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Sociology’s Legacy as Social Physics

Florence Chiew

Wednesday 16 May 2018, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Florence Chiew, Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia

SATSU Lecture

It is not unusual to locate the beginnings of sociology in Auguste Comte’s writings on positivism. It is less well known that the first name Comte conceived for the discipline was ‘social physics’. As part of a larger book project, this talk returns to an earlier and arguably unpopular figure like Comte to try to open up, rather than reject, what most deeply defines his positivist outlook in relation to contemporary scholarship. Although no one wants to be a positivist today,  Florence argues that the questions Comte persisted in asking are as relevant now as they were then. For instance, how do ideas evolve over time? What are the consequences of increasing disciplinary specialization? How to think the relation between science and religion? One of the main aims of this talk is to open up different paths into Comte’s writings, paths that may help us reanimate his forgotten place in a long and diverse genealogy of theories of knowledge and human self-understanding. In a theoretical scene that increasingly encourages and even privileges the novelty of the “turn” (e.g. in the various recent turns to affect, object, the nonhuman, new materialism, and so on), is there still room to read the “old” with the “new” and to mine for insights in texts and arguments we thought we left behind? How can we learn to read with an author, to view ambiguities and contradictions in their work not as mistakes to be corrected but occasions to develop conceptual creativity?

Florence Chiew is a sociologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Her research is based in social and sociological theory, feminist science studies and medical humanities. She is interested in questions of disciplinarity and methodology, and how different understandings of truth, value and evidence can be reconciled across the humanities and the sciences.

Location: Room W/222, Wentworth College

Admission: is by free ticket only. Please book below.


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