Patrick Baert

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Patrick Baert (born 23 January 1961 in Brussels) is a Belgian sociologist and social theorist, based in Britain. He is Professor of Social Theory at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Baert studied at the Free University of Brussels and at Oxford University where he obtained his D.Phil. in 1990. In Oxford he studied with Rom Harré and wrote his dissertation on George Herbert Mead's notion of time and its relevance for social theory, subsequently published as Time, Self and Social Being.[1] He carried out postdoctoral work with Claude Javeau in Brussels and Anthony Giddens in Cambridge before taking up a teaching position at Cambridge. He has held various visiting positions, including Brown University, the University of Cape Town, the CNRS/EHESS and the University of British Columbia. He also published Social Theory in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.[2] and Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism.[3] Since January 2013, he is the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society.

Baert argues against several existing contributions to the philosophy of social sciences. Against those philosophies of social science that infer prescriptions for the social sciences based on attempts to demarcate science from non-science, he argues that developments in the history and sociology of science have undermined the validity of the notion of demarcation. Contrary to those social scientists who liken their empirical research to an arbitration court that helps to decide the fate of the theory or research programme under consideration, he contends that research in the social sciences relies on theoretical presuppositions which are contestable - and contested - to such an extent that empirical research cannot be regarded as a straightforward testing device. In opposition to what he coins ‘the social cartography model’ (according to which high-quality social research captures the inner essence of the social world as accurately and completely as possible and social theory provides the conceptual building blocks for this representation), he argues that it is not fruitful to conceive of research in terms of the passive recording of the external world, and that this representational model ultimately leads to theoretical ossification.[4]

Baert argues in favour of a neo-pragmatist philosophy of social science which promotes social research in the pursuit of self-referential knowledge. Whereas many contributions to the philosophy of social science assume that social research is primarily an explanatory (and possibly predictive) endeavor, Baert contends that this picture does not correspond to the actual practice of social research. He points out that few significant contributions to sociology - and social research in general - are straightforward explanatory works, and even fewer are exclusively explanatory. Baert's position is that most of those groundbreaking works involve ‘self-referential knowledge’: they enable communities to re-describe and re-conceptualise themselves and their presuppositions.[5] Inspired by Rorty's neo-pragmatism, he has argued in favour of the pursuit of self-referential knowledge, and he has analysed the methodological strategies that make this possible in various disciplines, ranging from archaeology and social anthropology to sociology and history.[6] For instance, Nietzsche's genealogical history can provide contemporary communities with tools that enable them to re-evaluate the moral and cognitive categories they use to describe the world and their place within it. Baer's notion of self-referential knowledge relates to the German notion of Bildung or self-edification and with a new role for intellectuals, whereby they facilitate envisaging alternative socio-political scenarios rather than presenting a set of normative or epistmeological foundations.[7]

A special issue of the journal Human Studies was dedicated to a symposium around Baert's Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism.[8] In this issue Stephen Turner questioned Baert's attempt to promote dialogue whilst holding onto a notion of expertise.[9] In the same issue Paul Roth [10] argues that Baert contradicts himself: whilst rightly rejecting the notion of a scientific method, Baert then surprisingly suggests a method for pursuing self-referential knowledge. Bohman [11] contends that Baert underestimates the ability of social scientists to develop generalisations which can lead to emancipatory political agendas. For a critical exchange between Baert and Peter Manicas, see the Journal of Critical Realism;[12] Whilst sympathetic to Dewey, Manicas disagrees with Baert's neo-pragmatism. For a critical exchange between Patrick Baert/Filipe Carreira da Silva and Simon Susen (in relation to Baert and Silva's 2010 book), see the journal Distinktion; Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory.[13] Whilst sympathetic, Susen laments, for instance, Baert and Carreira da Silva's anti-foundationalism.

Baert's recent work is in the sociology of intellectuals. Drawing on positioning theory,[14] he has provided a new explanation for the rise of Sartre and French existentialism,[15] and has identified recent changes in the phenomenon of the public intellectual.[16] Baert's most recent book The Existentialist Moment; Sartre's Rise as a Public Intellectual further develops these ideas. [17] His co-authored book Conflict in the Academy; A Study in the Sociology of Intellectuals (with Marcus Morgan) examines an intramural conflict that erupted within the English Faculty at Cambridge University in the early 1980s in order to develop a theoretical analysis of disputes as they unfold within the academy. [18]


  1. ^ Baert, Patrick (1992).
  2. ^ Baert, Patrick and Filipe Carreira da Silva (2010). First edition: Baert, Patrick (1998), Social Theory in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  3. ^ Baert, Patrick (2005).
  4. ^ Baert, Patrick (2006, 2007).
  5. ^ Baert, Patrick and Filipe Carreira da Silva (2010), pp. 285–305
  6. ^ Baert, Patrick (2005), pp. 146–169
  7. ^ Baert, Patrick (2007), pp. 45–68
  8. ^ Human Studies (2009) 32 2.
  9. ^ Turner, Stephen (2009).
  10. ^ Roth, Paul (2009).
  11. ^ Bohman, James (2009).
  12. ^ Journal of Critical Realism (2008) 7 2.
  13. ^ Distinktion 2012 Online first.
  14. ^ Baert (2012)
  15. ^ Baert (2011a, 2011b, 2011c)
  16. ^ Baert and Shipman (2012), Baert and Booth (2012).
  17. ^ Baert (2015).
  18. ^ Morgan and Baert (2015).


  • Baert, P. (2015) The Existentialist Moment; Sartre's Rise as a Public Intellectual Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Morgan, M. and P. Baert (2015) Conflict in the Academy; A Study in the Sociology of Intellectuals. London, UK: Palgrave.
  • Baert, P. (2012) Positioning theory and intellectual interventions. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 42 3, pp. 304–325.
  • Baert, P. (2011a) The sudden rise of French existentialism: A case-study in the sociology of intellectual life. Theory and Society 40 5, pp. 619–644.
  • Baert, P. (2011b) Jean-Paul Sartre’s positioning in Anti-Semite and Jew. Journal of Classical Sociology 11 4, pp. 378–397.
  • Baert, P. (2011c) The power struggles of French intellectuals at the end of the Second World War: A study in the sociology of ideas. European Journal of Social Theory 14 4, pp. 415–435.
  • Baert, Patrick (2007). Why study the social. In: Pragmatism and European Social Theory, eds. Patrick Baert & Bryan S. Turner. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 45–68.
  • Baert, Patrick (2006) Social theory and the social sciences. In: Handbook of Contemporary Social Theory, ed. G. Delanaty. London: Routledge, pp. 24.
  • Baert, Patrick (2005). Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Baert, Patrick (1998). Social Theory in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Baert, Patrick (1992) Time, Self and Social Being; Outline of a Temporalised Sociology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Baert, P. and Booth (2012) Tensions within the public intellectual: political interventions from Dreyfus to the new social media. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 25 4, pp. 111–126.
  • Baert, P. and A.Shipman (2012) Transformation of the intellectual. In: The Politics of Knowledge, eds. F. Rubio Dominguez and P.Baert. London: Routledge, pp. 179–204.
  • Baert, Patrick; Silva, Filipe Carreira da (2010). Social Theory in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-3981-9.
  • Bohman, James (2009) Pluralism, Pragmatism and Self-Knowledge; Comments on Baert's Philosophy of the Social Sciences; Towards Pragmatism. Human Studies 32 3, pp. 375–381.
  • Roth, Paul (2009) Quo Vadis? Quine's Web, Kuhn's Revolutions and Baert's 'Way Forward'. Human Studies 32 3, pp. 357–363.
  • Turner, Stephen (2009). Can There Be a Pragmatist Philosophy of Social Science? Human Studies 32 3, pp. 365–374.

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