Cora Stuhrmann (München): "Mutual Incomprehension and Red Herrings"

Strategies of Disciplinary Competition in the Sociobiology Debate

07.06.2018 16:00 Uhr – 18:00 Uhr

wann: Donnerstag, 07. Juni 2018, 16-18 Uhr

wo: Historicum, Schellingstr. 12, Raum 402

Vortrag im Rahmen des Oberseminars "Perspektiven der Wissenschaftsgeschichte"

Much has been written about how Sociobiology pitted two camps of biologists against each other on moral, political and scientific grounds in 1975: The Sociobiologists, led by E.O. Wilson, hoped to build a new discipline and encountered vocal critics, many like Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould with a Marxist background, attacking them as genetic determinists and naive reductionists. This conflict within biology, as well as the accompanying media coverage, has drawn most of the attention and the controversy surrounding Sociobiology is still commonly seen as a mere expression of the political tensions of the 1970s.

However, this exchange is only the beginning of a much broader academic debate that continued into the 1980s and even 1990s. Wilson’s book questioned the validity of existing disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, the controversy should not only be seen as the result of a political conflict, but also as a competition between disciplines about where the borders of their territories are to be drawn.

It is almost impossible to keep track of the flurry of publications regarding Sociobiology: the edited volumes, conference proceedings, monographs, and articles fill tens of thousands of pages. By tracing these publications and their reception in reviews, we can ascertain different strategies of disciplinary competition.