Kontingenz und Moderne

Gruppenfoto anlässlich der ersten Tagung im Rahmen des Projekts mit Reinhart Koselleck am 14. und 15.1.2005 am Max-Weber-Kolleg in Erfurt (Foto: Doreen Hochberg)
Gruppenfoto anlässlich der ersten Tagung im Rahmen des Projekts mit Reinhart Koselleck am 14. und 15.1.2005 am Max-Weber-Kolleg in Erfurt (Foto: Doreen Hochberg)


Prof. Dr. Hans Joas, Universität Erfurt, Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien

Prof. Dr. Christoph Menke, Universität Potsdam, Institut für Philosophie

Prof. Dr. Peter Wagner, ICREA und Universität Barcelona, Soziologie

Prof. Dr. Michael Werner, L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur L'Allemagne, Paris

The goal of the interdisciplinary research project was to define the significance of the concept of contingency from the standpoint of social and political philosophy for the task of analysing long-term processes of social development under conditions of modernity. Particular attention was paid to connections between historical experiences of contingency and semantic changes in the concept of contingency. The original funding application intended to address this question by reference to three periods of extensive socio-political and semantic transformation: the turn of the eighteenth century and its consequences (“die Sattelzeit”), the years of the First World War, and the period since 1968.

In accordance with recommendations from the Volkswagen Foundation, our originally intended time-frame was limited predominantly to the period from 1900 to the present. Analysis of the earlier period from the end of the eighteenth century (die Sattelzeit) was carried out chiefly through diverse critical engagements with the work of Reinhart Koselleck. Among the results of this were the detection in Koselleck’s work of an insufficient differentiation between historicism and romanticism and of an insufficient distinction between two different forms of consciousness of contingency in the period, as well as the observation of very different kinds of response in nineteenth century historical thinking to the „social question“, and a certain implicit dependence of particular parts of Koselleck’s work on a linear theory of secularization that is not open to a thinking of contingency.

In the focus on the first half of the twentieth century, a particular object of investigation concerned changes in views of historical causality around 1900 and the relationship between philosophy and historical studies at this time. These changes came about through a crisis of positivism and through challenges to the picture of linear historical progress. This transformation of the conceptual field was then profoundly reinforced by the historical experience of the First World War. This transformation too, however, ought not to be represented retrospectively as a necessary phase in any ultimately linear process of modernization.

With regard to the second half of the twentieth century, the conclusion was that neither the year 1968 nor an apparent transition to „postmodernity“ can be historically verified as epochal turning points. Criticism of „modernity“ did not have to become „postmodern“ before it could take place. In French intellectual history, the concept of „difference“ certainly changes from a static relational concept to a dynamic of „perpetual-becoming-different“ within philosophical projects that also seek to celebrate this conception performatively in their style. But with this there also arises a certain de-problematization of contingency, a movement away from questions of management of contingency toward opportunities for tolerating it. The experiences of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century also play a key role in these processes.

The numerous publications that have grown out of this project offer building blocks for a conceptual and empirical history of contingency and for a way of understanding of social change that is sensitive to contingency. They contribute toward overcoming historically misleading dichotomies such as „premodern/modern“ and „modern/ postmodern“.