Some Additional Knowledge Conditions for Sociology

G. Wickham, Harry Freemantle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


If the conventional position that sociology emerged in the 19th century is accepted, then two 18th- and/or 19th-century rationalist knowledge conditions - 'positivism gives way to theory' and 'the centrality of modern rational philosophy' - can be accepted as the conventional knowledge conditions for the discipline's emergence. While acknowledging that this conventional position and these two conventional knowledge conditions form an important part of the story of sociology, this article argues that they should not be accepted as the whole story, or even as the most important part of it. The article presents two counter-arguments by way of a challenge to convention. The two arguments focus On the history of sociology's principal object, 'the social'. One contends that the social actually emerged in the early modern era, not in the 19th century, and that, therefore, the discipline has its most significant roots in the period 1550-1700, especially in the work of thinkers more attuned to voluntarist factors. The second argument contends that sociology was only able to blossom as a discipline when the social achieved a significant level of autonomy from the three forces responsible for its emergence - politics, law and the state - something that did not happen until the late 19th century. Oil the back of these two arguments, the article develops a further argument: that sociology needs to extend its list of standard knowledge factors beyond the conventional two. This argument has it that while these two accurately reflect some important 18th- and 19th-century developments, they need to be supplemented by conditions that allowed the social to make the journey from the early, modern era to the later era. The article then goes on to consider four different technologies for 'seeing socially' - perspective, the microscope, the camera obscura and ballooning - as additional knowledge conditions for sociology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)922-939
JournalCurrent Sociology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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