin 1977). This approach begs the methodological question of determining which journals count as sociological and how these journals are hierarchically arranged—questions that are stakes in the sociology field itself. This approach ignores the complexities of interactions across disciplines rather than directly thematizing and theorizing these interactions (Bourdieu 1991b; Steinmetz 2011b).

A third approach counts as a sociologist only those with a doctorate or advanced degree in sociology or holding a professorship or research position in the field. This approach might seem more realistic, since, as Bourdieu (1996a: 226) notes, "one of the most characteristic properties of a field is the degree to which its dynamic limits ... are converted into a juridical frontier, protected by a right of entry, which is explicitly codified, such as the possession of scholarly titles, success in competition, etc., or by measures of exclusion and discrimination, such as laws intended to assure a numerus clauses." But scientific and academic fields vary historically and geographically in their divisions and degree of specialization and codification. A strict definition based on "juridical frontiers" would imply that before the 1960s sociology existed only in the United States, where it "became a university and college supported discipline much earlier and to a much greater extent ... than it did elsewhere" (Morgan 1970: 170) and where there were already about a thousand sociology professors in the interwar period (Walther 1927: 1). The only sociology post in a British university before 1945 was at the London School of Economics, however, and before 1961 "there were chairs of sociology in only five universities" (Platt 2002: 181). In France and Germany, two of the three countries—along with the United States—in which sociology is usually seen as having first emerged as an intellectual and academic discipline, there were no advanced sociology degrees until the last third of the twentieth century. In France there were only four sociology professorships in 1952 (Clark 1973: 33). In Germany there were fewer than fifty full-time or part-time sociology professors before 1933, even if we include teachers in the technical, commercial, labor union, women's, and "people's" colleges (Frauenhochschulen and Volkshochschulen; Fleck 2007; Lepsius 1983). Many of the founders of sociological associations and journals never held university positions in sociology. Max Weber obtained a professorship with "Soziologie" in its title only at the very end of his life, but he was widely acknowledged as a sociologist during his own lifetime and was seen as the discipline's most important figure by German sociologists during the Weimar Republic. Pierre Bourdieu, who was recognized in a survey of British sociologists in 2001 as one of the ten most important sociologists of the twentieth century (Halsey 2004: 171), earned an agrégation in philosophy at the École normale supérieure but never wrote a doctoral thesis (Lane 2000: 9; Lescourret 2009) and never studied sociology while a student. Indeed, most of the great French sociologists of the mid-twentieth century earned an agrégation in philosophy but not a sociology degree. Treatments of the history of sociology by American sociologists before 1945 focused on European, especially French and German, thinkers, as evidenced by Eubank's project on the "makers" of sociology and by overviews by Albion Small (1923–1924) and Harry Barnes and Howard Becker (1938). It would be a definitional absurdity if none of the founders or masters of sociology counted as sociologists.

What these examples illustrate is that there is no formal or deductive methodological rule that can adequately define membership in an academic field. Pierre Bourdieu's theory of semiautonomous fields offers a preferable solution to the problem (Bourdieu 1993b). As with any other kind of field, a scientific or academic discipline can best be understood through a historical reconstruction of its genesis, starting with its founders or nomothets—the founders of the scientific nomos (Bourdieu 1996a)—and tracing it forward. There is a constant process of genealogical reconstruction through which new figures are recognized and included by subsequent generations as disciplinary members or founders while others are expunged from the field's history or forgotten. Scientific genealogies and canons are therefore constantly being revised. Decisions on inclusion in and exclusion from the field can be discerned only by reconstructing the judgments of acknowledged members of a field at any given moment. These "acknowledged members" will usually be direct "descendents" of the field's nomothets. Reconstructing the horizon of recognition and nonrecognition according to contemporary actors' own understandings of the situation is the only realistic criterion for determining who actually belongs to a specific sociological field, in order to avoid anachronistic oversights or inclusions. These considerations suggest that a discipline cannot be defined according to a priori definitions, strict academic credentials, precise institutional affiliations, or some arbitrary chronological cutoff point.

Excerpted from SOCIOLOGY & EMPIRE by George Steinmetz. Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface / George Steinmetz ix

1. Major Contributions to Sociological Theory and Research on Empire, 1830s–Present / George Steinmetz 1

Part I. National Sociological Fields and The Study of Empire

2. Russian Sociology in Imperial Context / Alexander Semyonov, Marina Mogilner, and Ilya Gerasimov 53

3. Sociology's Imperial Unconscious: The Emergence of American Sociology in the Context of Empire / Julian Go 83

4. Empire for the Poor: Imperial Dreams and the Quest for an Italian Sociology, 1870s–1950s / Marco Santoro 106

5. German Sociology and Empire: From Internal Colonization to Overseas Colonization and Back Again / Andrew Zimmerman 166

6. The Durkheimian School and Colonialism: Exploring the Constitutive Paradox / Fuyuki Kurasawa 188

Part II. Current Sociological Theories of Empire

7. The Recent Intensification of American Economic and Military Imperialism: Are They Connected? / Michael Mann 213

8. The Empire's New Laws: Terrorism and the New Security Empire after 9/11 / Kim Lane Scheppele 245

9. Empires and Nations: Convergence or Divergence? / Krishan Kumar 279

10. The New Surgical Imperialism: China, Africa, and Oil / Albert J. Bergesen 300

Part III. Historical Studies of Colonialism and Empire

11. Nation and Empire in the French Context / Emmanuelle Saada 321

12. Empire and Development in Colonial India / Chandan Gowda 340

13. Building the Cities of Empire: Urban Planning in the Colonial Cities of Italy's Fascist Empire / Besnik Pula 366

14. Japanese Colonial Structure in Korea in Comparative Perspective / Ou-Byung Chae 396

15. Native Policy and Colonial State Formation in Pondicherry (India) and Vietnam: Recasting Ethnic Relations, 1870s–1920s / Anne Raffin 415

16. The Constitution of State/Space and the Limits of "Autonomy" in South Africa and Palestine/Israel / Andy Clarno 436

17. Resistance and the Contradictory Rationalities of State Formation in British Malaya and the American Philippines / Daniel P. S. Goh 465

Conclusion. Understanding Empire / Raewyn Connell 489

Bibliography 499

List of Contributors 575


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