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Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 44(2), 146–160 Spring 2008
Published online in Wiley Interscience ( DOI 10.1002/jhbs.20302
© 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.



Historical accounts of the social sciences have too often accepted local or national institu-
tions as a self-evident framework of analysis, instead of considering them as being embed-
ded in transnational relations of various kinds. Evolving patterns of transnational mobility
and exchange cut through the neat distinction between the local, the national, and the inter-
national, and thus represent an essential component in the dynamics of the social sciences,
as well as a fruitful perspective for rethinking their historical development. In this pro-
grammatic outline, it is argued that a transnational history of the social sciences may be
fruitfully understood on the basis of three general mechanisms, which have structured the
transnational flows of people and ideas in decisive ways: (a) the functioning of international
scholarly institutions, (b) the transnational mobility of scholars, and (c) the politics of trans-
national exchange of nonacademic institutions. The article subsequently examines and
illustrates each of these mechanisms. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The social sciences have developed in a permanent tension between the aspiration to uni-
versally valid knowledge about human societies and their primary dependence on nation-
states. Since modern systems of higher learning, research funding, and scientific publications
have been predominantly organized along national lines, the social sciences have often been
understood as a plurality of national traditions, and this has remained an enduring feature of
their historiography.
Due in particular to differences in state structures, the institutional and cognitive forms
of the social sciences indeed display important variations across nations (Wagner et al., 1991;
Rueschemeyer & Skocpol, 1996). A predominant part of the social sciences emerged as “sci-
ences of government,” that is, as scientific or administrative knowledge placed at the service
of expanding national states. The science of politics, political economy, as well as a host of
fact-finding endeavors like political arithmetic and statistics, have their origins in the demand
for more reliable knowledge of state affairs (for general overviews, see Heilbron et al., 1998;
Kazancigil & Makinson, 1999; Porter & Ross, 2003). The social science institutions that
emerged in the nineteenth century continued this tradition. In France the national Académie

JOHAN HEILBRON is a sociologist at the Centre de sociologie européenne (CSE, CNRS) in Paris and at
Erasmus University Rotterdam. Book publications include The Rise of Social Theory (1995), The Rise of
the Social Sciences and the Formation of Modernity (with L. Magnusson and B. Wittrock, 1998/2001) and
Pour une histoire des sciences sociales: Hommage à Pierre Bourdieu (with R. Lenoir and G. Sapiro, 2004).
NICOLAS GUILHOT is research fellow at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Recent pub-
lications include: The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and the Politics of Global Order (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2005); “A Network of Influential Friendships.” The Fondation pour une Entraide
Intellectuelle Européenne and East-West Cultural Dialogue, 1957–1991, Minerva, 44, No. 4, 2006, pp.
379–409. E-mail:
LAURENT JEANPIERRE is assistant professor of political science at the Institut d’études politiques in
Strasbourg, and researcher at the Groupe de sociologie politique européenne (PRISME/GSPE, CNRS).
Publications include: Paris en exil. Intellectuels français réfugiés aux Etats-Unis pendant la Seconde
Guerre mondiale (forthcoming); “Une opposition structurante pour l’anthropologie structurale: Lévi-
Strauss contre Gurvitch, la guerre de deux exilés français aux États-Unis,” Revue d’histoire des sciences
humaines, 11, 2004, pp. 13–43. E-mail:

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des sciences morales et politiques (1832) instituted a semi-official social science that was
based on a centralized mode of dealing with political and social change (Leterrier, 1995;
Staum, 1996; Delmas, 2006). Comparable institutions like the National Association for the
Promotion of Social Science (1857) in Great Britain and the American Social Science
Association (1867) had a similar policy orientation but operated in a more decentralized man-
ner (Goldman, 2002).
Although the constitution of the social sciences as academic disciplines, from the end of
the nineteenth century onward, increased their autonomy vis-à-vis the political elites and the
state, this took place in a context of growing rivalries between the European core states and
strong nationalist movements. In the countries undergoing these transformations (Germany,
France, Great Britain, Italy, the United States) national specificities were often summoned in
order to justify some conceptions of the social sciences and to discredit others. The founder
of academic sociology in France, Emile Durkheim, increasingly presented sociology as a
“French science” and a scientific contribution to the moral and civic foundations of the sec-
ular French Republic. Although partially based on European traditions, the social science dis-
ciplines in North America were likewise built upon the premises of an indigenous tradition,
that of “American exceptionalism” (Ross, 1991).
If there are good reasons for examining and comparing national peculiarities in this man-
ner, historical accounts of the social sciences have far too easily adopted a nation-centered view
uncritically accepting national traditions as a more or less self-evident framework of analysis.
One of the paradoxical consequences of this state of affairs is that the national traditions them-
selves are not well understood. What is commonly called “Austrian economics,” for example,
refers to a set of ideas that emerged locally in Vienna in a struggle in which British political
economy was mobilized against the predominant tradition of German historical economics.
Moreover, the emerging approach became a distinct “national school” only in exile, from the
1930s onward, mainly in the United Kingdom and the United States. Even for a proper under-
standing of national schools, therefore, it is impossible to ignore the broader transnational setting
and the relations of exchange, rivalry, and domination these commonly imply.
Local and national developments represent relevant levels of intellectual activity, but in-
stead of treating them as more or less self-contained universes, it is more fruitful to consider
them as embedded in transnational relations of various kinds. Although remarkably few stud-
ies have taken such a view (for exceptions, see Crawford et al., 1993; Charle et al., 2004;
Moscovici & Marková, 2006), evolving patterns of transnational mobility cut through the neat
distinction between the local, the national, and the international, and thus represent an essen-
tial component in the dynamics of the social sciences, as well as a fruitful perspective for
rethinking their historical development. A transnational perspective may, generally, be defined
as the study of connections across national boundaries and the circulation of ideas, people,
and products these enable. This is a significantly broader conception than is prevalent in the
literature on “international relations” in political science, which is concerned with diplomatic,
political, and military relations between states. This general definition, however, can be
understood in various ways. Although only a particular form of transnationalism, it is most often
associated with developments on a global level. In sociological studies these processes tend
to be examined within the framework of the modern world system or the modern world polity
(Wallerstein, 1974–1989; Drori et al., 2003). The rise of oriental studies and anthropology can
thus be linked to the demand of the colonial powers and to imperial visions of other civiliza-
tions (Asad, 1973; Said, 1978). Similarly, the diffusion of social science knowledge meant the
adoption by the colonized countries of the scientific patterns of the colonizer. In the case of
political science, for instance, countries under Dutch, French, or German influence were


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characterized by the preeminence of the law faculties, within which the new discipline sub-
sequently developed; in countries under British influence, history provided the core discipline
around which political science later developed (Atal, 1995). Such a global or world system
perspective would also have to account for the divergence of twentieth-century social science
in socialist states and capitalist democracies and the “cold wars” that have accompanied it.
In the following programmatic outline for a transnational history of the social sciences,
we have chosen a more specific level of analysis than that of the world system. Focusing on
the core disciplines and the dominant trends (thus largely ignoring transdisciplinary and
extra-academic countercurrents such as Marxism or feminism), we distinguish three general
mechanisms that have structured the transnational flows of people and ideas in decisive ways:
(a) the functioning of international scholarly institutions, (b) the transnational mobility of schol-
ars, and (c) the politics of transnational exchange of nonacademic institutions. In the following
we briefly examine and illustrate each one of these.


Since networking is one of the more important functions of formal organizations, it is
plausible that transnational connections were relatively often initiated at meetings of interna-
tional social science organizations. Once such encounters have taken place, actual modes of
collaboration may take various forms, ranging from project-based endeavors, such as specific
research projects or the production of international databases and reference works (dictionar-
ies, encyclopedias, trend reports), to the building of more permanent organizations. Among
the latter, two closely related institutions have been historically dominant: the international
scientific conference and the international scientific association. Both are distinctly modern
forms, which were unknown in the early modern “Republic of Letters,” and have developed
only since the mid-nineteenth century. International scholarly conferences and associations
were predominantly organized on a disciplinary basis (Heilbron, 2004). They initially covered
statistics and the four basic social sciences (economics, sociology, anthropology, political sci-
ence). The international organizations not only provided meeting places, offering occasions
for communication and diffusion across national borders, they also functioned as interest
groups, stimulating the international spread of knowledge and of scholarly associations in
countries where they did not yet exist.
Despite the fact that international congresses and associations were primarily scholarly
organizations, the intellectual consequences of their modes of operation have varied enormously.
In some fields, such as statistics, they played a key role in the standardization of technical and
administrative tools for producing authoritative knowledge. In other cases, international confer-
ences resembled a diplomatic scene, with occasions for polite encounter, exchange of informa-
tion and “foreign policy,” but of limited significance for actual research, and deliberately
avoiding professional controversy and scientific debate. In other cases yet, the actual effect may
have been the opposite of what was officially intended, reinforcing national rivalries and fuel-
ing struggles for international domination. The most common pattern was undoubtedly the more
or less selective adoption of ideas, methods, and procedures from the leading scientific centers
(Bourdieu, 2002), that is, initially from England, France, and Germany, and in the course of the
twentieth century increasingly from North America (Hall, 1989; Dezalay & Garth, 2002, 2006;
Fourcade, 2006). Characteristic of these diffusion processes in a hierarchical system is that the
recognition of work from the periphery depends on their presence in the center. Although con-
tested and opposed, this has increasingly implied their publication in the English language and
their appearance in leading, mainly Anglo-American journals. In this respect, the patterns of


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linguistic distribution of social science periodicals are very telling: a country like India, for
instance, accounted for 8.6 percent of publications in English in 1980 and 5.7 percent in 2004,
but all of its serial social science publications are in that language (source: DARE database,
Considering the development of international social science organizations historically,
two different stages should be distinguished. During the first phase, from the mid-nineteenth
century until the inter-war period, international social science organizations emerged in most
fields. The process was related to the gradual institutionalization of the social sciences, and
to the more general flourishing of international organizations, which were considered as
opening a new phase in the relations among the most advanced nation-states (Rasmussen,
1995). The multivolume Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1930–1935, 15 volumes), edited
by Edwin Seligmann and Alvin Johnson, and financially supported by the Rockefeller
Foundation, was a significant but relatively rare attempt to collaborate across national bor-
ders. International organizations were more important for purposes of information sharing,
diffusion, and intellectual diplomacy than for effective transnational collaboration. The fact
that the two most important sociologists of the turn of the century, Max Weber and Emile
Durkheim, never met one another and never even referred to each other’s writings, illustrates
the limited significance of international organizations during this period (Tiryakian, 1966).
During the second phase, from the end of the Second World War to the present, new interna-
tional social science organizations were founded under the auspices of UNESCO (Lengyel,
1986; Baker, 1992). Profiting from the strong growth of the social sciences and from increasing
international mobility, new international organizations played an important role in enabling
more regular transitional flows of people and ideas.
The post-1945 expansion was characterized by a tension between more traditional aca-
demic disciplines like law and philosophy, often reflecting the specificity of national scien-
tific cultures, and international social sciences that seemed, by borrowing terms and methods
from the natural sciences, to offer a universal scientific language that was no longer context-
specific. Even though it had been in crisis since its inception, this unified paradigm for the
social sciences lost much of its cogency and was criticized and rejected from different
perspectives by the 1970s. New methodologies, critical transdisciplinary approaches (Marxism,
feminism), the “linguistic turn” in the social sciences, and new forms of regional organizations
contributed to a diversification of scientific endeavors, but also to a sense of uncertainty
about the identity of the social sciences that persists to this day.
One of the first models of the international social science organizations was the interna-
tional congresses of statistics, which were held from 1853 to 1876, and were founded by the
Belgian astronomer and statistical entrepreneur Adolphe Quetelet (Brian, 2002). Every two or
three years they brought together hundreds of participants, both academic and administrative
statisticians, discussing the technical, scientific, and organizational progress of their work.
The proceedings of the congress represented the international state of the art. These periodical
international congresses, which often coincided with the universal expositions and world’s
fairs that have been held since 1851, preceded the formation of international associations. The
international statistical congresses led to the establishment of an International Institute of
Statistics in 1883. In the anthropological sciences, including both physical and social or cul-
tural anthropology, international congresses were held since 1865; they were more formally
instituted with the founding of the International Congress of Anthropological and
Ethnological Sciences (ICAES) in 1934, while the corresponding international association
was set up after the Second World War. In political science and psychology the temporal and
the organizational patterns were similar.


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The pattern was slightly different in sociology. An Institut international de sociologie

was founded in Paris by René Worms as early as 1893 (Schuerkens, 1996), parallel to his
Revue internationale de sociologie (1893), and shortly before national sociological journals
and associations emerged. Worms brought together a considerable number of the best-known
European and North American sociologists (the only major exception being his French com-
petitors around Émile Durkheim), but was more successful as an academic entrepreneur than
as a scholar. The membership of his International Institute, which held thirteen international
congresses between 1893 and 1937, included many nonacademic dignitaries, as well as nu-
merous jurists and economists, and the focus was typically on exchange about general themes
rather than the advancement of research. The same preprofessional aspects also characterized
the beginnings of internationally organized historical scholarship. The first International
Historical Congress (1898) was the result of the “erudite leisure” of an amateur historian,
René de Maulde-La Clavière, who had founded the French Society for Diplomatic History at
the end of the previous decade (Erdmann, 2005): the first congresses were attended by diplo-
mats, amateur historians, and a minority of university professors, and scarcely dealt with is-
sues of methodology or research.
More than the promotion of common professional standards, these early forms of
transnational scientific exchanges were part of a wider movement in favor of international un-
derstanding and cross-border socialization. Along with the labor movement, expansive com-
mercial exchanges, and the development of international law in a pacifist key, the social
sciences were indeed one of the aspects of late nineteenth/early twentieth-century interna-
tionalism, which was commonly thought of as the continuation of the national interest on a
higher level. Despite new initiatives for international collaboration like the International
Labour Organization (1919), the League of Nations (1920), and its Institut international de
coopération intellectuelle (1926), or the International Bureau of Education (1925) headed by
psychologist Jean Piaget, the decades after the First World War were a period of mounting in-
ternational hostilities. The revival and renewed expansion of international social science as-
sociations occurred after the Second World War, when UNESCO initiated and funded
international disciplinary associations: the International Union of Anthropological and
Ethnographical Sciences (1948), the International Sociological Association (1949), the
International Political Science Association (1949), the International Economic Association
(1949), the International Association of Legal Science (1950), and the International Union of
Psychological Science (1951) (Baker, 1992; IPSA, 1999; Platt, 1998). Founded on the basis
of small number of national associations from the core countries, their development followed
a common pattern of growth. The expansion was initially fuelled by the increasing member-
ship of national associations. In spite of the Cold War but in line with the UNESCO policy to
promote international understanding, national associations from several communist countries
in Eastern Europe also joined in the late 1950s. Yet, this composition also explains why
UNESCO tended to shy away from substantial research, politically too sensitive, and to act
instead as an organization servicing the functional needs of the social science community. In
the course of the 1960s and 1970s, membership increased further by allowing individuals and
associate members to join, thus breaking away from the United Nations model of national rep-
resentation. These associate members included regional organizations, most often from Europe,
Latin America, and Asia: the decision to establish the Latin American Social Science Faculty
(FLACSO) was taken in 1957; the European Coordination Centre for Social Science Research
was founded in 1963 in Vienna, as an emanation of the UNESCO-funded International Social
Science Council (Lengyel, 1983). The widening geographic range of recruitment was stimu-
lated by the process of decolonization and, after 1989, by the demise of the communist


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regimes and globalization (Kazancigil & Makinson, 1999), provoking debates about the
social sciences on global level, their diversity, division of labour, and relations of power and
dependency (Atalas, 2003; Bourdieu 1991; Wallerstein et al., 1996).
The international disciplinary organizations, which increasingly focused on ongoing re-
search, were soon based on the functioning of a variety of specialized research groups and
research committees. They also organized world congresses every three to five years, spon-
sored panels and round tables, and launched international journals such as Current Sociology
(1952), Current Anthropology (1960), the International Political Science Review (1980), as
well as various other regular publications (abstracts, trend reports, book series). By incorpo-
rating an increasing number of scholars and scholarly societies, who came from an ever
widening circle of countries, international organizations contributed to the denationalization
of the social sciences, providing an important institutional framework for establishing
transnational connections.

Different patterns of migration have shaped the development of a transnational space for
the social sciences. Leaving temporary migration aside (student exchanges, research mis-
sions, fieldwork, travel, short visits), long-term migration for academic purposes or with the
intention of a more or less permanent settlement abroad has basically taken two forms: vol-
untary migration of resourceful individuals who seek integration in the social science com-
munity of a prestigious center or who want to develop international research networks, and
forced migration of individuals or specific groups. Although the distinction is far from clear-
cut, and does not imply that the former is merely a matter of individual choice and the latter
one of structural constraint, it is useful to distinguish between the two, in particular to account
for the consequences of the massive persecutions in the twentieth century.
Voluntary migration of scientists has always existed throughout the history of science. But
after the turn of the twentieth century such individual displacements became slowly triggered
and partly institutionalized by way of signed agreements between academic institutions. In
1905, for instance, Harvard University, Columbia University, and Berlin University decided to
exchange some of their professors for a year. The University of Paris imitated its German coun-
terpart only four years later (Charle in Charle et al., 2004). Whether American philanthropies
like the Rockefeller Foundation or cultural institutes, the institutions comprising an emerging
national apparatus of cultural diplomacy (e. g., the French Alliances françaises, the British
Council, the German Goethe Institute, etc.) have also fostered displacements of professors
and researchers, first between Europe and the United States, and between all continents after
World War II. There were 384 Rockefeller fellows in the social sciences between 1925 and
1941 (25 percent of all the Foundation’s fellows in the sciences), a third of which eventually
lived in a country of residence different from their country of origin by 1950 (Fleck, 2007;
Rockefeller Foundation, 1951). Most of them had been selected primarily in England, France,
and Germany, the United States being the first-ranking country of residence.
Besides visiting professorships and fellowships, research missions have also brought
social scientists abroad. Among them, anthropologists and archeologists from European coun-
tries have been the first to rely on national networks of scientific institutes for their fieldwork.
Some of these research institutions had been created as early as the mid-nineteenth century
and were located in Greece, Italy, the Middle and Far East, and in most of the colonies of each
nation’s empire (Charle, 1996). Visiting professorships and research missions have since
largely developed, especially after 1945. Social scientists took part in them as their disciplines


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became institutionalized in universities at the national level. Although they participate in the
making of transnational scientific fields, visiting or migrating professors and researchers are
not necessarily willing or able to settle abroad permanently. Thus, two distinct social roles
have tended to predominate among them: migrating scholars have behaved either as “ambas-
sadors” representing national interests or as “specialists” building or consolidating a transna-
tional space for scientific exchanges (Charle, 1994).
In each discipline of the social sciences, the structure of institutionalized scientific
migrations tends to reflect the hierarchy of the world-system for that particular discipline or
its linguistic or regional subsystems. The transnational flows can take two directions. Social
scientists may migrate from academic centers to a periphery to teach, export their skills, or
do research. Franz Boas, who left Germany for the United States in 1899, contributed to cre-
ating the first institutions of anthropological research in Mexico in 1910. French social sci-
entists such as psychologist Georges Dumas, anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roger
Bastide, and historian Fernand Braudel had a strong impact on the development of the social
sciences in Brazil through their positions at the University of Sao Paolo during the interwar
years. The same can be said of French professorships at the University of Algiers. In the
opposite direction, talented young scholars leave a peripheral position for the academic cen-
ters in order to get trained or to work with the most eminent scholars. Vienna and Prague
around 1900 (Pollak, 1992), Berlin and Heidelberg until 1933, and Paris until 1940 have
been such centers for social scientists. Oxford and Cambridge, London, along with the most
prestigious universities of the United States (Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Yale,
etc.) probably still are. The anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski left Poland for London in
1910 and in 1938 left the London School of Economics for Yale University. Many young
American and European psychologists visited Janet or Charcot in Paris at the end of the
nineteenth century or Freud in Vienna. Imperial and colonial political structures also pro-
vided a dissymmetrical framework for voluntary migrations of social scientists, as shown in
the case of Orientalist scholars and Algerian anthropologists being trained in Paris after 1945
(Brisson, 2004) or in the case of the Habsburg Empire. Some centers attract scholars on a
regional basis, as is often the case with the most prestigious South African, Indian, Japanese,
and Mexican universities today.
The hierarchy of academic centers and national traditions is not the only factor account-
ing for the direction of transnational scientific migrations in the social sciences. Most of the
scientific migration flows from Europe to America derive from the fact that the United
States has been relatively open to productive foreign social scientists throughout the century,
especially when European or non-Western universities were going through financial or em-
ployment shortages, or when they still rejected some of the new disciplines. The word “brain
drain” was coined in the early 1960s in Great Britain to describe the rapidly increasing num-
bers of scientists emigrating from Europe and even more so from Third World or “emerging”
countries to the United States (Adams, 1968). It is estimated that around one million stu-
dents and scholars have moved from these countries to the Western centers over the past 40
years (Kallen, 1994). Such a massive migration has reinforced the hegemony of American
universities and research centers in the social sciences. However, the concentration of scien-
tific resources and talented individuals is not the only by-product of voluntary scientific
migration. When that migration is not permanent, temporary scientific socialization in one of
the world-centers of a discipline may also contribute to the construction or reinforcement
of national scholarship in one’s country of origin. Florian Znaniecki was one of the pioneers of
academic sociology in the United States, but also one of the founders of sociology in his
home country of Poland.


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Because it often resulted in a long-lasting or permanent professional integration abroad,
forced migration contributed even more than voluntary migration to the internationalization of
social sciences in the twentieth century. The numerous wars and waves of political persecution
provoked intellectual exiles. Anti-Semitism under the Czarist regime and political violence fol-
lowing the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution caused the emigration of “White” Russian or Menshevik
scholars (like the sociologists Pitirim Sorokin or Nikolaï Berdiaev) to Berlin, Paris, and the
United States. The end of the Spanish Civil War had the same effects, notably in Mexico
(Enrique, 1995). Wars outside of the Western world after 1945 and, even more so, the exodus of
Hungarians and Czechs starting in the late 1950s and the collapse of the Soviet regime and its
European satellites in the 1990s, also led social scientists to seek refuge abroad (this is, for
example, the case of Zygmunt Bauman, Ferenc Fehér, Ivàn Szelenyi). But the most important
migration of scholars took place in the 1930s with the exile of professors and researchers—a
majority of them being Jewish—from Germany and occupied countries to the United States, the
United Kingdom, Switzerland, Turkey, and Palestine, among other countries.
This scientific exodus from Europe was selective. It was organized by transnational
intellectual networks, which often preexisted the political crises of the 1930s, like the Institute
of International Education, an agency largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The
American scientific philanthropies played an important role in rescuing dismissed and threat-
ened European scientists by channeling former beneficiaries of their grant programs to safe
countries. Ad hoc committees like the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced
German/Foreign Scholars (1933) in New York, the Society for the Protection of Science
and Learning (1936) in London, the Comité des Savants in France, and the Academisch
Steunfonds in the Netherlands were created for the same purposes (Duggan & Drury, 1948;
Bentwich, 1953). Relatively new academic institutions like the New School for Social
Research (1919) headed by the economist Alvin Johnson in New York or the London School
of Economics (1895) played a specific role in securing job positions for refugee social scien-
tists. Several hundred scholars who already were or eventually became professional social sci-
entists emigrated between 1933 and 1942 from Europe to the United States. Due in part to the
expanding higher education and research field in the latter country, many of them became
fully recognized social scientists, whereas only a minority of them had been recognized as
such before (Fleck, 2007). Their intellectual impact has profoundly reshaped and “denation-
alized” North American social science (Coser, 1984; Hoch & Platt in Crawford et al., 1993),
and was an important factor in consolidating its global supremacy (Hughes, 1975).
European refugee social scientists did more than merely import continental knowledge on
foreign soil. They developed new styles of inquiry and new research programs. Most of them
also applied their knowledge and methods to the political analysis of their countries of origin,
as with the Office of Strategic Services (Katz, 1989). By taking part in the British or American
war effort, they renewed hopes for social betterment by developing applied social science.
In political science, German-speaking philosophers like Franz Neumann, Hannah
Arendt, Eric Voegelin, and Leo Strauss; legal scholars like Hans Kelsen; international rela-
tions specialists like Hans Morgenthau; and generalists like Karl Deutsch contributed to the
institutional development of the discipline and helped to develop comparative international
politics and the field of international relations (Söllner in Ash & Söllner, 1996). In sociology,
refugee scholars like Paul Lazarsfeld, Jacob Moreno, and Peter Blau transformed the meth-
ods and the expectations of the field by developing new techniques of empirical inquiry, while
others like Norbert Elias and Karl Mannheim in England and Alfred Schütz or Lewis Coser
in the United States developed a more critical and qualitative or historical social science.
Econometrics also became implemented in American institutions through refugee economists


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like Jakob Marschak or Wassily Leontief. Economists coming from Vienna—Friedrich

Hayek, Fritz Machlup, Karl Menger, Oskar Morgenstern, Ludwig von Mises, and the mathe-
matician John Von Neumann—developed a new unifying paradigm for political economy,
while economists from Kiel or Heidelberg—Emil Lederer, Gerhard Colm, Adolph Lowe—
helped reconcile Keynesianism with classical political economy but without any influence
on public policy before the 1950s (Krohn 1993 [1987]). Joseph Schumpeter, Alexander
Gerschenkron, Karl Polanyi, and a few others did not take part in the explosion of mathe-
matical economics and developed an historical approach to the discipline. In psychology the
emigration of the Gestalt scientists Wolfgang Köhler and Max Wertheimer, and the inquiries
of group dynamics by Kurt Lewin, among others, helped reinforce experimental psychology
and applied psychology for social issues in the United States (Ash in Ash & Söllner, 1996).
Psychoanalysts from Europe like Erik Erikson, Helene Deutsch, and Erich Fromm created a
distinct strain of this new intellectual current of psychology and a specific training within
American psychological practice (Coser, 1984). The exile in London of Freud and his daughter
also contributed to developing a transnational psychoanalytic movement, which was only taking
shape in the interwar years.
The effects of the forced migration of European social scientists have been even more
visible during the postwar period, as some of the European refugee scholars who stayed in the
United States after 1945 contributed to the intellectual climate of the Cold War era (Fermi,
1968; Bailyn & Fleming, 1969; Hughes, 1975; Coser, 1984; Srubar, 1988). The methodolog-
ical preference for quantification, the neo-positivist philosophy of science behind the social
sciences of that period, and the hope for social progress through social research, which
already characterized American social science, were reinforced by this intellectual migration.
Embedded within behaviorist and functionalist currents, or linear theories of modernization
and economic development, these bodies of assumptions and scientific norms constituted the
core of American cold-war imperialism in the social sciences (Pollak, 1976). The most suc-
cessful refugee scholars became export agents of these ways of doing social science and helped
constructing and unifying a transnational field for each of these disciplines (Pollak, 1979).
A minority of European refugee social scientists of the 1930s resisted the neo-positivist and
“behavioral revolution” fostered by others in the social sciences. They defended a more crit-
ical, philosophical, or theoretical approach of social and political science (Jay, 1973, for the
example of the Frankfurt School).
Since the 1960s, intellectual migrations from social scientists to the United States have
produced different intellectual consequences, often critical of the epistemology and the social
effects of mainstream American social science. The new legitimacy of cultural studies, the
renewed development of area studies, and the current interest in transnational topics are
doubtless an effect of some other transnational trajectories of prominent intellectual exiles
(Arjun Appadurai, Homi Bhabha, Edward Saïd).


If, in their early stage, international contacts in the social sciences were in part driven by
scholarly communities, they were also embedded in the international politics of individual
nation-states. Whether for diplomatic purposes or with a view to acquire scientific skills, such
exchanges illustrate the importance of science policies in the making of modern governance.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a country like Germany stood out as the
crucial purveyor of institutional and methodological models for others, eager to emulate its
scientific establishment and its industrial successes: French scholars from Émile Durkheim to


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Raymond Aron studied in Germany in the context of the modernization of French higher
education. Germany also played an important role as the training ground for a modern cadre
of American scholars who later contributed to develop the social sciences in their country,
from university pioneers like the sociologists Albion Small and W. I. Thomas, to Talcott
Parsons (Schaefer, 2000; Ross, 1991). In political science, exchanges between the United
States and English scholars were also influential in determining the development of the dis-
cipline, as well as the self-understanding of American society (Adcock et al., 2007). The com-
petition among national powers also expanded into the academic field, where imperial visions
were articulated and disseminated through the first organized international exchanges: the
oldest international fellowship, the Rhodes scholarships established in 1902 in the United
Kingdom, was created with a view to secure and defend British rule but also played an im-
portant role in the socialization of Anglo-American elites (Kenny, 2001; Schaeper &
Schaeper, 1998). Yet, this situation and the rising nationalism of the interwar period tended to
configure the social sciences along national lines and to maintain them in a subordinate
position vis-à-vis established disciplines. The failure to create national political science asso-
ciations in the major European countries before 1949 (while Canada, Sweden, and Finland had
established theirs in the interwar period) bears witness to the resistance of the national aca-
demic establishments, unwilling to release control over the content of education (Stein, 1995;
Coakley & Trent, 2000; Trent, 1982), and to the strength of humanities often constitutive of the
national imagination.
Although there were efforts at developing international networks of scholars or institu-
tions during the interwar period, the internationalization of the social sciences really took off
after 1945 and established the preeminence of American research traditions. In the core coun-
tries of the world system, the postwar development of the social sciences was set against the
backdrop of reconstruction. With the European scientific infrastructure and human capital de-
pleted by the war, the United States found itself in a dominant position that ensured the hege-
mony of its theoretical and organizational models. New channels of scholarly exchanges, such
as the system of Fulbright fellowships, increased the capacity of the country to disseminate
its vision of the social sciences through international networks of scholars (Sussman, 1992).
This vision called for the full integration of the social sciences within the canons of modern
science, or at least what some scholars imagined to be the scientific method. Articulated in
the language of “behavioralism” and institutionally promoted by Talcott Parsons in the run-
up to the creation of the National Science Foundation (Klausner & Lidz, 1986), this agenda
also seemed to deliver the social sciences from any cultural attachment, even though this
vision was deeply rooted in a defensive liberalism increasingly questioned by European émigré
scholars (Gunnell, 1988). The institutionalization of empirical, applied, inductive social sci-
ence thus proceeded primarily against the traditional academic division of knowledge and
sought to reorganize disciplines along a common notion of science and method, encountering
in the process the resistance of some quarters of the academic establishment. As a result, the
institutions that acted as the receptacles of the social sciences were usually created outside
and against the established universities: this is the case of the École hautes études en sciences
sociales in France (Mazon, 1988), which stood in opposition to the faculty of law and to at
least some parts of the faculty of letters; a similar strategy was pursued in Italy (Gemelli,
2005) and in Germany (Staley, 1995).
Elsewhere, the redeployment of U.S. power in a postcolonial context accounts for the in-
ternationalization of a particular conception of the social sciences, presented as part and parcel
of the modernizing process. While in Third World countries the social sciences had previously
developed as fact-finding tools serving colonial administrations, their status considerably


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changed in the postwar era. No longer confining peripheral countries to a subordinate posi-
tion, the “behavioral” sciences and their emphasis on societal modernization seemingly sug-
gested that they could also catch up with a global modernity. As a result, modernization
theory provided an attractive language for relating the social sciences to autonomous national
development, social progress, and democracy. The Americanization of some core disciplines,
such as political science and sociology, was often equated with the scientific emancipation
from the former colonial power, and the construction of public research universities as sym-
bols and actors of national development by newly independent states facilitated the diffusion
of research agendas and methods influences by modernization theory. This process was am-
biguous, as the image of the scientific method encapsulated in behavioralism and the highly
stylized sequence of societal development contained in modernization theory contributed to
hiding the fact that it found its ideological roots in the Anglo-American experience of socie-
tal development. Moreover, the rise of such subfields as “area studies” was inseparable from
American geopolitical concerns in the context of the Cold War (Simpson, 1998). The behav-
ioral sciences also had a built-in international dimension to the extent that their ahistorical
approach to social phenomena called for the neutralization of cultural contexts through wide-
scale comparisons (National Academy of Sciences, Social Science Research Council, 1969).
They also provided a conduit for a technocratic ethos suiting modernizing national elites
in the periphery. As a result, modernization theory accommodated many political constraints
of the time: it studied social change but placed the emphasis on overall stability; contributed
to exporting the Western sequence of societal development, projected as a universal process
of “modernization”; and sought to recast modern Western society as a post-ideological social
order (Latham, 1998; Gilman, 2003).
These continued relations of dependency also implied that scientific relations between
peripheral countries were mediated by the metropolitan center, where scientific standards were
established and where most transversal scientific socialization took place. By contrast, the
organization of the social sciences on a regional basis was often seen as a strategy for greater
autonomy—and it is certainly no coincidence that the more vigorous critique of economic but
also scientific dependency came from Latin America, where such organizations as the Latin
American Social Science Council (CLACSO) (1967) or the Latin American Social Science
Faculty (FLACSO) (1958) ensured a strong level of regional scientific integration.
International scientific organizations such as UNESCO paradoxically acted as conduits for this
expansion but also, subsequently, as reflexive and critical forums denouncing the “relationship of
dependency” in the diffusion of social scientific knowledge and calling for “indigenization”
of research and the development of autonomous regional cooperation (UNESCO, 1976).
If the international development of the social sciences was in large part determined by
state policies and international politics, the role of private institutions and in particular of
philanthropic foundations deserves a special mention. Because they emerged within an ideo-
logical constellation where a paternalistic concern for social welfare and a strong belief in
modern science met a pacifist discourse inextricably intertwined with mercantile imperialist
designs (Berman, 1983), the early foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation or the
Carnegie Corporation were major forces in the transnationalization of the social sciences.
While building the infrastructures of a modern social scientific establishment at home, such
as the Social Science Research Council in 1923 (Fisher, 1983), the foundations also sought to
build international networks of scholars. Just as the nascent sciences of society were supposed
to ease domestic social conflict, their internationalization was supposed to foster understand-
ing and dialogue among the nations. Cooperation on the pressing issues of the day was expected
to defuse international tensions by working toward the scientific understanding of their causes.


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Political science, sociology, and economics—all concerned with the functioning of industrial
societies—benefited from these efforts. The Rockefeller Foundation, in particular, promoted
its reform-oriented vision of the social sciences throughout the 1930s by sponsoring networks
of excellence made of institutions such as the London School of Economics or Chatham
House in the United Kingdom, Charles Rist’s Institut Scientifique de Recherches
Economiques et Sociales in France, the Stockholm Institute of Social and Municipal Research
(Carver, 1991), or the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in Berlin. These efforts partly over-
lapped or were informally coordinated with public policy (Ninkovitch, 1981). Latin America,
in particular, was a region where it was difficult to distinguish between scientific, philan-
thropic, and political developments. The evolution of American anthropology after 1940, for
instance, dovetailed with the projects of such agencies as the Office of the Coordinator of
Inter-American Affairs, created in 1940 and headed by Nelson Rockefeller (Patterson 2001,
pp. 95–96; Rivas, 2002). Yet, the purpose of these early efforts was not so much the discipli-
nary development of the social sciences as the development of transnational channels of com-
munication meant to increase international cooperation. These “area studies” were still anti- or
multidisciplinary endeavors and were concerned not so much with “normal science” as with the
acquisition of regional knowledge for practical purposes. Efforts toward methodological inte-
gration of the social sciences came later, after the Second World War, a period during which the
earlier enthusiastic embrace of international liberalism was replaced by the more sober accep-
tance of the limits of international cooperation and the engagement of the social sciences with
the defense of democracy and the Cold War. In political science, for instance, the Rockefeller
Foundation played an important role in the international development of a theory of interna-
tional relations. In economics, a new orthodoxy constituted around the Chicago School and the
Cowles Commission rapidly became a new international standard (Mirowski, 2002). Starting in
the 1950s, the Ford Foundation supported the worldwide dissemination of the “behavioral sci-
ences” and, in the late 1960s, targeted more specifically the Third World, after having sought to
support self-sustaining regional scientific networks in Europe, such as the European
Consortium for Political Research (1970) or the European Association for Experimental Social
Psychology (1965), which grew out of an Social Science Research Council initiative.

Although this historical landscape remains necessarily sketchy given the scope of this
paper, it nevertheless sheds some light on the current state of the social sciences and allows
for some tentative conclusions. Compared to the humanities and other disciplines wedded to
their linguistic background, the development of the social sciences may well appear to be a
transnational project in its own right. It has nevertheless remained the product of national ef-
forts and styles of research for the major part of the last two centuries. After 1945, and more
so from the 1960s onward, worldwide international exchanges became increasingly institu-
tionalized. But transnational disciplinary spaces of exchanges remain fragile. They show a
highly dissymmetrical structure, where Western countries, among them the United States in
the first place, hold a hegemonic position. This structure has not only determined the patterns
of diffusion of the social sciences but also their very content and their fields of application,
as they often supported the administrative and policy apparatus that maintained this asym-
metric world order (Fourcade, 2006). Yet, for the same reason, the critique of social scientific
knowledge has concentrated on issues of centrality and periphery. In the last forty years, a
radical and politicized critique has turned again to philosophy and the humanities in order to
question the dominant epistemology and the universalist underpinnings of the social sciences


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(Wallerstein, 1999). Arguably, this critique has not exhausted its effects and may change the
future borders of the disciplines as well as their geographical contours. But it is already clear
that the social sciences cannot proceed without assimilating this critique and adopting a more
reflexive stance. The debate around “cosmopolitanism” that flourished in the 1990s and the
sociological critique of “methodological nationalism” (Beck & Sznaider, 2006) seems in
many ways to be a first result, within the social sciences, of this critique. The risk, obviously,
is that this newly professed cosmopolitanism amounts to a mere restatement, in universalistic
terms, of the specific interests of a socially privileged academic aristocracy (Calhoun, 2002).

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