The present report is distributed in order to stimulate inter-regional
discussion. Your contributions and comments would be greatly
appreciated. Please send them to Arne Haselbach email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of the theories in the social sciences have been developed
in the Northern parts of the world and reflect their historical
development, their socio-economic and cultural circumstances.
By way of a number of mechanisms these have been - and continue
to be - transferred to, taught and applied in situations which
are widely differing, in which their explanatory power is limited
and in which their straightforward application may even be hazardous.
There are two discernible trends in the opposite direction,
an institutional regionalization of international co-operation
in the social sciences and efforts to create an endogenous body
of social science knowledge.
While institutional regionalization is well on its way, the
theoretical basis of this process is still in want of the necessary
In order to overcome that situation it is necessary to collect
those facts and concepts considered to be essential elements
of this problematique, to establish and to evaluate the state
of the art, to pinpoint the gaps, to determine the priorities
for further research (both from a theoretical and a science policy
point of view), and to actually undertake the necessary intercultural
and multidisciplinary research.
The inter-regional workshop on 'Specificity and Universality'
has contributed to these tasks.
Moving from the - historically essential - 'reactive phase'
of 'indigenization' of the social sciences towards a 'constructive
phase' based on a better understanding of the issue of specificity
and its relationship to the quest for universal validity of social
science knowledge, however, constitutes a historical process,
the direction and speed of which will be determined by the intensity
of participation of social scientists from all over the world.
"a response to the realities, the imperatives, and the
challenges of the contemporary world requires the forging of
new conceptual instruments and techniques and the invention of
By publishing the conclusions of the workshop we are passing
these challenges on to you in the hope that you will choose to
participate in the inter-regional endeavour necessary to overcome
Dr. Arne Haselbach
Vienna Institute for Development
Summary Statement of Conclusions of the Workshop
1. An inter-regional workshop, bringing together social
scientists from the African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latin
American regions, was convened by the Vienna Institute for Development
and held in Vienna, Austria, from 14 to 17 December 1981, on
the following topic:
Specificity and Universality
Conceptual Aspects and Underpinnings of Regionalisation in the
2. Two parallel and mutually reinforcing processes
in the social sciences have grown in strength during the last
decade: the institutionalisation of cooperation among social
scientists on a regional level, on the one hand, and the search
for paradigms, methods and techniques which correspond to the
realities of each region, on the other.
On the basis of this regionalisation a process of establishing
a new pattern of international cooperation, taking the form of
inter-regional cooperation, is unfolding - a process to which
this inter-regional workshop was to contribute.
3. The participants' major preoccupation was to emphasize
the discrepancy between the growing and increasingly unbalanced
mondialisation and the more and more impetuous claim to and assertion
of the specificity of various geographic, historical, socio-economic
and cultural areas, on the one hand, and social theories, conceptual
and methodological tools not suitable for grasping and interpreting
this two-sided process, on the other.
4. The participants denounced the fallacious theories
of universality. Most of these theories are - often implicitly
- based on Euro-centrism and tend to establish the idea that
only Europe or 'occidentality' are carriers of universality.
Specificity is considered an anomaly and as backwardness of non-European
peoples who are called upon to conform to the values and norms
as well as to the economic and social models prevailing in the
respective hegemonic metropolis.
This Euro-centric view and approach is increasingly questioned
and criticized, even in Europe itself.
Positivist theories and methodologies were criticized because
they are not suited for analysing and interpreting the social
dynamic in its totality and the dialectics of universality and
specificity. However, the criticism of positivism and empirism
should not lead to their total rejection; rather, results emanating
from such positive research should be interpreted with reference
to their historical totality.
The participants insisted on the importance of combining a
mondialist with a local, national and/or regional approach. An
exclusively mondialist approach leads to underestimation or neglect
of autonomous aspects of specificity as well as of repercussions
of specificity on universality and mondiality. An exclusively
local, national or regional approach confines social scientists
to the analysis of micro-processes, prevents them from seeing
and understanding the totality and from engaging in macro-economic
and macro-sociological analysis.
It is, therefore, necessary to combine the efforts of social
belonging to various cultural areas as well as to encourage and
carry on interdisciplinary research.
5. A response to the realities, the imperatives, and
the challenges of the contemporary world requires the forging
of new conceptual instruments and techniques and the invention
of new methodologies.
This constitutes a major challenge to all social scientists
which deserves the attention of the best among them.
The problems, which this challenge poses, are manifold and
difficult to solve. Detailed discussion during the workshop led
to the following formulations of some of these problems:
a) How to formulate the questions in such a way that the resulting
analysis and interpretation of social realities will be adequate?
b) Which are the new components of specificity which call
in question the presently dominate concepts of universality?
c) How does specificity become mondialised and mondiality
d) How should comparative studies of different historical,
economic and cultural areas be carried out? How can the differences
be respected and given their due place without disrupting universality?
e) How to develop categories and notions suitable for grasping
and interpreting the interaction of contradictory processes?
(A contribution to a better articulation of universality and
specificity was made in the discussions by relating these concepts
to the problematique of contradictions having their roots in
the historical development of universality itself.)
f) How do the various contradictions (capital/labour; economic
and social domination/dependence; political hegemony/subordination;
physical labour/intellectual labour; rural world/urban world;
elitist culture/popular culture; etc.) assert themselves?
g) Which are the specific mediations by which these contradictions
interlace and interact and which are their manifold and hybrid
forms of appearance in all the different parts of the world and
in the various spheres of social activity?
h) What is the impact of regional cooperation (e.g. different
types of regional integration) on the North/South and East/West
i) What are the implications of the specificity/universality
dialectic for development research?
6. The participants insisted not only on the necessity
of analysing the causes and origins of tensions, conflicts and
crises, but also on the necessity of detecting the alternatives
and ways of solving such crises which meet the requirements of
development, take into account endogenous creativity and respect
the unfolding national, cultural and political identities.
From this point of view it is desirable to explore new paths
for reducing the gap between theory and practice.
7. Methodologies, research techniques, and techniques
of theoretical exposition ought to avoid bias and prejudice,
which deform mentalities, manipulate consciousness and are obstacles
to the solution of crucial problems facing all mankind.
Intellectual instruments ought not to be mere logical and
formal games, but should be in harmony with the historical and
social content, with the aspirations and efforts aiming at accelerating
the transformation of the world to make it liveable for each
and every human being.
8. In a world, which continues to be economically,
politically, and culturally dominated to a large extend by asymmetrical
and inequitable relations, the social sciences ought to provide
a more objective knowledge of the world, and by doing so, contribute
to bring about a transformation of the world in which specificity
is respected and mondiality renewed.
Alya Baffoun, CERES, Université de Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia
Jan Berting, Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University,
Rotterdam, Netherlands and Vienna Centre (European Coordination
Centre for Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences)
Harald Gardos, Austrian Commission for UNESCO, Vienna, Austria
Arne Haselbach, Vienna Institute for Development and EADI
(European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes),
Imre Marton, Karl-Marx University, Budapest, Hungary
Subrata Kumar Mitra, c/o Ruhr-Universität Bochum, F.R.G.,
Felix Gustavo Schuster, CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de
Ciencias Sociales), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Fredj Stambouli, CERES, Université de Tunis, Tunis,
K. Twum-Barima, Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic
Research, University of Ghana, Legon - Accra, Ghana and CODESRIA
(Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa)
We are grateful to the participants in the marvellous experience
of intercultural cooperation that the workshop turned out to
be, to the United Nations University for allowing us to use non-published
papers from a workshop on the same problematique held in the
framework of the Project on Socio-Cultural Development Alternatives
in a Changing World, and to the Federal Chancellery of Austria
and to UNESCO for their financial support.
This report was originally published as »Specificity
and Universality - Conceptual Aspects and Underpinnings of Regionalization
in the Social Sciences«, Occasional Paper 81/4, Vienna
Institute for Development, Vienna 1981.