Working Group for the History of Sociology

© Arbeiterkammer Steiermark                                               Wilhelm Thöny: Arbeitslose (1925/26)

Sociology in and from Austria up to the end of the Second World War

The aim of this project is to describe sociology in and from Austria from the 18th century to 1945: to sketch the development of its most important content and methods in the work of representatives of the discipline, some still known and others now largely forgotten, and to show also the interrelationship of sociology with neighbouring scientific disciplines and with relevant research outside Austria.

The project is organized into three chronological parts. The first deals with sociology in the Habsburg Monarchy from the mid-18th century to the end of the First World War. All countries in the Monarchy are included, whether German-speaking or not. Contributors to the anthology Die Soziologie und ihre Nachbardisziplinen im Habsburgerreich.  Ein Kompendium internationaler Forschungen zu den Kulturwissenschaften in Zentraleuropa, edited by Karl Acham and to be published by Böhlau Wien in winter 2019/20, therefore include experts from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. This anthology, reflecting the first part of the overall project, shows how sociology in its formative phase was shaped by other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, and how it in turn shaped these other disciplines. It shows how original sociological insights were gained at a time when sociology as a discipline in its own right was largely not yet institutionalized.

Until now, no description of sociology in Austria has taken adequate account of the diversity and intellectual content of the relevant research during the period up to 1945. While the first part of this project extends across the multilingual crown lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, the second part, with a focus on the interwar period, deals with the main currents and themes of sociological thought in the German-language literature of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Both at the institutional level and with respect to intellectual content, the interwar period (that is, 1918 to 1939) is of particular importance. During this period, the first chairs for social studies in Austria and for sociology in Germany were created (much earlier in Switzerland), sociological institutes were established, and sociological journals were founded. These institutionalization processes took place against the background of the trauma of the First World War, in what was perceived as a crisis of the humanities. It was hoped that sociology, as a new and promising academic discipline, would provide solutions to the crisis. Politicians and scientists alike expected that sociology would contribute to a new intellectual synthesis, though it quickly became clear that very different schools of thought and movements were differentiating themselves. While the hoped-for synthesis failed to materialise, sociology gained importance within the humanities and social sciences for its four basic functions: historical education, social administration, critical reflection on ideology, and general world view.

The second part of this project thus aims to reconstruct, analyse and discuss sociology in the German-speaking world from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Second. In Germany from 1933 on and in Austria from 1938 on, the focus will be on scholarship by authors who were forced to emigrate and whose works could therefore only occasionally be published in German. Publications currently available for the second part of this project mostly pertain to individual authors and specific research directions. Many date back several decades and do not reflect the current state of research. Even more recent works on the history of sociology show blatant gaps for this period. Detailed research on the sociology of the 1920s and 1930s by national and international experts should help close these gaps. At the same time, work on this second part of the project should open up new and more broadly significant approaches for contemporary sociology.

The defining factor for the third part of this project on the history of sociology, covering the years 1939 to 1945 and to be completed at a later date, is the migration of sociologists for so-called racial and for political reasons. In this part of the project, appropriate reference will be made to these facts, ominous for many scientists of Austrian and German origin, both in personal terms and for science as a whole, for taking stock of sociology during the Second World War.

The second and third parts of this research project – reconstruction, analysis, and discussion of sociology between 1918 and 1939, and then between 1939 and 1945 – will be realized in the form of symposia and workshops, as well as multi-volume publications from Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften (VS).

Project heads:

Karl Acham, w.M.
Stephan Moebius, w.M.

Further (honorary) project group members:

Gertraude Mikl-Horke
Peter Stachel
Reinhard Müller


Kommission für Geschichte und Philosophie der Wissenschaften
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz 2
1010 Wien
Tel: +43-1-51581-3650


6.-7. December 2019
Conference "Hauptströmungen und -themen der deutschsprachigen Soziologie der Zwischenkriegszeit"
Theatersaal of the OeAW, Sonnenfelsgasse 19, 1010 Wien
Registration until 1 Dezember 2019 to kgpw(at)