Sociology and Pragmatism: Renewing the Conversation

June 2017

In the early years of the 20th century, sociology and the intellectual tradition of American pragmatism—the philosophical perspective developed by Charles S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead—were enmeshed in a productive and mutually beneficial conversation. Pioneering sociologists at the University of Chicago, Columbia, and elsewhere turned to pragmatism for insights into human nature, the aims of knowledge, and understandings of the social good. At the same time, Dewey and his students sought to reconstruct philosophy by considering its broader purpose and the social conditions that shape it. Today, the sociological side of this conversation is being taken up anew. Faced with serious intellectual challenges, leading sociologists across North America and globally are again looking to pragmatism in the hope that it can provide philosophical guidance for their research. This advanced seminar builds on a very successful one-day event held in AY 2015‒2016, bringing together most of the key figures in this effort. The goal of the program is to produce an edited volume that consolidates the many theoretical and methodological gains these scholars have leveraged independently. Such a volume would greatly enrich sociology’s ability to move forward, bringing much needed intellectual coherence—without the straightjacket of paradigmicity—to a field that revels in diversity and pluralism.