Pragmatism for Social Scientists: Histories, Criticism & Opportunities


PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, and early career researchers from the Doctoral Schools. It is also targeted at established faculty focused on laying down a deeper foundation in the philosophy of pragmatism that is currently increasingly influential among their peers working in the social sciences within and beyond this school.  No prior knowledge is required.

Organizing Committee

Dr. Nida Alahmad, UGent, Conflict and Development Studies -
Prof. Dr. Christopher Parker, UGent, Conflict and Development Studies -
Drs. Steven Schoofs, UGent, Conflict and Development Studies -

Scientific Committee

Dr. Nida Alahmad, UGent, Conflict and Development Studies -
Dr. Brendan Hogan, New York University -
Dr. Simon Jackson, University of Birmingham -
Prof. Dr. Christopher Parker, UGent, Conflict and Development Studies -


Deciding the methodological parameters of any social scientific research project has significant and far-reaching consequences. The methodological orientation of practicing social scientists is crucial for the work they do because it structures the way in which the research is conducted. One of the more significant and influential recent developments in philosophy globally — and in the theoretical branches of various social scientific disciplines in particular — is the recent rise to prominence of pragmatism.
Formerly little-known among scholars in continental Europe, pragmatism has now established a strong foothold there within various disciplinary and institutional formations, as represented by some of the leading intellectuals of our time. Figures such as Jurgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Bruno Latour, Axel Honneth and Luc Boltanski all rely significantly on pragmatism to underpin their work. Indeed, Boltanski has been credited with inaugurating a new “pragmatic school of French sociology”. Various research networks have also sprouted up, including the Nordic Pragmatism Network, Associazione Pragma, alongside burgeoning journals such as Pragmatism Today and the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy. By participating in this
course, students will access a vital toolkit of concepts that will prove invaluable as they confront the methodological problems each researcher faces.
More particularly, this course will:
● Develop participants’ familiarity with the basic concepts of pragmatism.
● Provide a robust outline of the history and present of pragmatism as a philosophy of human action and social science.
● Draw out the consequences of pragmatism for the methodology of the social sciences and in particular for Conflict and Development Studies.
● Show how pragmatism influences major contemporary theoretical and social scientific programs and their fundamental concepts, such as: power, growth, agency, knowledge and domination.
● Think through the consequences of a pragmatic approach to how we see the purpose of social science in a democratic society.


Participants are required to attend and actively participate in 4 sessions spread across four months. The course is conceived as an interactive seminar and a stimulating intellectual environment. A reader containing seminal works in pragmatism will be distributed to the students well in advance. Reading of the assigned literature for each of the session is compulsory. Participants are expected to engage actively with their fellow students. To ensure thorough participation, students will be given the task to either act as primary respondents to kick-start discussion or to provide a summary of the preceding session at the start of each session. Each of the seminar sessions will be actively moderated by members of the Scientific Committee in order to maximise the quality of the interactive learning process.

Each session will last for 4 hours and is structured as follows:
10:00 - 10:15 Recap of preceding session (key concepts, themes and ideas)
10:15 - 11:15 Lecture by guest speaker
11:15 - 12:00 Q & A
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch Break
13:00 - 13:30 Short presentations by primary respondents
13:30 - 15:00 Interactive discussion based on guest lecture and required reading

In the first session, pragmatism as a philosophical school will be addressed and outlined from historical and conceptual perspectives: classical pragmatists such as Peirce, Dewey and Mead will be specifically examined. In particular, questions concerning what makes pragmatism unique as a philosophy will be introduced, in order to clearly explain pragmatic theory’s history and its potential impact upon social scientific research, and especially conflict and development studies.
The second session will focus on the question of where pragmatic philosophy sits today. We will privilege the work of those contemporary thinkers who profess to continue the tradition and ask what ‘neopragmatism’ is and why this new formulation was seen as necessary? This session will highlight why pragmatism has experienced the resurgence it has, even in institutional and intellectual contexts far removed from its origin.
In the third session, we will explore pragmatism’s varied uses in the hands of contemporary social scientists located far from the classical thinkers at the origin of pragmatism. Specifically, the influence of pragmatism on social science research in the European context will be discussed, and such pivotal figures as Luc Boltanski will be profiled. Pragmatic philosophy is fallibilist – that is, it considers even the most deeply philosophical claims available for revision in light of better arguments. Thus, the final seminar will develop a sympathetic but rigorous critique and encourage practical and theoretical discussion of the shortcomings and possible blind spots of pragmatism today, especially with respect to political questions.


Venue: vergaderzaal decaan John Vincke (Korte Meer nr. 5), 9000 Gent

  • Session 1: What is Pragmatism? - 23 February 2018 - Dr. Brendan Hogan, New York University

The only major philosophical school developed primarily in the USA, pragmatism challenged all of the major philosophical systems that preceded it. By drawing lessons from the development of experimental science to build a general account of theory, pragmatism brought philosophy deeper into the realm of human lived experience and into contact with the problems of everyday life. This session draws out the consequences of the reconstruction that Peirce, Dewey, and Mead performed upon the ‘abstractions’ of the previous philosophy.
Brendan Hogan (The New School for Social Research, PhD) is Clinical Associate Professor in the Global Liberal Studies Program at New York University. He specializes in pragmatic philosophy, philosophy of social science and political philosophy. In particular his work explores questions about the normative status of democracy and the relationship between imagination, critique, and human agency. His latest publications focus on the late pragmatist philosopher Hilary Putnam and the critique of the forms of economicrationality at the basis of certain models of mainstream economics. His articles have been published in a variety of venues including The Journal of Speculative Philosophy and the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal. Since 2015 he has taught the history of political philosophy and a course on the critique of capitalism from a normative perspective for NYU at their campus in London.

  • Session 2: Pragmatism Today - 16 March 2018 - Prof. Roberto Frega, CNRS, Paris

This session will deal with the recent resurgence of pragmatism in political theory, with particular reference to theories of democracy. It will compare pragmatist theories of democracy with competing approaches such as republicanism, liberalism, and critical theory with the aim of showing what is the added value this tradition has to offer for understanding the political challenges we are facing today in so controversial domains such as new practices of peer production, the digitalization of the public sphere, the emergence of new transnational non-state actors, as well as of transnational critical subjects and movements.
Roberto Frega holds a PhD in philosophy from the Université Paris 8. He is permanent researcher at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) in Paris. His areas of specialization are American philosophy and contemporary democratic theory. In the first field he has published two monographs on John Dewey’s philosophy (Pensée, experience, pratique. Essai sur la théorie du jugement de John Dewey, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2006; John Dewey et la philosophie comme épistémologie de la pratique, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2006). In the second field he has published a book on political epistemology (Voci della ragione, Quodlibet, Macerata, 2009), a book on social theories of normativity (Les sources sociales de la normativitè, Vrin 2013), a book on moral and political philosophy (Practice, Judgment, and the Challenged of Moral and Political Disagreement. A pragmatist Account, Lexington, Lanhan, Md. 2012). His articles have appeared in many highly reputed international journals such as The European Journal of Political Theory,Constellations, Critical Horizons, Social theory and Practice, Metaphilosophy, Thesis Eleven, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, The Review of International Studies. He is currently completing a book manuscript titled The Democratic Project.

  • Session 3: Pragmatism and the Social Sciences - 20 April 2018 - Dr. Simon Susen, City, University of London

After their striking neglect of Pragmatism at its zenith in John Dewey’s work in the 1930s, European intellectuals have recently started to absorb and reconstruct pragmatism, thereby making continental Europe one of the most fertile arenas of the application of pragmatism in the social sciences. In this session we will hear how pragmatism works in the social sciences. In particular, we will investigate more thoroughly the pragmatic approach to social inquiry, beginning with an account of human agency and following its consequences.
Simon Susen is Reader in Sociology at City, University of London. Before joining City in 2011, he held lectureships at Birkbeck, University of London (2010–2011), Newcastle University (2008–2010), and Goldsmiths, University of London (2007–2008). He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2007. Prior to that, he studied sociology, politics, and philosophy at a range of international universities and research centres— including the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the Colegio de México, the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Mexico City, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is Associate Member of the Bauman Institute and, together with Bryan S. Turner, Editor of the Journal of Classical Sociology.

  • Session 4: Pragmatism and its Discontents - 15 June 2018 - Prof. Maeve Cooke

The embrace of pragmatism has not left everyone satisfied. As with many popular theoretical movements, proliferating publication and splintering identifications with pragmatism have sometimes generated confusions, and even stretched the definition of
what counts as pragmatism so thin as to become unhelpful. As outlined in the previous session, pragmatism has been developed in ways that are not necessarily compatible. The fault may lie with the main theses of pragmatism themselves. Accordingly, this
session seeks to grasp how pragmatism and its practitioners have been criticized in various contemporary political theoretical contexts.
Maeve Cooke is Professor of Philosophy at University College Dublin, Ireland and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Her current research interests centre on the relation between freedom and authority, with a specific focus on questions of democratic dissent and political violence. Her principal book publications are Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas’ Pragmatics (MIT Press, 1994) and Re-Presenting the Good Society (MIT Press, 2006). She is the author of many articles in the areas of social and political philosophy and has held visiting appointments at universities in the USA and Europe. She is on the editorial board of a number of scholarly journals.

Registration and information

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When the course is fully booked, you can send an e-mail to and ask to be added to the waiting list.

Registration fee

Free of charge for PhD students of the Doctoral School of Social and Behavioural Sciences of Ghent University.


Maximum 25 participants


Reading list will be sent in advance to participants.

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Presence and active participation during all sessions:
● Students will be given the task to either act as primary respondents to kick-start discussion or to provide a summary of the preceding session at the start of each session.
● Students are also expected to actively participate in the open discussion at the end of each lecture.
● Preparatory compulsory reading