File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9804, message 20

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 09:54:15 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Whiggish history

On Tue, 7 Apr 1998, Carsten Sestoft wrote:

> The term "Whig (or Whiggish) history" has its origin in Herbert
> Butterfield's book The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) which I
> haven't read, but as far as I know the term was used by Butterfield as
> meaning the history written by the historical "winners" (in this case the
> Whigs over the Tories) who presumably wrote history in a teleological way,
> with themselves as the telos. Later (with Kuhn?) the term has been widely
> used in (Anglo-American) history of science where it designates the kind of
> history which presents the history of science as the progress towards
> scientific truth. 

	Yes. Whiggish history is also related to "presentist" histories 
by some of the new historians as well, i.e., to those histories that view 
the past solely in terms of the present.

As far as I understand it, this debate is a very
> complicated one, although it has been greatly simplified by the two
> antagonistic positions, on the one hand the historians of science primarily
> trained as scientists, on the other the postmoderns primarily trained in
> some sort of humanities disguised as social science.
	While not seeking to defend uncritical, Whiggish histories, I 
wanted to suggest that the postmoderns are in danger of writing Tory 
histories or, more generally, adopting a kind of "Tory" (conservative) 
stance in the sciences.
	In general the critique of Whiggish history, of presentism, etc. 
represents a decided advance over those histories that portrayed science
as an inevitable, logical progession towards truth. On the other hand,
such criticisms go too far when they portray the history of science as
merely one of opposing paradigms or viewpoints that succeed only because 
of the greater social force of their proponents.
	Bourdieu comments on the new social studies of science, and
particularly on the 'strong programme' of Bloor, in his tribute to Merton
in "Animadversiones in Mertonem" _Robert K. Merton: Consensus and
Controversy_ ed. J. Clark, C. Modgil, S. Modgil, London 1990. 
	There's some great lines....
	"If, obeying the principle of reflexivity that they themselves
invoke, the proponents of the 'strong programme' took the trouble to turn
the gaze of the sociology of science upon their own practice, they would
immediately recognize in the falsely revoltuionary 'breaks' that they
effect the most common form of strategy of subversion through which new
entrants seek to assert themselves against their predecessors and which,
because they are well suited to seduce the lovers of novelty, constitute a
good means of realizing at little cost an initial accumulation of symbolic

	George Free		Toronto, Canada



Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005