Experimentalism?

Experimentalism is old and is subject to perpetual reinvention. It is emblematic of a range of key contemporary phenomena – scientific curiosity and the pursuit of objectivity, the cultural fascination for unconventional ways of life and the political rhetoric of crisis. Philosopher John Dewey coined the term ‘democratic experimentalism’ as early as 1927. For him, knowledge was rooted in experiences arising from moments of crisis. In my book on “Experimenalism and Sociology” (english translation in preparation) I am asking: what conclusions might we draw about the present era in light of Dewey’s social philosophy? It shows how sociological experimentalism paves the way from a science of crisis to a science of experience, one that views uncertainty as the necessary point of departure for every form of research practice. Taking his lead from physics, Dewey took the notion of the experiment literally as the experience-based and operational transformation of ignorance into knowledge, inspired by the instrumental procedures of the natural scientific experiment. On this view, rather than a problem, ignorance – in other words uncertainty and crisis situations – is the stimulus for problem-solving action. Dewey’s thesis – and this is the point of departure for my conceptual inquiry – is surely of crucial importance to a sociology that, beyond its role as a ‘crisis science’ of modernity, sees itself as a steward of societal self-reflection that also wants to help solve problems. This thesis challenges a sociology that views itself as a ‘science of experience’ with re-engaging with the ignorance that is the pre-requisite for the exploration of new knowledge. But we can grasp the consequences of this thesis for sociology only if we define the experiment not just as a social trope to be observed but concurrently as a tool for generating sociological knowledge. This ontological continuity between knowledge and practice is the departure to re-think the ontological differences between nature and society, as well as between crisis and experience. The books explores the procedural approach of sociological experimentalism through a plea for an ecological ontology, discussed through the three dimensions “experience”, “trial” and “cooperation”. Finally, it concludes on the practical research consequences on the level of world societies in the era of ecological crisis, aiming for inter- and transdisciplinary research including the natural sciences, and for democratic experimentalism in an age of increasing social and political disparities.

Extract of the introduction of my book: Experimentalismus und Soziologie. Von der Krisen- zur Erfahrungswissenschaften. Frankfurt a.M. / New York: Campus, translated by Alex Skinner.

Selected english editions and papers

  • Bogusz, Tanja (2019): „Public Concerns in Sustainability Research. An Experimental Approach“, in: Korn, Matthias et. al. (eds.): Infrastructuring Publics / Making Infrastructures Public. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (in press).
  • Bogusz, Tanja & Estrid Sørensen (2019): „Thinking with Stefan Beck‘s ‚Ecologies of Expertise‘ (2012) & ‚Sachen, Tat-Sachen, Tatsachen‘ (2014)“, in: Niewöhner, Jörg (ed.): After Practice. Thinking through Matter and Meaning relationally. Berlin: Panama Verlag, pp. 137-152.
  • Bogusz, Tanja (2018): „From Crisis to Experiment. Bourdieu and Dewey on Research Practice and Cooperation“, in: Anders Buch & Theodore Schatzki (eds.): Questions of Practice in Philosophy and Social Theory. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 156-175.
  • Bogusz, Tanja (2015): „Doing Biodiversity. An Experimental Heuristics for Collaborative Issue-Formation in Marine Studies“ (unpublished working paper).
  • Bogusz, Tanja, Roberto Frega & Albert Ogien (eds.) (2015): The Pragmatist Method: New Challenges for the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Symposium European Journal for Pragmatism and American Philosophy, Vol. 7 (1).
  • Bogusz, Tanja (2014): “Why (Not) Pragmatism?”, in: Susen, Simon & Bryan S. Turner (eds.): The Spirit of Luc Boltanski. Essays on the ‘Pragmatic Sociology of Critique’. London, New York & Delhi: Anthem Press, pp. 129-152.
  • Bogusz, Tanja (2012): „Experiencing practical knowledge. Emerging convergences between pragmatism and sociological practice theory“, in: European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, 2011, 2, 2. Symposia: “Pragmatism and the social sciences: A century of influences and interactions”, pp. 32-54.