Social Diagnoses

Three questions to the author Alexander Bogner

Knowledge society, risk society, information society – social diagnoses are in. In his new book of the same name, ITA lecturer Alexander Bogner describes various forms of social diagnoses. He is also convinced that they will continue to provide useful guidance.

Why is there any need for social diagnoses?

These diagnoses always begin with the question of what society we actually live in. Social diagnoses attempt, as Hegel put it, to capture time in thoughts. This is fascinating because highly specialised science is becoming less and less confident that it will "hit the jackpot". Which is also why the objection is often raised that social diagnoses are far too global. Purely feature-page science! Moreover, a different diagnosis evoking a new type of society appears every few years. This does not exactly generate credibility.

However, even the fiercest opponents concede that social diagnoses are a great help to finding our way around. In addition, they make society aware of previously unnoticed or neglected developments and trends. Let's take the example of the risk society – the topic was suddenly in everybody's mouths - including science - in 1986. Suddenly, risks and uncertainties became topics for science.

Social diagnoses are regarded by a number of academics with considerable scepticism. What is the origin of this marginalisation?

It is an old dispute. The "strict" scientist says that society is not a concept we can use because it cannot be operationalised. Social diagnoses are therefore not empirically verifiable. However, that also applies to social theories that in principle are taken seriously by everyone.

If we in science do not wish to be downgraded to mere bean counters, we must also dare to approach the large issues. Social diagnoses will always exist because they help us to interpret the here and now.

What social diagnoses are doing the rounds at present, and where do you see the trends for future diagnoses?

The currently most common diagnosis, and the one that is least disputed, is that of the knowledge society. The term makes its appearance whenever politicians discuss access to universities and the percentage of graduates in society. It has become so self-evident that most people forget that the knowledge society is also a social diagnosis. The information society is also still around.

I can imagine the next major trends on the horizon as being mobility and entrepreneurship. Life in a flexible, highly mobile, unsecured society leads to an inability to cope, with burnout and depression being the illnesses of our age. The one-man start-ups, the obligation to act as an entrepreneur oneself, all the pseudo-self-employed and sham employees – that should be the topic for the next society diagnosis.


Bogner, Alexander (2012) Gesellschaftsdiagnosen: Ein Überblick.; Weinheim: Beltz Juventa (204 Seiten). Read more and order online

Alexander Bogner

By: Denise Riedlinger

Alexander Bogner is a Senior Scientist at the ITA and mainly responsible for the research area "Governance of controversial technologies". He holds teaching assignments at several universities in Austria and Germany, focusing on social diagnoses, science studies and qualitative methods of empirical research.