Social Theory and Social Philosophy

cooperation project at the Max-Weber-Centre for advanced cultural and social studies

[Translate to English:] Max Weber Portrait

The Max-Weber-Kolleg’s research program on Social Theory and Social Philosophy focusses on the interplay between normativity and social critique. Analyzing the social genesis of values and norms is a key task of the social and cultural studies carried out at the Kolleg. Even though norms and values are anchored in social reality, there are always tensions between norms and facts nevertheless. Thus, norms can have normalizing effects, but they also allow for a reflexivity and criticism of the social condition. With that in mind, the members of this cooperative project have been working at the interface between empirical social research (sociology, history, political science and anthropology) and conceptual or normative questions (social and political philosophy).

In this respect we try to follow the lead of Max Weber, who worked on material questions like the economic ethics of world religions, as well as on conceptual questions like the epistemic status of value judgements. We also aim to continue the line of work of the early critical theory, in which philosophy and social research already went hand in hand. Among our main topics are analyses of contemporary societies: How can we understand „pathologies“ of modern societies, how can we non-reductively explain individual behaviors and motives? How can historical studies help us understand the contemporary situation? What are the social and conceptual conditions for a criticism to be articulated in the first place, and for having an impact at a later stage? In addition, we also try to use the empirical research undertaken at the Kolleg (e.g. on the situation of migrant care workers, the history of forced labour in former German colonies, or the precarious condition of creative workers and artists, among others) for a refined understanding of conceptual and philosophical problems. In mono-disciplinary contexts there often is not enough room to discuss these intersections. By way of the cooperation in our group we offer a “resonance chamber” for early stage as well as more experienced researchers whose work is located at this interface between empirical research, social theory and philosophy.


In early 2017 we organized a research seminar on the “Critique of Rights” with Professor Christoph Menke (Goethe University Frankfurt). In the summer term 2017 a research seminar on „New Materialism“ took place, including a workshop with Professors Jane Bennett and William Conolly (Johns Hopkins University). We organized a panel on New Materialism at the international conference “Philosophy & Social Science” in Prague (May 2017) and an international conference on “Critical Theory and New Materialisms” in November 2017. The next workshop in early 2018 will deal will “Capitalism and Violence on a Global Scale”.


For the medium term we would like to attain two things: Together with colleagues from the Friedrich-Schiller-University at Jena we will submit an application for a research training group (Graduiertenkolleg) on „Social Practices and Social Criticism: Immunization and Sensitization“. Some of our members are also working on an application for a „collaborative research center“ (SFB) at the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).