Full text: Expansion, Stagnation und Demokratie - 1982 Heft 2 (2)

"Partisanship" and the sciences
E. J. Hobsbawm
I
Though there has been a great deal of discussion about the nature, or
even the possibility, of objectivity in the social sciences, there has been
much less interest in the problem of "partisanship" in these sciences,
including in history. "Partisanship" is one of those words like "violence"
or "nation" which conceal a variety of meanings beneath an apparently
simple and homogeneous surface. It is more often used as a term of
disapproval or (much more rarely) praised than defined, and when it is
formally defined1, definitions tend to be either selective or normative. In
fact, the common usages of the term conceal a wide ränge ofmeanings,
stretching from the unacceptably narrow to the platitudinously broad.
At its broadest it may merely be another way of denying the
possibility of a purely objective and value-free science, a proposition
from which few historians, social scientists and philosophers would
today totally dissent. At the opposite extreme it is the willingness to
subordinate the processes and findings of research to the requirements
of the researcher's ideological or political commitment and whatever
this implies, including their Subordination to the ideological or political
authorities accepted by him or her; however much these may conflict
with what these processes and findings would be without such dicta-
tion. More commonly, of course, the researcher internalizes these
requirements which thus become characteristics of science, or rather
(since partisanship implies an adversary) of the "right" science against
the "wrong" science - of women's history as against male Chauvinist
history, proletarian science as against bourgeois science etc.
In fact, there are probably two overlapping spectra, of which one
expresses the various nuances of the objective political or ideological
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