Il rapporto tra storia e scienze sociali è la marca distintiva di «Meridiana». Per questa ragione abbiamo deciso di farne il tema centrale del numero 100 della rivista, nella convinzione tuttavia che esso stia acquisendo una nuova rilevanza, soprattutto se declinato in termini di interdisciplinarietà. Il fascicolo propone quindi un ricco itinerario di temi e problemi. Il percorso prende avvio con una riflessione sul rapporto tra natura e società, richiamando il dibattito sull’Antropocene e il dialogo con altre conoscenze disciplinari. In particolare sono messe a fuoco le relazioni tra scienze naturali e scienze sociali, sottolineando la crescente necessità di assegnare a queste ultime un ruolo più centrale nelle questioni relative all’ambiente. In un altro contributo si mostra come le scienze sociali siano state meno «coraggiose» di quelle naturali, non riuscendo a cogliere e a prendere sul serio l’importanza delle scoperte della fisica quantistica. Da queste analisi emerge la preoccupazione di recuperare la dimensione applicativa del sapere delle scienze sociali, la loro capacità di presidiare il senso comune e di prendersi cura del reale.
L’attenzione si sposta poi sul dibattito sull’eurocentrismo e la «provincializzazione dell’Europa». Il punto di vista storiografico è messo qui a confronto con la prospettiva degli studi postcoloniali, a una parte importante dei quali viene rimproverato un orientamento destoricizzato e decontestualizzato. Si evidenzia in questo caso un difetto di comunicazione e integrazione tra discipline diverse. Un esempio ben riuscito di pratica interdisciplinare riguarda invece lo studio dei processi di costruzione sociale del male, affrontato prendendo in esame le rappresentazioni simboliche tipizzate che alimentano l’immaginario sociale e si diffondono con successo nella sfera pubblica. Un’altra lettura interdisciplinare è relativa alla riscoperta del pensiero utopico da parte delle scienze sociali. L’utopia può essere un potente antidoto contro il «principio rassegnazione», evocando l’importanza del futuro come progetto individuale e collettivo. Viene poi problematizzata la crisi della democrazia, contestualizzando il ruolo politico dello Stato e la questione dei differenziali di potere tra governanti e governati. Spostandoci sul versante del funzionamento dell’economia, è proposta una critica dell’idea di homo economicus, soprattutto del fatto che gli economisti la difendano senza troppo curarsi dei danni sociali che produce. Successivamente l’attenzione è rivolta ai processi di mutamento sociale, indagati attraverso l’analisi dei reticoli sociali e gli strumenti messi a punto dalla microstoria e dalla storia orale. Un altro contributo si sofferma sull’approccio biografico, considerato come prospettiva teorica e metodologica per studiare il mutamento politico. E un altro ancora approfondisce la sociologia di Norbert Elias.
Come rivelano nel complesso i saggi di questo numero, la ricerca interdisciplinare richiede capacità di apertura e di dialogo. Non si tratta di annullare i confini delle discipline, quanto di creare condizioni e possibilità che ne consentano un superamento o, quantomeno, un attraversamento, incentivando pratiche conoscitive orientate alla contaminazione dei saperi. È quello che da sempre cerca di fare «Meridiana».
In copertina: dettaglio Rooms by the Sea di Edward Hopper.
Tra storia e scienze sociali: ponti, porte e finestre
The relationship between history and social sciences, which has always been central to «Meridiana», is acquiring a new relevance, especially if it is declined by addressing the question of interdisciplinarity. This introductory essay proposes an itinerary of themes and problems, which focuses attention on the relationships between different disciplinary fields. The main topics discussed are: the connection between particular and general, the different levels of scale, the problem of the explanation, the study of social change, the different regimes of temporality, the public and applied dimension of historical and social research. In conclusion, the conditions that make interdisciplinary research practices possible are problematized. To this end, the «bridges» are certainly needed, but the «doors» are even more useful, allowing for more fruitful cooperation between different kinds of knowledge.
Keywords: History and social sciences; Temporality; Public and applied research; Interdisciplinarity.
Natura e società: una sfida per gli storici
Over the last two decades, reflections on the Anthropocene as a new opportunity to redefine the organization of knowledge in the face of the changing human capacity to intervene on the mechanisms that regulate the functioning of the entire planet, have been configured as one of the major scientific and political questions of our time. There is no doubt, in fact, that studies on the Anthropocene have the merit of having opened a new season of discussions on the relationship between hard sciences and humanities and social sciences and on the urgency of recognizing greater centrality to the latter. These notes aim to briefly depict how a particular historiographical address – the environmental history – has grasped the challenges not only scientific, but also political and social launched in the context of this debate, drawing an original path capable of responding to the needs of a greater dialogue between the sciences on which the new international and national programs for research are based with increasing insistence. It will also be seen how the transdisciplinary commitment of this historical field has enhanced its character as an instrument of knowledge and interpretation of the complexity of the present, at the same time strengthening the critical function which is proper to historiographic practice. But before addressing these aspects, some hints at the origins of this reflection are introduced.
Keywords: Anthropocene; Transdisciplinarity; Environmental history.
The article reflects on the epistemological conformism of critical and militant anthropology, which seems to oppose the system of (political and economic) power while confirming a reductionist conception of scientific knowledge. While theoretical physics, over the twentieth century, has moved away from naive materialism (precisely in the name of a conscious empiricism), a certain engagé conception of social science has willingly accepted economic determinism or materialist realism. The essay seeks to place at the centre of anthropological theory an empiriocritical conception of reality, which goes beyond dualism by recovering Gregory Bateson’s reflection on «Mind» and the truly relational conception of knowledge: we only know what we relate to and, as both quantum physics and ethnopsychiatry maintain, what we can know is only the nature of that relationship. The general aim of the essay is to recover the line of social thought which, from Franz Boas to Joseph Henrich, has sought to represent the human being beyond dualisms, that is, without reducing the human being to his «spirit» or his «flesh», but also without pre-emptively removing any biological or symbolic determination in their lives.
Keywords: Reductionism; Dualism; Anthropology; Theoretical physics.
This article deals with the interdisciplinarity through the lens of the critique of Eurocentrism, around which in the last decades, also thanks to the global turn, a lively debate has developed involving different scholars of various backgrounds and geographical origins. Focusing on postcolonial studies, starting from Edward Said’s well-known book Orientalism (1978), the author highlights that the attack on Eurocentrism has been associated with the questioning of the same tree of Western knowledge and its branching into disciplines. Attentive to the reconstruction of the centuries of the early modern age (XV-XVIII), the article shows how the analysis of Eurocentrism within postcolonial studies, especially in some recent developments, has been accompanied by a marginalization of the historical perspective. The risk is to flatten the history of Europe and the West in a reconstruction in which everything seems the same in space and time: a world in which moments of fracture (many and strong) and internal conflicts (bitter and continue), are sacrificed in the name of the idea of a compact civilization.
Keywords: Eurocentrism; Postcolonial studies; Early modern history.
Tra storia e scienze sociali: la costruzione sociale del male
This essay, working between history and social sciences, tries to define the essence of those collective figures that represent evil: from witches to Assassins, from Thugs to mafiosi and terrorists. These are changing figures that move in the collective imagination and drag with them the narratives of evil symbolically characterized and, so to speak, condensed through a process, often politically characterized, aimed at the production of social types. They are therefore what we might call «typified symbolic configurations». The social sciences, however, do not seem to have offered interpretative models suitable for conceptualizing them. Therefore, to understand their nature, it may be useful to turn to history and go back to those processes of identification and repression that have configured them; and also, to the transformations undergone over time through which it is possible to follow their often tumultuous evolution.
Keywords: Figures of evil; Crime; Stereotypes; Symbolic configurations.
This historiographical essay reflects on the recovery of the theme of utopia in the social sciences, examining the basic characteristics and some of the most significant trends that have emerged in recent years in the wake of the debate on Public Sociology and the transformation that has affected the production of imagery in digital societies. The 21st century, which seemed to have opened with Tocqueville’s conviction that great revolutions would become rare, i.e., under the sign of what Svetlana Boym called «a global epidemic of nostalgia», and Zygmunt Bauman named a tendency towards Retrotopia, has instead unexpectedly rediscovered the notion of utopias, in the plural, understood as processes and methods for conceiving alternatives to existing social institutions and structures. The hypothesis is that the social sciences, freed from the conditioning of the bitter debates on the link between utopia and totalitarianism, which have in part trapped the history of political thought, have ended up recovering the most genuine sense of Morean’s proposal.
Keywords: Resignation; Utopia; Social sciences; Political imagination.
The crisis of democracy is currently a much-debated topic. However, both the concept of crisis and that of democracy are much abused concepts, overloaded with political meanings and therefore very controversial. Hence, how can we investigate the condition of contemporary democratic regimes? One of the possible solutions is to have recourse to history, that is to reconstruct the long-term transformation of democratic institutions. This is what this article attempts to do. The fundamental points of reference will be drawn from the great lesson of Norbert Elias, a sociologist who has always maintained that sociology cannot do without history. For Elias, democracy arose historically as a technique for conducting conflicts peacefully, through elections and representative institutions. How has this technique developed historically over the last three centuries? A second hypothesis of Elias is that the peaceful condition of conflicts has led over time to a slow and progressive reduction of «power differentials» between rulers and ruled and between social strata. This article will argue that while power differentials have been reduced for a long time, for almost half a century this reduction has stopped, and power differentials have been growing again. Democracy provides for the peaceful conduct of conflicts, not their end. Someone wins and someone loses. In this historical moment, it is the elites who win and most of the population who lose.
Keywords: History; Crisis; Democracy; Elias.
The homo economicus hypothesis, which is central to much of economic theory, has been repeatedly criticised mainly because it is considered unrealistic. In this paper, recalling the results achieved by behavioural economics, it is observed that the hypothesis of self-regarding egoism, which characterises homo economicus, although disproved in many contexts, appears sufficiently realistic if referred to the behaviour of firms both in the markets and inside themselves, which is at the core of economic investigation. Starting from this evidence, the paper argues that it is not so much the lack of realism of such hypothesis that should be criticised as the conclusion to which many economists come that homo economicus does not prevent the achievement of economic and social results that are beneficial to all. This idea rests on a weak ground and, moreover, by justifying homo economicus, it favours its spread with damages both to the economy and the society. The critical contribution of other disciplines should be better focused on this rather than on the alleged unrealism of homo economicus.
Keywords: Homo economicus; Invisible hand; Social welfare.
The essay aims to analyse the relationship between history and social sciences through some specific focuses: the relationship between individuals and historical contexts, the dynamics of social transformations between micro and macro contexts, the researcher’s interaction with autobiographical sources, the paths of understanding and knowledge of the human experience between empathy and distance. Specific attention is paid to two particular moments: the seventies and eighties of the last century in which there was a close relationship between anthropology and history (items, questions, methodologies, field work, oral sources) and the period that goes from the nineties to the present day, during which the themes related to memory and the role of testimonies emerge.
Keywords: Anthropology and history; Oral history; Memory.
This article examines some theoretical and methodological perspectives that using biography may allow for exploring political change. The acknowledged interest of biographies of statesmen, which are an exception to the general disinvestment of political science from the use of biography, is to describe how the profiles of the governing actors have changed over time. Starting from the biographical research that the author has shared with Ahmed Benkirane, a witness of almost a century of Moroccan history who has discontinuously occupied governmental roles throughout his life, the focus will be shifted from the profiles of the governing actors to the continuous transformations of the boundaries of the government process beyond the institutions. This reflection raises issues that, although not specifically concerning biographies, seem relevant for thinking about the relationship between history and the social sciences: the problems posed by the categories of analysis of individual behavior and by the definition of subjects as sources highlight the historical dimension of interpretative paradigms and lead us to take into account the relevance of the historicity of the research experience itself.
Keywords: Political change; Sources; Biography; Morocco.
The relationship between sociology and history is a long-standing issue. During the development of the two disciplines, periods of greater closeness and mutual interest have alternated with ones in which the dialogue has become so weak to leave almost no trace. As for sociology, the main trends have removed the historical dimension of social phenomena in favour of modelling formulas, «retreated into the present» with some ambition to predict the future. Norbert Elias’ lesson goes in a completely different direction. He promotes a sociology that invites us to consider the variability of human experience and to trace the structural dynamics visible in it. Two guidelines can highlight the intrinsic historicity of Elias’s sociology: that of the insuppressible changefulness of human life – of movement marking any individual and collective experience; and that of the need to adopt the point of view of everyday life, that observes concrete human beings, as they live day by day in specific times and spaces. This article starts discussing the ways in which the boundaries between history and sociology have been drawn to highlight Norbert Elias’ definition of sociology and how it differs from «historical sociology». Then, it also deals with the analytical conceptual tools of «figurational sociology». Finally, it presents examples of some of the studies Elias conducted to provide possible empirical translations of the sociological use of history in his research, that is, of the inevitable presence of history in his sociological epistemology.
Keywords: Sociology and history; Figuration; Everyday life.
The contribution presented aims to develop a brief analysis on green jobs and the implications of the Green Transition on professional markets, not only in terms of socio-economic impact but also for future research on this issue. This argument develops from the analysis and review of the new book Vento Forte. Eolico e professioni della green economy, written by Ivano Scotti, who combines research traditions and diversified sociological approaches (from the sociology of professions to the Actor Network Theory) to the study of wind developers. At the dawn of the long-awaited ecological transition, also announced by the PNRR, the analyzed book provides a useful tool in understanding what is happening (and will happen) within the green revolution, particularly in the professional markets that are developing around the challenge of the energy transition. Furthermore, the reflections that emerge from Scotti’s text intersect other crucial themes and potential crossroads of interdisciplinary analysis: from the internal areas and dualisms of development to the governance of the green transition, up to the relationship between training and work in the green markets.
Keywords: Green jobs; Wind developer; Energy transition; Sustainability; Professions.
Failure in our society is a habitual experience. Nevertheless, it does not represent a self-evident quality in human plans, but it is a political and cultural judgment. They are conceived of it Arjun Appadurai and Neta Alexander, which in Failure, their last work, try to show the ways by which failure as a cultural fact is naturalized in our society. In particular, they are interested in the two representative cultural systems of capitalism in the digital age: the Silicon Valley and Wall Street. By examining experiences of financial and technological failures, such as debt, disconnection, and technological gaps, the authors try to understand why these moments are internalized by individuals in order to attribute them to themselves than to Silicon Valley or Wall Street, or in general to economical, political and cultural systems. To answer this question, Appadurai and Alexander build a theory of habitual and strategic failure, according to which global era capitalism produces and monetizes the experience of failure by building a machine of broken promises aimed at denying and discussing the existence of failure.
Keywords: Promise; Regimes of failure; Innovation; Risk.