What Use is Sociology
What Use is Sociology
What is sociology?
Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Keith Tester Looking back at your own sociological trajectory, your work was initially inspired by Polish sociology in the 1950s and 1960s and after that your immediate sociological environment has been British sociology. How would you – in hindsight – say that these diverse sources of inspiration – Polish and British sociology – have inspired and shaped your own thinking?
Zygmunt Bauman 'Looking back', as you've asked me to, I can hardly spot a watershed or a violent clash of 'sources of inspiration'. Taking off from Poland, I was already set on my sociological travels and landing in Britain did not cause anything like a significant shift in my itinerary. Separated from Poland by a linguistic barrier, 'Polish sociology' seemed a different universe, but please remember that the barrier was one-sided: English was then the 'official' language in sociology's realm and sociologists in Poland read the same books and followed the same caprices of fashion and meanders of interests as their workmates on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Besides, British sociology in the early 1970s was not exactly in the forefront of the worldwide trends, and for a newcomer from the University of Warsaw there was not much to catch onto; indeed, the discoveries made in those years in the British Isles were, in almost every respect, old and sometimes even outdated stuff around the Vistula. Most of the excitements through which my British colleagues were to go in my presence (such as the discoveries of Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, 'culturology', hermeneutics, the nonentity of 'structural functionalism' and the greatness of structuralism, etc.) I had already gone through in the company of my Polish colleagues well before landing in Britain. To cut a long story short, my first decade in Britain might have been full of sound and fury, for quite a few reasons (and indeed it was, as I confessed to Keith Tester quite a long while ago), but however, that signified pretty little for my vision of the sociological vocation.
You have always defined sociology as a 'conversation with human experience'. This raises two questions. First of all, what do you mean by 'human experience'?
I mean both Erfahrungen and Erlebnisse : the two different phenomena generated at the person/world interface, which Germans distinguish and set apart yet English speakers, due to the lack of distinct names, usually blend in one notion of 'experience'. Erfahrung is what happens to me when interacting with the world; Erlebnis is 'what I live through ' in the course of that encounter – the joint product of my perception of the happening(s) and my effort to absorb it and render it intelligible. Erfahrung can, and does, make a bid for the status of objectivity (supra – or interpersonality), whereas Erlebnis is evidently and overtly, explicitly subjective; and so, with a modicum of simplification, we may translate these concepts into English as, respectively, objective and subjective aspects of experience; or, adding a pinch of interpretation, actor-unprocessed and actor-processed experience. The first may be presented as a report from the world external to the actor; the second, coming from the actor's 'inside' and concerning private thoughts, impressions and emotions, may only be available in the form of an actor's report. In reports of the first category we hear of interpersonally testable events called 'facts'; the contents of the second kind of reports are not testable interpersonally – beliefs as reported by the actor are, so to speak, the ultimate (and only) &lsqu