Hermínio, you were for many years an intellectual exile, but you always followed intellectual thought and political life in Portugal closely. What are your thoughts on the consolidation of the social sciences in Portugal?
As an exile I not only followed Portugal’s situation with attention, bitterness, and anxiety, especially during the time of the colonial war, but at the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s I also in fact wrote various academic articles on modern Portugal. Some of these were published in British compendia and academic journals.
Partly as a result of the circumstances in which I found myself, as a university professor of sociology in the United Kingdom, at the time possibly the only Portuguese to be titular professor in any branch of the social sciences in that country (how different is the situation today!), those essays were very well received (I was lucky—and luck, as Popper always insisted, has much more to do with academic careers than academics would like to think). They were seen as pioneering works, both by the British academic research community and by various Portuguese intellectuals in exile at the time (a fair number of them doing doctorates in French, Belgian, and Swiss universities, very few in England), as I found out years later.
The essay on the Estado Novo and its origins was […] ‘the kick-starter’ for research work on the authoritarian regime […]. The study on social stratification […] is still mentioned today, but its neo-Weberian approach, the first such by any Portuguese on any topic, if I’m not mistaken, does not seem to have garnered much of a close following in Portugal in this field, where various forms of neo-Marxist and Bourdieusian approaches prevail, quite legitimately. The article on the opposition also continues to be cited and searched for. These three essays were finally republished in Portugal—some twenty-five years later!—in the book entitled Classe, Status e Podere Outros Ensaios sobre o Portugal Contemporâneo [Class, Status and Power, and Other Essays on Modern Portugal – Martins 1998] with another unpublished study written in 1970, when it was presented at an international conference organized by Juan Linz and Al Stepan, on the collapse of the First Republic […].
In any event, these articles were the only ones in the English-language academic literature on Portugal and continued to be so for a fair length of time. Their longevity, in terms of citations and readings, is of course gratifying to me: there are not that many articles in the social sciences which have a lifespan of three or four decades, within Portugal and without. The research I had to do, which was difficult because sources were few at that time, and the obvious restrictions on my access to whatever there was, not to mention the aim of ensuring maximum objectivity on such emotive issues, I saw as a civic duty (even though my Portuguese passport had been confiscated). That was much more important to me than any contribution to a professional CV.
In connection with the first essay I mentioned, Manuel de Lucena1 said he felt in it ‘the visceral hatred’ of dictatorship: an inference drawn from outside the actual text, in my opinion. It was following publication of that first essay that American researchers like the historian Douglas Wheeler and the political scientist Philippe Schmitter, whose contributions to Portuguese studies are well known today, got in touch and talked with me when they visited the UK. It should be recalled that American researchers, historians, political scientists, anthropologists, etc., who turned their attention to the study of modern Portugal at the end of the 60s, in general started by studying Africa and Latin America (mainly, but not exclusively Brazil) before devoting themselves to studying Portugal in the final years of the dictatorship. At that time Portugal was a kind of terra incognita in international academe, a situation which nobody today can probably imagine. [...]
Nevertheless, I admit that I had a single utopian vision of [the consolidation of the social sciences in Portugal over the last thirty years] which I allowed myself to dream of for a short time after the revolution of 25 April 1974. That vision was that some of the limitations of the division of academic work in social and cultural studies that I was familiar with first-hand in the UK and North America might be overcome in Portugal. I am referring here to hyper-specialization, to the lack of communication between disciplines or even sub-disciplines, and to the linguistic, cultural, and historical provincialism of the intellectual world of the social sciences (the lack of general historical culture among sociologists seemed to me to be even more shocking in the UK than in the US, at least as far as the more prestigious American universities are concerned). My utopian hopes were dashed: the defects attending the division of intellectual labour in the English-speaking social sciences were not only mimicked but reproduced with veritable and even exaggerated enthusiasm. How zealous Portuguese researchers turned out to be in their policing of cognitive, disciplinary, doctrinal, ideological, institutional, and corporate borders! Fortunately there are still some academics who are multidisciplinary, polyglot, and possessed of a general culture in the social sciences, and indeed are exceptionally cultured in historical terms, but many of these have reached retirement age or will be retiring in the next few years (although they will continue to be active and serve as good examples to future generations). Will this generation have successors to match them, with the same willingness to take on and create links between different disciplinary perspectives?
Given your in-depth knowledge of other countries, in particular the UK, how do you see social science institutions in Portugal, in comparative terms? […]
The few with which I am reasonably familiar seem to be comparable to those in other countries […]. One of the real tests of Portuguese academic social science’s innovative ability will be precisely how well and how positively it responds to emerging proposals and projects and which will transcend disciplinary limitations and move away from preselected foreign ‘labels’.
Note university administrators’ and other established authorities’ obsession with foreign working models (especially certain supposedly North American models). That obsession not only affects the indispensable financial support required for research work today, as if those models—or rather the very limited subset of those models which they consider to be the best—enjoyed exclusive and unquestioned normative superiority. They see internationalization from a very provincial, acritical, asymmetric, and bureaucratic point of view, in the worst sense of the term. Their insistence on being placed in the rankings of worldwide academic journals, based on obscure criteria, imitating the hard sciences in a servile and mechanical way, and other standards and rules which make little sense in most of the human and social sciences, is one of the worst things to have happened in recent years. For example, the Harvard bibliographical referencing system, designed for the hard sciences alone, has become practically compulsory in the social sciences, with no intellectual justification at all for that transfer, but with undesirable effects on knowledge. The harm it does is so obvious, the practice so indefensible, the absurdity of it so clear, that it becomes impossible to understand why people persist in such practices: is their continuation due merely to inertia? Or maybe the enjoyment of administrative power is its own justification….
The primary duty of administrators is to let us work in peace, with full intellectual freedom, and not to dictate what we should do, where we should publish, the length of research articles, authorial requirements, the language in which articles are published, or the spelling of the language in which they are written. That which we might call the ‘officialization of scientism’ and the dirigisme in relation to production of knowledge in the academy is one of the most surprising developments of recent decades in states which still call themselves liberal democracies, including Portugal, of course.
Any day now, if present trends in academic policy continue, they will insist that social science articles should consist of only a few pages, as happens in the hard sciences, and that, as with the hard sciences, they be signed not by one author alone, but by many, the more the merrier, like those articles signed by 160 ‘authors’ or more, or by a similar number, as occurs in certain branches of physics! Nobody cares about the attribution of epistemic responsibility in such cases, something which was once a key criterion. We live in an age which proclaims the sovereignty of the ‘absolute individual’, in which the supremacy of economic, political, moral, and religious individualism is asserted and methodological and ontological individualism tends to prevail among social scientists. But, at the same time, academic research work is being collectivized and even formally massified as never before, subject to rigid writing protocols, to unprecedented demands for uniformity, to the monopoly of a single language for international academic communication, teamwork is valued above all, and the research author as the attributable epistemic subject is giving way to the ‘author function’.
[On being asked about the main lines of theoretical and empirical development in the social sciences over recent decades, Martins offered a critical opinion on the tendencies he called ‘the frenzy of “article-ism”’ and ‘analyticism’.]
[...] In the unceasing race to produce articles, which are ever shorter, more specific, and limited—which we might call ‘the frenzy of “article-ism”’—exacerbated by the existential conditions in which research work is carried out today, [there is another] type of work2 that is not very appealing. It takes up a lot of time, demands great dedication, and, when it is done in a non-partisan way and is not used as a weapon in academic political infighting, to ‘shaft’ one’s enemies (which does happen), is a form of research altruism which has become almost entirely discredited and is perhaps even harmful to an author’s career. No doubt there are worthy exceptions [to their general disappearance], and we should be pleased to have them, but they are just that, exceptions.
[...] As Schumpeter said in his great book on the history of ‘economic analysis’, there can be no analysis, however sophisticated, exact, and precise it may be, without a view or vision of society as a whole. Even if that view is eclectic and confused, there has to be a vision which embodies a particular image of Man, or a particular overall conception of History, or a general conception of knowledge, of its sources, criteria, and limitations, underlying that analysis, even mathematical analysis (the increasing mathematization of economics was one of the topics of the book). That underlying view may be more or less consciously articulated by the author, but it has to be reconstructed by historians and critics. We may label the idea of research work as the production, almost exclusively, of what are regarded as ‘analyses’ and certainly the favouring of that kind of study over other types as ‘analyticism’. The result of this dominant and specious analyticism is that the visions underlying the analyses—and there is always an underlying vision in any analysis—are never properly articulated, outlined, and discussed. In other words, they are not subjected to a rational critique. The best way of clarifying, comparing, correcting, and perfecting the informal visions underlying the immense analytical efforts which are published is by making theories explicit. It is only by the consequential formulation of theories that we can defend or reject the overall worldviews which inform the research work set out in ‘analytical’ articles. It is precisely in this area that we have to identify a ‘theory deficit’ in the social sciences in Portugal: it is not so much that there are not any theoretical interests, or vast knowledge of theories or theoretical systems formulated outside Portugal, or even that theoretical developments internationally are not followed in Portugal, because they are, and often very swiftly, and even defended enthusiastically as the dernier cri. And Portuguese authors have in fact produced some remarkable studies on theory and on thinkers relevant to the social sciences: Portuguese sociologists have written excellent books on Althusser, Saussure, and G. H. Mead, for example, and communication studies researchers have produced fine studies on the Frankfurt School. Even so, many theoretical references operate as ornaments, or as pointers to an author’s belonging to a particular school (like a uniform), as badges of intellectual affinity, or simply as pointers to further reading, rather than as work tools, suggestions for further research, or sets of hypotheses to be tested or reviewed (except for theories which are restricted in scope to specific fields). Theories are not explicitly discussed, the demand is almost solely for ‘analytical’ articles: the end result is a kind of diffuse, ubiquitous, and eclectic crypto-dogmatism in the social sciences in Portugal, in which many theoretical prejudices, many widely used concepts, are left out of the discussion. Be that as it may, a country where conventional Marxist-Leninism and its heresies held such sway is not necessarily a country opposed to theory, at least when theory is presented as an overall world view and as an orthodoxy or orthopraxy….
But actually, instead of talking about a theory deficit, we should really be talking about a deficit of theorization. Very few dare to publish theoretical ideas which are not copied from theories formulated by recognized foreign authors. Worse than that, the few who do dare to do independent theoretical work are ignored (well, there are not so few of them, but they are isolated), or they are not recognized as thinkers, being condemned to remain invisible, at least as thinkers […]. The thinkers we have are far more often cited and commented on in Brazil than in Portugal. That is what has happened to me, and I could mention the names of several colleagues in the same position […].
Citing, commenting on, adopting (at any rate, generally speaking), and referencing theories produced internationally, almost exclusively in four countries (the UK, the US, Germany, France), because those from other countries hardly count, all right—you could even easily set up a theory-franchise in Portugal, based on one or other of those theories […].
In the fields of sociology, anthropology, political science, and probably in other areas, the major currents of international thinking are well known in Portugal, if not necessarily followed, and are professed as research programmes […]. But there are some curious exceptions, which should briefly be noted: they are exceptions not because those schools are unknown and admirably presented to students, at least by some lecturers, but because they do not seem to have dedicated and systematic practitioners, and none of those currents produced the shocks which occurred when they had their first impact on sociology in other national contexts. I will mention just four examples:
Ethnomethodology does not seem to have reached Portugal, although we should acknowledge that it has also not reached other Euro-Latin or Latin American countries. This is surprising, bearing in mind how they have been affected for years by cultural or countercultural ‘Californization’ in various ways, including the ideologies associated with the new information and communication technologies (Ernest Gellner regarded ethnomethodology as a Californian phenomenon, but in my opinion he exaggerated here). However, while I do not profess to be a follower of this school (nor of any others I will mention), we should acknowledge that it was an important current of thought, and its research into the deep structures of common sense represents a fundamental contribution to the social sciences: at the very least, a major challenge which cannot be refused. Its critique of normal sociology, especially that which is made up of survey after survey (‘surveys’ in the sense of survey research), because it is easy, rather than out of any well-founded methodological conviction, deserves consideration, even if it is not acceptable in full.
As for social phenomenology, which actually played a crucial role in the formation of ethnomethodology, the only studies on Schutz which I am aware of in Portugal were done by non-sociologists: it is incomprehensible that no-one has published an anthology of some of that writer’s essays, which are so illuminating and stimulating; moreover, he has been taken up very slowly in Latin countries […].
The programme normally called ‘rational choice theory’, which has practically become the dominant programme in North American political science, but has also had a major impact on sociology and, surprisingly, on the sociology of religion, on anthropology, even on economic anthropology and other disciplines, never achieved the central position in Portugal which it had until recently, at least in English-speaking countries, nor has it been discussed much […].
The research programme in sociobiology, now called ‘evolutionary psychology’, which is offered as a truly scientific programme (‘scientific’ in the sense of the hard sciences, according to them), against what its advocates call the Standard Social Science Model, downgrading the principle of explaining society by the criteria governing that standard model and insisting on the biogenetic and evolutionary foundations of human life in society as the basic explanatory matrix in the social sciences, has no professed representatives in the social sciences in Portugal, as far as I know. Given what happened to the few American sociologists who converted to this programme—they were ostracized by their academic colleagues, simply for that reason, I’m not surprised that the temptation to study this alternative to conventional social science in-depth was resisted, perhaps for the good of all.
I would like to offer one final thought, if I may […]. Unlike what happened in several other countries, Portugal never had a major shock, a major intellectual/disciplinary/professional crisis affecting the whole of the discipline. Here I’m thinking of the successive or simultaneous crises, of various types and origins, which hit sociology—and actually social anthropology as well, even though that discipline enjoyed far greater prestige and widespread intellectual influence than sociology for a long time in the UK and elsewhere, over the last thirty or forty years. These crises arose first following the rejection of functionalism, then by a kind of ‘babelization’ of multiple schools of thought, including Marxist schools, warring amongst themselves, all claiming the right to the hegemony which functionalism had allegedly enjoyed previously and which never happened (a number of researchers identified a good few dozen schools or tendencies in contemporary general sociology). Then came the shock of ethnomethodology, which questioned so many sacrosanct research practices; there were also the epistemological crises brought on by the impact of Popper, Kuhn and the debates on these and other writers on the philosophy of science, the manifest inability of conventional sociology to understand the whole series of upheavals in the country’s politics and economics from the 1970s on, the shock of feminism not just as a social movement but as a many-faceted theoretical movement, the attacks on all forms of ‘collectivism’ (a pejorative term for many) which seemed to subvert the fundamental principles of both sociology and anthropology (even Keynesian economics was impugned as ‘collectivist’), and the imminent quasi-decomposition of the discipline, which was only avoided at one point by the work of Anthony Giddens and others in synthesizing the theory and producing manuals of sociology. I mention the British case because I know it better than any other, but the discipline went through similar crises in other European and American countries: an American sociologist, Irving Louis Horowitz, the author of an excellent biography of C. Wright Mills, even published a book entitled The Decomposition of Sociology.
This absence of intellectual and professional crises of the kind which sociology repeatedly suffered in Britain and other European countries may explain that which I dare to call a certain intellectual somnolence of the discipline in Portugal, speaking in general terms. No doubt this state of affairs is due to the late consolidation of sociology in Portugal, after the Great Debates of earlier decades […].
Finally, I would add that a history or a sociology of Portuguese sociology, as of any other country, must not neglect the study of exclusion and marginalization mechanisms, of silences, of failures to pursue the great traditions, of non-receptivity to writers and ideas. Nor the topic of how academic empires were built in the social sciences. That topic could be the object of a nice comparative study of how charisma, knowledge, and power have asserted themselves in the Portuguese academy, within the national political and cultural system […]. The crisis in the universities on the other hand, the attacks on the traditional university, the progressive commodification of research work, and the lack of resources are factors affecting all disciplines, not specifically sociology.
The social sciences have developed on two different levels: internally on the one hand, with the consolidation of sub-disciplines, like anthropology, sociology, political science, etc., and externally on the other, in particular in relation to disciplines on their margins, like medicine, philosophy, linguistics, etc. What comments do you have regarding this dual process?
I regard sociology, anthropology, and political science as disciplines and not sub-disciplines. Sociology of the family and urban sociology can more correctly be termed sub-disciplines of sociology. Social anthropology and political science should also be seen as arrays of sub-disciplines. In recent years, International Relations finally got to be seen as an independent discipline, outside the realm of political science. Other fields of study, like social geography, social psychology, and social biology are generally not part of Social Science faculties but, in a way, belong to the social science system.
Regarding relationships with the disciplines on the margin which you mention, I would say that I am surprised in particular that only now is the sociology of medicine achieving institutional recognition in Portugal, because the UK already had excellent manuals at the end of the 1960s, written jointly by anthropologists and sociologists. Portugal has sufficient human resources and intellectual capital for the sociology of medicine to be established as a research field like other already consolidated sub-disciplines of sociology […].
As for Philosophy, allow me to recall my personal experience. I was one of the founders of a new degree course in Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Leeds in the late 1960s. During that course I met some of the most brilliant degree students I have ever had in my whole university teaching career. Actually, that course was praised by an eminent British philosopher, Bernard Williams, then at the University of London, when he was an external examiner for it. Circumstances did not permit me to repeat that experience, but if I had had that opportunity, it would certainly have been one of my priorities as a university lecturer in Portugal, which I never did become. I would like to think that that degree course might still be set up in Portugal one day, along with degree courses in Anthropology and Philosophy or Economics and Philosophy. Political science without political philosophy or the history of political thought makes no sense to me. As a former student of Michael Oakeshott and careful reader of Eric Voegelin, whose monumental opus on the history of Western political thought overshadows all others, I cannot understand how you can take a political science course without at least an introduction to this field of study. There is a strong tendency everywhere to reduce political science, and indeed sociology too, to the status of policy sciences
, research assistants for the design of public policies. As somebody said in connection with the LSE today, the concern with evidence-based policies
leads rapidly to the limitation of policy-based evidence
, in search of facts which will basically provide legitimacy for public policy which has already been decided or which it is desired to promote. This is the negation of critical rationality! [...]
[On being asked about the influence of his theoretical work on Portuguese sociology, Martins outlined some of his most important studies, as follows.]
My first long theoretical article published in English was on Kuhn’s famous book and the discussion surrounding it, especially on the philosophy of science [Martins 1972]. I had commented on and critiqued that book and stressed its importance in classes, seminars, and conferences practically from the moment it was published in 1962, and I was the first to present the issues it raised in a conference of the British Sociological Association, at which Ernest Gellner was present (he had not read Kuhn at that time). An opportunity arose to publish an essay on it, and I wrote a long piece, of almost 100 pages, which had to undergo a fair amount of editing. It was the first long article on the subject to be published by a sociologist, at least in English: in a lengthy bibliography of studies on the subject published in American Sociologist, my study appears right at the beginning, while most of the articles listed there were only published a decade later. It was the first article, certainly the first long academic essay, on the author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to be published by a Portuguese writer (it is probably safe to say, even more broadly, that it was the first by a Portuguese-speaking or Iberian writer). It seems to me these are facts which should be recorded in a history of Portuguese sociology, for example, all the more so because Kuhn continues to be a significant author, and the issues he raised remain open.
My essay sought to take into account the main contributions to the Great Debate on the philosophy of science in relation to Kuhn’s work and its implications, possibly the most intense and lasting discussion ever held in this discipline—the more prominent names were Michael Polanyi, Popper, N. R. Hanson, Imre Lakatos, and Paul Feyerabend. Why did a sociologist ‘intervene’ in this Great Debate, particularly as early as I did? On the one hand, because of my long-standing interest in the philosophy of science. On the other hand, because the existing sociology of science at that time was the Merton school, which seemed very limited to me (I was not the only one who thought this, of course). The first sentence of my essay pinpointed the disconnect between the sociology of knowledge, which analysed the content of knowledge, and the sociology of conventional science, which ignored that content, treating it as something to be overcome. What I suggested was that we needed a sociology of scientific knowledge, and this required discussion of the relationship between sociology and epistemology, a topic which, as is well known, had already been discussed by Durkheim in his greatest work (I am referring, of course, to the book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, published in 1912). My article paved the way for a number of young British sociologists, some of whom, following this philosophical Great Debate, formed a school, or schools, in the sociology of scientific knowledge (my influence in this regard was confirmed in a book by a Spanish sociologist, published a few years ago, based in part on interviews with those sociologists). As tends to happen, they radicalized and re-radicalized the sociology of scientific knowledge, formulating a version of social constructivism (as it later came to be known), and which I, quoting Parsons, call ‘sociological solipsism’, variants of the epistemological relativism which I always rejected (but anyone interested in Kuhn at that time was always accused of that, a nasty libel). I disagreed with the Mertonian and relativist currents of thought and became one of the founders of a series of volumes based on annual conferences, the Sociology of Sciences Yearbook, which is still published today. Here we hosted various kinds of sociological studies which diverged from both from the Mertonian sociology of science and the epistemological relativism of the Edinburgh and Bath ‘schools’. We were privileged to be among the first to give international public prominence to the work of Norbert Elias, which at the time was still little acknowledged in the UK, by publishing a long article of his. It was the first European forum for social studies on science and technology, at least in the theoretical realm. This too is worth recording.
On another occasion, I was fortunate to be able to take part (the Althusserian language is irresistible) in another Great Debate, in general sociology, with an essay entitled ‘Time and Theory in Sociology’, also written in English and published in a compendium edited by John Rex [Martins 1974]. This essay had some impact internationally […]. The international situation was very interesting: functionalism had ceased to be dominant, there was a struggle for the succession to functionalism as the main way of looking at sociological theory, and the master programme for research in sociology for at least the following decades was being developed. This was a particularly important issue on account of the expansion of British and European sociology after some years of American predominance. Not all the most often repeated critiques of functionalism were well-founded, as I sought to demonstrate (everyone, even Marxists of the different schools, accused everyone else of functionalist errors) and some of its limitations were common to many other schools. In this connection, I discussed various concepts relating to social and historical time. I outlined a number of concepts which were discussed by several commentators, such as ‘inflationary cognitivism’, ‘caesurism’, ‘pluritemporalism’, and ‘methodological nationalism’, in addition to what seemed to me to be an innovative discussion on the relationship between narrative and analysis in historiographical discourse, well before the explosion in studies on narrative, narratology, and narrativism in the eighties and nineties, and an analytical typology of the relationships between sociology and history, which seems to me to be equally significant, but received less attention.
At the time, that essay was very well received and commented on in the international sociological literature. It was highly praised by the North American sociologist Dennis Wrong and the British anthropologist Peter Worsley, among others, cited by European authors such as Franco Ferrarotti and Niklas Luhmann (I was the only Portuguese sociologist to be cited by the latter), and translated into Spanish in a collection of studies, some from classical sociology, on ‘Time and Society’. Several British sociologists see it as a ‘classic’ (the author himself can never say this, but he can quote others’ opinions!). It continues to be cited, decades after its original publication, even in South Korea and Japan, especially on account of the concept of ‘methodological nationalism’ I devised, as is widely recognized today, in articles both within and outside the field of sociology, by social scientists in various disciplines and of different nationalities. A very famous sociologist, Ulrich Beck, used to say that the concept of methodological nationalism was the most important concept in sociology in the twentieth century. But since I was the one who originally formulated the concept, and not he, although he adopted it in his own way, maybe just a bit of his fame might rub off on me… […]
It is easy to understand that my essays on risk and uncertainty, and on the processes of acceleration in modern societies, among others, deal with questions which are fundamental from the point of view of social theory. Risk and uncertainty are basic categories of human existence and human action which were never fully integrated into the theories of social action of writers such as Weber, Parsons, and Giddens (who seem to follow Beck in his concept of risk subsuming uncertainty, which is precisely what I questioned in my essay on the subject). I think I contributed in some measure to this process of enriching the theory of social action, fairly considering these categories, taking into account Peirce and Popper’s [contribution to] fallibilist thought, the Austrian School and the ‘indeterminism of Vienna’, as well as Keynes and Knight, beyond the generally accepted and very limited conception of risk, whether technological or not. I also demonstrated the intimate connection between conventional studies on probabilistic risk and ethical utilitarianism, especially preference utilitarianism, which is particularly prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon countries. My critique of the concept of risk and its ubiquitous application stressed this crucial point by drawing attention to this ethical bias, which it is so important to question for the defence of the environment and in order to develop alternatives to neoliberal public policies and to the ideology which legitimates commodity techno-science, as I called it.3
In my study on acceleration, which is not just scientific or technological, I discussed a number of issues related to ‘social time’. This was also the subject of my essays entitled ‘Tristes durées’ [Sad Durations] [Martins 1983] and ‘Time and Explanation’ [Martins 2009], which discuss concepts critical to the explanatory task of historical sociology or ‘social dynamics’, as one used to say. And my essay on the sociology of calamities, which sought to recover the legacy of an important sociologist, P. A. Sorokin [Martins 2011, chapter VII], is obviously connected with some of the topics of ‘Time and Theory’ and cannot simply be catalogued as another study on science and technology. The epistemological questions discussed in my study on Kuhn were also present in my essay on theories of truth and my long study on Vico’s principle (the verum-factum principle) (Martins 2001), which is crucial for a proper understanding of techno-science but not only that, as the discussion on the history of that principle in that study makes clear.
My general theoretical interests remain alive and well, even if I have mostly written on issues relating to science, technology, and the university (which is increasingly, and by force if necessary, incorporated into the ‘capitalism of knowledge’, as I showed in a 2004 essay [Martins 2004], much expanded in 2007, both of which were sadly prophetic in relation to what is currently happening), rather than on issues ostensibly related to social theory. I acknowledge that it is possible to do theoretical work which is highly relevant to sociological theory in any domain, whether it be the sociology of the family, of religion, of work or urban sociology, etc., provided that the issues in question are viewed through a sophisticated prism of theorization. However, in the present situation, it seemed to me, bearing in mind the contributions of historical and philosophical studies, as well as the sociological, that the study of science and technology, despite being very demanding, and my knowing that it would not enable me to publish dozens of articles in quick succession, could take me deeper into the issues which had always interested me. I am referring here to issues such as social time (‘social temporalities’), the interrelationship of action and knowledge, the human significance of the social sciences (in a way, the status of the social sciences as ‘moral sciences’ and the discussion of ethical utilitarianism), and its philosophical (metaphysical and epistemological) assumptions and implications.
Other sociologists may have felt the same way about the transversal and fertile nature of wide-ranging theoretical questions in other domains, some of them very close to my concerns with technology and techno-science, such as environmental or ecological sociology, or the sociology of globalization as a world-historical process, and maybe they were as justified as I was, or even more so, but this was the path I chose. […].
[In this part of the interview I asked Martins about the most urgent questions facing sociology in Portugal. In his reply he made the following observations on the future of the social sciences in general.]
One of the most obvious dangers is the increasing instrumentalization of research, at the behest of public authorities. Social studies have already gone beyond the cameralistic (public accounting) phase, but sometimes we have the feeling we are going back to that stage: we went from the classic cameralistics of the Polizeistaat (police state) to the neo-cameralistics of the policy State, whose public policies demand the instrumentalization of the social sciences. With electronic digital technologies and a hitherto undreamed of capacity for the accumulation of data, even in real time, for some researchers, the dream of a totally data-driven and theory-free social science, which uses only econometric models or computer simulations, is coming true. This may also reflect the increasing demand for quantitative data for all and sundry and the rise of simply digital or, in the words of a great expert in mathematical economics and pioneer of ecological economics, N. Georgescu-Roegen ‘arithmo-morphic’ standards of knowledge.
Alongside this whole process the science bureaucrats, or rather the scientism bureaucrats, demand that the social sciences copy the hard sciences or, more precisely and even worse, the image they have of the hard sciences (their ignorance of the philosophy, history, and sociology of science is considerable). The tendency will be to transform the social sciences into policy sciences, pushing to the margins theoretical and speculative work, those free forms of investigative research which do not meet administrative requirements or market demands. Frankly I do not even know if they will continue to be called ‘social sciences’—what for? There are economists who do not regard economics as a social science.
As I’ve already mentioned, the demand for collective work, and the preference for short articles by multiple authors belonging to laboratories, or simulacra of laboratories, is the logical outcome of the techno-bureaucratic scientism entrenched in the national, international, and pan-European bodies which regulate academic research work. With the ongoing process whereby public universities are being stripped of their character, commodified, and even abolished, what is likely to happen, and indeed has already happened with economists, is that the intellectual type of the academic social scientist, with a long career in research and lecturing in the universities, as has existed until recently, will eventually disappear.
Saint-Simon’s famous remark which pointed to the transition from a government of people to an administration of things, a motto of the nineteenth century, which was even taken up by Engels, has to be reconsidered. If there was indeed ever a time when we committed to the ‘administration of things’, there is no doubt that today we are in a third phase, the government of things. Today we govern things, Earth, Nature, the biosphere—we do not administer them in purely rational scientific terms guided by the common good, but through political decision-making by States and businesses, with the universities in increasingly symbiotic or promiscuous association with the business corporations. For example, some American universities already own agricultural land in Africa, part of the great wave of ownership or rental of lands in Africa by States and businesses from Asia, Arabia, and America.
If we continue along the paths we are on today, all the sciences will be incorporated into the mercantile State or the market State. Of course the disciplines which are favoured, using the English abbreviations, are the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), complemented by the TEDM disciplines (technology, engineering, design, marketing). In this connection, the social sciences may certainly contribute to marketing the products of the ‘techno-science of commodities’ and perhaps help to mitigate or prevent the disasters arising from technological systems designed according to engineering criteria constrained by the demands of profitability and productivity. Any critique of the technological society is only officially recognized if it comes from scientists or engineers, like the chemist Paul Crutzen, who coined the term ‘Anthropocene’, which equates more or less to that I have called the ‘government of things’, in which the scale of anthropogenic action on the planet is such, at least since the end of the eighteenth century, that it defines a new geological or geogenic era.
Increasingly biology itself is openly defined by cutting-edge biologists no longer as a ‘science of discoveries’ but as a universal project for the engineering and re-engineering of life. Even if, for centuries, the Heideggerian theory of science as being guided by technological apriorism achieved few results of technical interest, as in the case of biology, here it has acquired empirical confirmation, because it not only subjects existing forms of life to the manipulations of bioengineering but also enables the recreation of life itself in the laboratory. A surprise? Yes, even this ancient mythological or alchemical dream, of the ‘onturgical’ [concerning being] type, as I have called it in some of my writings, is on the agenda for some geneticists. I heard an eminent Portuguese specialist say that the genetics industry, which is oriented to conventional genetic engineering, has become so important that, like the big banks which have done so much to ruin us, it is regarded as being too big to fail. The desirable alternatives, or at least those which could and should be explored for the good of science and all of us, remain beyond the horizon. Here is a flagrant example of how science is governed, of the practically irreversible monopoly of certain research guidelines, which may be reproduced, mutatis mutandis, in the social sciences. The outlook is dark. However, I have no doubt that young rebels here and there will continue to think for themselves, and do good social science, against everything and everyone. That was what happened in the past, even when science and knowledge were facing their darkest days […].