Sociologie des intellectuels et de l'expertise: savoir et pouvoir
« Ideas in Exile: Refugees from Nazi Germany and the Failure to Transplant Historical Sociology into the United States », un article de George Steinmetz

George Steinmetz, « Ideas in Exile: Refugees from Nazi Germany and the Failure to Transplant Historical Sociology into the United States », International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, vol. 23, n°1, p.1-27, 2010.


This paper examines the reasons for the variable incidence and differing forms of historical sociology in several different historical periods, with a focus on Germany and the USA. It examines the flows of social scientists between those two countries due to forced exile from Nazi Germany, the American military occupation after 1945, and the voluntary exchange of scholars. The article focuses on extrascientific determinants such as political support for historical scholarship and macrosocial crisis or stability, as well as determinants that are more proximate or internal to the scientific field, such as the ongoing struggle between different epistemologies and the ability of historical sociology to sequester itself into a protected subfield. Historical sociology was one of the two poles of German sociology before 1933, whereas historical sociology had only a handful of proponents in the USA at that time. After 1933, the majority of German historical sociologists went into exile, most of them to the USA. For reasons explored here, the historical orientation of these exiled intellectuals had little resonance in the USA until the 1970s. Rather than being epistemologically “domesticated” in the 1980s, as Calhoun (1996) argued, historical sociology established itself as a subfield that is large enough to produce an internal polarization between an autonomous pole that relates mainly to history and other external allies and a heteronomous pole that mimics the protocols that dominate the sociological discipline as a whole, including a neopositivist epistemology of “covering laws” and at attraction to rational choice theory and quantitative methods, or qualitative simulacra of multivariate statistical analysis. In Germany, historical sociology failed to survive the Nazi period. Several leading Weimar-era historical sociologists stayed in Germany after 1933 but were unable to reestablish their prominence either because of their Nazi collaboration or because their work was dismissed by a new generation trained during the Nazi period for presentist, policy-oriented, “American-style”, or else trained in the USA after the war. The handful of exiled historical sociologists who returned to Germany after 1945 were marginalized, stopped working historically, or moved into other disciplines like Political Science. The explanation of these trends has to be multicausal and conjunctural. The influx of historical sociologists to the USA from Germany was unable to produce a historicization of the discipline until 1970s, when positivist hegemony was challenged for other reasons. The crisis of Fordism undermined the social regularities that had made positivist “constant conjunctions” seem plausible and at the same time rendered historicist ontologies more plausible. The neo-Marxist historical sociology gave rise to a neo-institutionalist counter-trend, which was itself eventually countered by a culturalist and conjuncturalist turn (Adams et al. 2005). In Germany, however, the society-wide destabilization of Fordism did not lead to a historicization of sociology. The extinguishing of the Weimar-era historical school in sociology meant that only high theory and “American-style” empirical social research remained as vital options. As a result, the crisis of Fordism and the ensuing social discontinuities and complexities did not give rise to historical sociology but were felt mainly within theory (e.g., the “risk society” theory of Ulrich Beck).