On Saturday, August 10, 2013, I will be giving a talk at the symposium of the History of Sociology section of the American Sociological Association. The symposium under the theme “Reenvisioning the History of Sociology” will take place at the New School in parallel with the ASA Annual Meeting. The title of my presentation is “The Axial Age and the Problems of the Twentieth Century: Du Bois, Jaspers, and Universal History.”
Here is the abstract of my talk:
The axial age debate has put big questions of social and cultural change back on the agenda of sociology. This paper takes this development as an occasion to reflect on how social thought works with (and against) nineteenth-century intellectual traditions in its efforts to understand history on a macro scale. Jaspers, who initially formulated the axial age thesis in The Origin and Goal of History, revised the Hegelian account of world history by broadening the scope of the narrative to encompass all civilizations participating in the events of the first millennium BCE that saw the rise of major philosophical and religious traditions. However, his account, like the earlier philosophical accounts he seeks to improve upon, privileges cognitive developments over material practices and social interactions, and as such offers little to those seeking to make sense of how cultural patterns interact with others and spread. Here another social theorist engaging with Hegel, W. E. B. Du Bois, provides a helpful contrast. His account of the development of double-consciousness in “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the opening chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, helps us to understand experiences of encounter and the perduring historical effects they may have. Du Bois reminds us of the importance of unpacking abstractions and understanding processes in terms of social interactions.
The program of the symposium and directions to the New School can be found here. If you’d like a copy of my paper, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.