To plan intelligently for the future we need to pay attention to the past. So what happens when social scientists and historians meet, talk, and share ideas? This was the big question at this year’s Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) workshop “Relating Pasts and Presents: History of Science and Social Science,” held on September 26–28, 2018 in partnership with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin. Delivered by historians of science from the MPIWG—including director Jürgen Renn—and social scientists funded by the ISRF, the workshop took the format of short research presentations, thematic discussions, dialogues across disciplines, and participants’ creative responses.
Historians of science and knowledge and social scientists share a critical view of knowledge, while historians insist that what counts as knowledge and how it is produced and exercised, has been different at different times. Among social scientists, the anthropologist will remind us that this difference exists, too, in different places and cultures, while the critically-minded political scientist will point to the effects of power on forms of knowing. All this, as the philosopher of science will suggest, entails that it will be different again in the future. What follows for the critical social scientist, generically, is that manifestly it needs to be constantly under review in the present; reflexivity is part of social science’s methodology. The ISRF workshop facilitated a wider discussion of these ideas by exploring how a sensibility to the history of knowledge might inspire thinking in social science, and on the other hand how critical approaches in social science might speak to the historian.
The workshop finished with a discussion panel between Louise Braddock (ISRF), Rachael Kiddey (ISRF), Hansjakob Ziemer (MPIWG), and Ohad Parnes (MPIWG), on outcomes and future work. Through the event, the MPIWG and ISRF built a new friendship for future interdisciplinary collaboration, raising the prospect of sharing methodologies, widening our respective audiences, and further developing the cross-cultural encounters so beneficial to producing rigorous research.