The Social Scientific Gaze: The Social Question and the Rise of Academic Social Science in Sweden, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Social Scientific Gaze

The Social Question and the Rise of Academic Social Science in Sweden, 1st Edition

By Per Wisselgren


286 pages

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Paperback: 9781138501942
pub: 2017-06-30
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Hardback: 9781472447593
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The social sciences have, ever since they were first established as academic disciplines, played a foundational role in most spheres of modern society - in policy-making, education, the media and public debate - and hence also, indirectly, for our self-understanding as social beings. The Social Scientific Gaze examines the discursive formation of academic social science in the historical context of the 'social question', that is, the protracted and wide-ranging discussions on the social problems of modernity that were being debated with increased intensity during the nineteenth century. Empirically, the study focuses on the Lorén Foundation, a combined private funding agency and early research institute, which was set up in 1885 to promote the rise of Swedish social science and to investigate the social question. Comprising an heuristic case, the close analysis of the Foundation makes it possible not only to reconstruct its basic ideas and practices, but also to situate its activities in broader historical and sociological context. The Social Scientific Gaze argues that the rise of Swedish social science may be seen not only as an 'answer' to the social 'question', but also as one attempt alongside others - including contemporary social literature, the philantropic reform movement, and the introduction of modern social policy - to conceptualize, mobilize and regulate the social sphere. In this process it is furthermore shown how an ambigious yet distinct 'social scientific gaze' was discursively articulated.


'Wisselgren does an outstanding job of explaining who the participants were, the role of literature, the details of the decision-making process and finances of the foundation. He reveals the complexity of a series of events that might pass unnoticed, and recaptures the motives and actions of people who were not important social scientists, but who were the enthusiasts for social science that made possible social science as an institutional fact.' - Professor Stephen Turner in the latest issue of Serendipities: Journal for the Sociology and History of the Social Sciences

'Per Wisselgren has written a remarkable account of an extraordinary series of events in the period of pre-academic reformist social science.' – Serendipity: Journal for the Sociology and History of the Social Sciences

'Abroad, Sweden's welfare state system is as famous as the four letter furniture store. Fewer people are familiar with the socio-historical background of the first. Per Wisselgren's book offers a detailed portrait of the debates on the 19th century social question and the rise of the social sciences which lead to the model welfare system.' – Christian Fleck, University of Graz, Austria

‘As a study in the sociology of knowledge, this is an exemplary book. It is deeply theoretical, richly empirical, and engagingly written.’ – Annulla Linders, Contemporary Sociology

Table of Contents

Introduction: The testament

1. The social question: Arenas, actors, articulations

2. The international context: research and reform in Germany and Britain

3. Viktor Lorén: An unremarked intellectual

4. The board: A network and its thought style

5. Library and lectures: A social geography of knowledge

6. Surveying the social: With letters and numbers

7. The rise of academic social science: Wicksell, Steffen, Cassel

8. The social scientific gaze: Between the social question and the rise of academic social science

9. Appendix: The Lorén Foundation's series of publications, 1890-1899

About the Author

Per Wisselgren is Associate Professor of Sociology, with a PhD in History of Science and Ideas, at Umeå University in Sweden. Previous books include Social Science in Context: Historical, Sociological and Global Perspectives (co-edited, 2013), Couples in Science and Politics: Intellectual Marriages in Modernity (co-edited in Swedish, 2011), and History of Participatory Media: Politics and Publics, 1750-2000 (co-edited, 2011).

About the Series

Public Intellectuals and the Sociology of Knowledge

Public Intellectuals and the Sociology of Knowledge
The sociology of knowledge has a long and distinctive history. Its function has always been that of attempting to bridge the aspirations of the discursive and institutional founding fathers of sociology with that of modern attempts to define the discipline through the study of the emergence, role and social function of ideas. However, since Mannheim first outlined his program in the 1920s, the sociology of knowledge has undergone many changes. The field has become extremely differentiated and some of its best practitioners now sail under different flags and discuss their work under different headings. This new series charts the progress that has been made in recent times - despite the different labels. Be it intellectual history Cambridge-style, the new sociology of ideas which is now gaining strength in North America, or the more European cultural analysis which is associated with the name of Bourdieu, this series aims at being inclusive while simultaneously striving for sociological insight and excellence. All too often modern attempts in the sociology of knowledge, broadly conceived, have only looked at form while they downplayed or disregarded content, substance of argument or meaning. This series will help to rectify this.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Social History
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General