Questioning Trans-nationalism at the Centennial of the German Sociological Society

by Petra Rostock and Linda Supik, Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main

The German Sociological Society (DGS) recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary with a Centennial Jubilee Congress in Frankfurt/Main (October 11-15, 2010).  The organizers chose the theme “Transnational Makings of Societies” (http//

While a century ago the nation state had been a new actor and framed what was the subject of research – national societies – for the scientific discipline-in-the-making called Sociology, today, the task is to map out a new scene of the social: the transnational space. What is its relevance, how can it be conceptualized, measured and researched; and – a question that seemed immensely provocative to a vast part of congress participants — will the transnational replace the national as research focus? Maybe it is just ‘natural’ that a national scientific organization feels strongly challenged by a concept that is querying its field of research and reference.

The notion of transnationalism as presented in Frankfurt/Main appeared like a buzzword. It had been easily integrated in nearly all the panels’ titles, but it was not always the subject of concern in the presentations. Sometimes ‘transnational’ was used rather broadly and without specificity, and could have been easily substituted by ‘international’.

How has sociology in Germany changed over a century? Surely, a male bias is still showing. In 100 years the DGS has had only one female president. Yet gender proportions among academics are much more balanced these days. But does transnationality show in the list of speakers? The tradition of having ‘guest countries’ was followed at this Congress by featuring renowned speakers from France and the US, the two other “great nations” of Sociology.

In multicultural Frankfurt/Main, with a fortunately large number of local students participating, the face of German sociology appeared very white. White dominance even prevailed in one of the – for us – most welcome, progressive panels on postcolonial-feminist perspectives on transnational relations. Yet even here the concepts used seemed to remain rather superficial, and not fulfilling the normative promise associated with postcolonial-feminist perspectives, that is to link epistemological and social criticism so as to challenge hegemonic systems of truth, highlighting the way these systems of truth are based on exclusion, homogenization and alterity.

In the face of ongoing debates in Germany on “integration” and Islam, and in the face of stigmatizing people who are perceived as migrants, as culturally different and therefore inferior, we were disappointed by the final discussion on “Cultural Globalization: New Forms of Transnational Religious Societies”. While the panel certainly represented three renowned sociologists (Peter L. Berger, Hansfried Kellner and Thomas Luckmann), an analysis of the present as well as perspectives on the (trans?)national future were missing .

In contrast, the congress’s supporting program nicely connected contemporary social questions with current developments in theatre and music. However, the scheduling was rather tough on the congress participants. Lacking any breaks, the organizers seemed to believe that dedicated scientists live on knowledge and air alone.

Acknowledging the importance of a reflection on the past, especially on the occasion of a centennial jubilee, we hope that old and new concepts will be further challenged in the future, in particular the concept of the ‘national‘. The congress revealed impressively that a discussion of the relevance of the ‘national‘ as a key unit of sociological analysis has yet to happen.

, Germany, Volume 1, Issue 2

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