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Dean’s talk No. 5 : Establishing the School of Social Theory and Practice

Society is built by the actions of human beings. People do things for their own particular reasons. These include finding solutions to the challenges of life that confront them; taking care of themselves, their families, and their society; making mistakes; acting out their passion, hatred and love; interacting with friends, strangers and enemies; acting prudently; following impulses or dreams.

As a result, these actions are making social impacts at all levels, at the community level as well as at national and international levels. Social changes, both positive and negative, come with modernization. Positive outcomes include longer life expectancy and more convenient lifestyles.  Nonetheless, there can be also be negative social outcomes with social change. These include demographic transitions that pose challenges, as well as economic crises, the rise and fall of regions and cities, inequalities, revolutions, discrimination, wars, and poverty.

To provide a real contribution to the society, a number of action have been taken by academic scholars in higher education institutions, worldwide, for the betterment of society.  A school of thought or intellectual tradition is formed by individuals and groups of people who share common characteristics, take different perspectives and outlooks. These perspectives are influenced by all sorts of factors, including philosophies, disciplines, beliefs, economics, historical demography, politics, social and cultural movements.

They often begin with a small number of individuals or groups who gather in informal and friendly environments such as tea parties, luncheons or reading groups. The groups may be involved in what seem like small local actions but they sometimes aggregate to making a difference to large-scale social changes.

The members might ask basic common questions, such as what are the individual purposes and plans that work to shape a subset of social phenomena? Why do problems emerge at a particular time and within a particular context? Does the development of modern societies, with vast inequalities in wealth among citizens, constitute progress? Can human reason make sense of our social world and shape it for the better?

In the 19th century, in 1895, Emile Durkheim endeavored to formally establish a discipline of academic sociology at the University of Bordeaux. He produced a large number of publications and was involved in various academic activities. He published his Rules of the Sociological Method. Later in 1896, he established the journal L’Année Sociologique. A number of schools of thought arose with the development of sociological theory. Different scholars such as Auguste Comte contributed to theories such as ‘positivism’ which attempted to discover ‘objective’ reality through scientific methods. This became known as the positivist school of thought.

Karl Marx rejected such a Comptean notion of positivism and established a science of society based on historical materialism. After his death, he was recognized as another important founding figure of sociology. In 20th century, the first wave of German sociologists, including Max Weber and Georg Simmel, developed sociological anti-positivism. In the 1920s, the so-called ‘Chicago School’ was developed, through the work of Albion Woodbury Small, W. I. Thomas,Ernest W. Burgess, Robert E. Park, Ellsworth Faris and other sociologists at the University of Chicago. This School focused on patterns and arrangement of social phenomenon across time and place, and within a context of other social variables. The Frankfurt Institute for Social Research provides another successful historical example of establishing an outstanding school of social thought. The Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago followed during the 1940s. In the 1970s, programs in Social and Political Thought were established at Sussex and York.

In Thailand, over time, the study of political crises can and has contributed positive outcomes to our academic environment and to the society itself. The social world is highly dynamic and situational. As university scholars, we may want to abstract from this dynamism and characterize a moment as consisting of fixed structures and agents acting within them. The political and structural conditions and limitations challenge us to understand more about the facts. It is inevitable that when we understand society more, we can better provide more practical advice within the context of the situation as it is. The reality of what is, is always embodied in the thoughts and actions of ourselves as well as others.

My point here is a simple one for philosophers of social science. “We shouldn’t let our debates about emergence, meso-level causation, and structural causal powers lead us to forget some of the fundamental and obvious facts about the social world”.

Our Faculty is pleased to be able to respond to current realities by formulating a more informed descriptions of these realities by establishing a newSchool of Social Theory and Practice. Such a venture can help to give both theoretical insight and practical application within both the faculty, the university and throughout academia and society. We give it our wholehearted support.

To become the best “Home of Social Innovation” as well as reach for the highest standard as a “Learning Organization”, it is crucial for us to start organizing knowledge and managing the “facts” based on systematic research procedures and outcomes. As Dean, I support this venture and welcome to participate in this creative activity. This provides us with another opportunity to enjoy being part of a group of pioneering social scientists in the Faculty, our home of social innovation.

Looking forwards to talking with you again, Patcharin Sirasoonthorn
Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences

Naresuan University


Thai Edition