International conference 'Biological Concepts, Models, and Metaphors in Social and Human Sciences'

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Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities —

National Research University “Higher School of Economics”


October 29–30, 2015


Biological Concepts, Models, and Metaphors in Social and Human Sciences


Address: 20, Myasnitskaya st., Moscow


This meeting continues a series of international workshops and conferences organized by the Center for the history of ideas and sociology of knowledge (IGITI, NRU HSE) in recent years ("Intellectual history vis-à-vis sociology of knowledge: between models and cases", 2014; Social and human sciences on both sides of the ‘iron curtain’, 2013, among others). Similarly to previous meetings, this one brings together leading scholars from around the world dealing with the history of various social and human science disciplines. This year conference focuses on persistent yet troubled relations between social and life sciences, first of all biology, from the early period of their development in the mid-19th century until today. Though biological models and concepts played a constitutive role for the early social theory (especially evolutionism and organicist metaphors), much of this influence was later judged as ethically dubious, irrelevant and even anti-scientific (as this was notably the case of race theory or eugenics). Though hybrid and semi-marginal forms of knowledge blurring the boundary between the two continued to exist, biological determinism was broadly dismissed in the name of social constructionism and autonomy of the social. Recent boom of neurosciences and brain studies, growing demand for revision of the classical philosophy of science, public interest in issues of enhancement of human life (promoted by successes in medicine, genetics and biology) all participate in the revival of problematics of interrelations between the biological and the social (cultural) in human beings and in social phenomena. Based on the evidence from a variety of cases, the conference participants will consider different aspects of these complex relations in different subfields of social and life sciences during the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries.




October 29

(room 311)


10.30 – Registration of participants

10.50 Welcoming words by Irina Savelieva, director of the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities


11.00 – 11.45 Session 1 (Chair – Roger Smith)

Snait Gissis (Cohn Institute, Tel Aviv University, Israel) Evolutionizing and Collectivizing


11.45 – 12.00 Coffee break


12.00 – 13.30 Session 2 (Chair – Tamás Scheibner)

Alexei Kouprianov (Higher School of Economics, Saint-Petersburg, Russia) Circulations of Metaphors: Science of Life and Social Discourses (Visions from the 19th century)

Fernando Vidal  (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, Barcelona, Spain) The Neurosciences of Culture


13.30 – 14.30 Lunch


14.30 – 16.00 Session 3 (Chair – Elena Vishlenkova)

Ullica Segerstrale (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, USA) Social Concepts, Models, and Metaphors in the Biological Sciences

Denis Sivkov (Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Volgograd, Russia) Self or other? Making a Body in Immunology


16.00 – 16.15 Coffee break


16.15 – 18.00 Round table "Social Science and Humanities Disciplines between Life Sciences and the Cognitive Turn" (Chair – Irina Savelieva)



October 30

(room 311)


11.30 – 13.00 Session 1 (Chair – Alexander Dmitriev)

John Tresch (University of Pennsylvania, USA) Leroi-Gourhan and the Creative Co-Evolution of Technology and Society

Tamás Scheibner (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary) Competing Anthropologies in Hungary before and after WWII. Völkerpsychologie, Christian Socialism and Communist Pedagogy


13.00 – 14.00 Lunch


14.00 – 15.30 Session 2 (Chair – Olessia Kirtchik)

Christopher Donohue (National Human Genome Research Institute, Washington, USA) The Biosocial Anthropology of Robin Fox: Defining an Intellectual Community

Alexander Bikbov (Maurice Halbwachs Research Center, Paris, France; Moscow State University, Russia) “Bad Sociology”: Some (Ab)Uses of Biological Concepts


15.30 – 15.45 Coffee break


15.45 – 17.15. Session 3 (Chair – Irina Sirotkina)

Petr Safronov (Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia) Unchain the Grain: Nascent Lyssenkoism, Genetics and the Making of Stalinist Society

Roger Smith (Lancaster University, UK; Institute of the History of Science and Technology, Moscow, Russia) Inhibition and Metaphors of Top-Down Control in Science and Society


17.15 – 17.30 Coffee break


17.30 – 18.00 – Concluding discussion and closing of the conference


For admission to the conference, please write to Alexandra Kolesnik: