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Patrick Baert

Patrick Baert

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Patrick Baert is a Belgian sociologist and social theorist, based in Britain. He is Reader in Social Theory at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Selwyn College, Cambridge
Selwyn College is a constituent college in the University of Cambridge in England, United Kingdom.The college was founded by the Selwyn Memorial Committee in memory of the Rt Reverend George Selwyn , who rowed on the Cambridge crew in the first Varsity Boat Race in 1829, and went on to become the...

. Born in Brussels in 1961, Baert studied at the Free University of Brussels
Free University of Brussels
The Free University of Brussels was a university in Brussels, Belgium. In 1969, it split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel....

 and at Oxford University where he obtained his D.Phil. in 1990. In Oxford he studied with Rom Harré and wrote his dissertation on George Herbert Mead
George Herbert Mead
George Herbert Mead was an American philosopher, sociologist and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatists. He is regarded as one of the founders of social psychology and the American sociological tradition in general.-...

's notion of time and its relevance for social theory
Social theory
Social theories are theoretical frameworks which are used to study and interpret social phenomena within a particular school of thought. An essential tool used by social scientists, theories relate to historical debates over the most valid and reliable methodologies , as well as the primacy of...

, subsequently published as Time, Self and Social Being (1992). He carried out postdoctoral work with Claude Javeau in Brussels and Anthony Giddens
Anthony Giddens
Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens is a British sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is considered to be one of the most prominent modern contributors in the field of sociology, the author of at least 34 books, published in at least 29...

 in Cambridge. He also published Social Theory in the Twentieth Century (1998) (2nd edition co-written with Filipe Carreira da Silva: Social Theory in the Twentieth Century and Beyond 2010) and Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism (2005).

Baert argues in favour of a neo-pragmatist philosophy of social science which promotes social research in the pursuit of self-referential knowledge. Whilst contributions to the philosophy of social science
Philosophy of social science
The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic and method of the social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology and political science...

 tend to assume that social research is primarily an explanatory (and possibly predictive) endeavor, his argument is that few significant contributions to social research are straightforward explanatory works, and even fewer are exclusively explanatory. Baert's position is that most of those groundbreaking works involve ‘self-referential knowledge’: they enable a community to re-describe and re-conceptualise itself and its presuppositions (Baert and Carreira da Silva 2010, pp. 285–305). He has promoted research in pursuit of self-referential knowledge, and he has analysed the methodological strategies that make this possible in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 and social anthropology
Social anthropology
Social Anthropology is one of the four or five branches of anthropology that studies how contemporary human beings behave in social groups. Practitioners of social anthropology investigate, often through long-term, intensive field studies , the social organization of a particular person: customs,...

 to sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 (Baert 2005, pp. 146–169). For instance, Nietzsche's genealogical history can provide contemporary communities with tools that enable them to re-evaluate the moral and cognitive categories they use to describe the world and their place within it. Baert has argued that the pursuit of self-referential knowledge ties in with the German notion of Bildung
The term refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation, , wherein philosophy and education are linked in manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation...

 or self-edification and with a new role for the intellectual
An intellectual is a person who uses intelligence and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity.- Terminology and endeavours :"Intellectual" can denote four types of persons:...

, whereby he or she helps to facilitate the awareness of alternative socio-political scenarios rather than presenting a set of normative guidelines (Baert 2007, pp. 45–68). A special issue of the journal Human Studies was dedicated to a symposium around Baert's Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism (32 2 2009). In this issue Stephen Turner questioned Baert's attempt to link types of research with specific outcomes (Turner 2009). In the same issue Paul Roth (2009) argues that Baert contradicts himself: whilst rightly rejecting the notion of a scientific method, Baert then surprisingly suggests a method for pursuing self-referential knowledge. Bohman (2009) contends that Baert underestimates the ability of social scientists to develop generalisations which can lead to emancipatory political agendas. For a critical exchange between Baert and Peter Manicas
Peter Manicas
Peter Manicas is a philosopher of science and society at University of Hawaii, Honolulu.He is the author of many books that include*Death of the State,*War and Democracy,*Logic as Philosophy*A History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences...

, see the Journal of Critical Realism (7 2 2008, pp. 235–275); Manicas accused Baert of courting a relativist, postmodern outlook.