Interview: Joel Isaac on the Interstitial Academy

The online interview series New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Joel Issac on his recent book, Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn (right). In Working Knowledge Isaac explores how the human sciences developed at Harvard University in a variety of interdisciplinary spaces in the mid-twentieth century.

As described on the New Books Network website,

In Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn (Harvard University Press, 2012), Joel Isaac takes readers into the interstitial academy of Harvard University in the middle of the twentieth century. Isaac traces a kind of early history of interdisciplinarity in the American academy in the course of an elegantly wrought argument for situating one of the most pivotal texts of the history and philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, within the emergence of what have become known as the human sciences. Twentieth century philosophers and social scientists sought to replace Kant’s transcendental notions with concepts more firmly rooted in the activities of working scientists and mathematicians, creating an epistemology that was deeply rooted in social practices. Maturing in this context and coming of intellectual age largely in the interstitial academy, Kuhn developed a notion of scientific paradigms that were “revealed in its textbooks, lectures, and laboratory exercises,” grounding his philosophy in a fundamental concern with pedagogical practices. At the same time, Isaac’s book is about so much more than Kuhn: it treats the history of American universities, the sociology of Pareto, the development of the case method in legal education, the changing disciplinary relationships between philosophy and psychology, the development of an idea of “social sciences,” among many other themes and stories. It is an exceptionally rich and persuasive story, and well worth reading – be it on the beach or elsewhere.

The New Books in Science, Technology, and Society interview with Isaac can be heard online here.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

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