Concepts, Methods and Values (CMV): a history
Concepts, Methods and Values in the Social Sciences was one of the original defining ‘contextual’ courses at Sussex. As a compulsory third-year course in the School of Social Sciences it was taught from 1963 to 1998. During this period it was of considerable importance to the creation and development of teaching and research in Intellectual History at Sussex. It was designed to be taken by all students majoring in the social sciences. Originally, it consisted of a course on the philosophy of social science taught jointly by philosophers and social scientists, which made use of the current literature on the philosophy of science to explore the similarities and differences within the social sciences and between the social and natural sciences and the humanities. It provided a ‘second-order’ perspective that enabled students to consider the status of the knowledge claims made by the social sciences in the light of modern controversies on the subject.
After a few years it was decided that the same goal could also be achieved by considering the historical development of these sciences over the period that began with the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and ended with their professionalization as academic disciplines at the beginning of the twentieth century. There was, after all, a rich literature based on classic pronouncements on the methodology and philosophy of social science by John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Karl Marx, Emil Durkheim, and Max Weber. But the course was not constructed around heroes, founding fathers, and precursors of modern wisdom, the main feature of the established historiography. We avoided another prevailing characteristic of that historiography by choosing not to organise the teaching around the history of the individual disciplines that comprise the modern map of the social sciences. We were more interested in accounting for the differences between that map and the ones that had been plotted in the past, the ways in which the borders between the various territories had been conceived and shifted. Above all, by aiming to show that there was more to the history of the social sciences than pioneering attempts to anticipate what current social scientists were doing, we wanted to avoid teleological or Whig history.
This meant that we were in the business of teaching intellectual history to students who might not have been exposed to any form of history. For this difficult task we needed teachers whose research showed they were committed to this kind of enterprise. We were fortunate in being able to recruit a small succession of these. The teaching originally carried out by Donald Winch and Helmut Pappé was greatly strengthened by the addition of John Burrow to the team in 1968. Burrow had published his Evolution and Society; A Study in Victorian Social Theory in 1966, a work that dealt with the role played by various evolutionary theories in the nineteenth-century social thinking. Burrow brought an expertise in social anthropology, the history of political thought, social Darwinism, and Victorian historiography to what already existed at Sussex by way of intellectual history.
As the numbers taking CMV rose with the growth of the School of Social Sciences in the 70s and 80s it became possible to justify an ambitious programme of visiting lectures, the most notable of which were those given by W. G. Runciman based on the books he later published on Weber. The following list of other external speakers and examiners who made one or more appearances in the lecture cycle was representative of those engaged in work on the philosophy and history of the social sciences during this period: Philip Abrams, Brian Barry, Mark Blaug, May Brodbeck, John Dunn, Duncan Forbes, Peter Gay, Ernest Gellner, Anthony Giddens, Geoffrey Hawthorn, Eric Hobsbawm, Martin Hollis, Peter Laslett, William Letwin, Steven Lukes, Alisdair McIntyre, D. G. Macrae, J. D. Y. Peel, Alan Ryan, Quentin Skinner, Stephen Toulmin, J. W. N. Watkins, Sheldon Wolin, and from the science side of Sussex University, John Maynard Smith.
CMV was only one of several ‘contextual’ courses in the Schools of European Studies and English and American Studies at Sussex that benefited from the contribution of intellectual historians. Other examples were Modern European Mind and Literature and History courses. This had made it possible for Intellectual History to be recognised as a major subject in its own right and later for Burrow to be promoted to the first chair in the field. It also became possible to recruit others to teach both the ‘old’ contextuals and the ‘new’ courses in intellectual history. It was in this fashion that Stefan Collini was appointed in 1974 on the basis of a dissertation that appeared in 1979 as Liberalism and Sociology; L. T. Hobhouse and Political Argument in England, 1880-1914.
It was as a result of teaching CMV together that Burrow, Winch, and Collini (Burrinchini for short) collaborated in writing That Noble Science of Politics; A Study in Nineteenth-Century Intellectual History (1983). The opening chapter contained the anti-teleological manifesto that had been followed when designing and teaching the course. In addition to individual works by these authors, this book was largely responsible for the idea that a distinctive ‘Sussex’ school of intellectual history had emerged.
CMV was still going strong in the late 80s when Julia Stapleton, whose doctoral thesis later published as Englishness and the Study of Politics; The Social and Political Thought of Ernest Barker was supervised by Collini, made a major contribution to revamping the course. When she departed for an appointment in Durham, Richard Whatmore and Brian Young were appointed to intellectual history posts that remained partly dependent on the numbers taking the course. CMV was a Sussex innovation that began as a teaching experiment and went on to become a major focus of research. Modularisation and reversion to departmental or single-disciplinary courses gradually eroded the assumptions on which contextual courses of that kind could be mounted.