Throughout his scholarly life, sociologist Johan Goudsblom (1932–2020) was occupied with the study of long-term social processes. For him, ‘historical sociology’ was not a special branch of sociology, but at the core of sociology in general. Recognizing the work of Norbert Elias as providing the foundations for a new, dynamic, processual and developmental approach in sociology and elaborating on Elias’s theory of civilizing processes, Goudsblom also aimed to go ‘beyond Elias’ by extending the scope of study from a focus on European developments since the Middle Ages to human history as a whole. In Fire and Civilization (1992), he identified the control of fire as the first great ‘ecological transformation’ in human history, which gave human groups a decisive power advantage over other animals and was basic to two subsequent great ecological transformations – the transition from gathering and hunting to agriculture and pasture, and the invention and spread of mechanical industry. In this and other work, he synthesized sociology, anthropology and history, transgressing disciplinary boundaries. In later publications he extended the empirical and theoretical scope of study even further by linking human sociocultural developments to the biological evolution that preceded and accompanied these developments. Here, Goudsblom combined historical social science with insights from the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary theory.
In this endeavour, Goudsblom’s work can be regarded as part of an intellectual movement to integrate history, the social sciences and the natural sciences in order to enhance our understanding of human social life from a long-term perspective.
As a tribute to Goudsblom’s work, an international conference will be held in Amsterdam from 17 to 19 March 2022, which will deal with basic problems concerning the explanation and understanding of long-term social processes. The conference will start in the afternoon of 17 March, the second anniversary of Johan Goudsblom’s death. This first part of the conference will be devoted to his life and work. Stephen Mennell and Hermann Korte will open the conference, to be followed by contributions from Frans Saris, Nico Wilterdink and Abram de Swaan. On the next two days, Friday 18 and Saturday 19 March, various topics related to the conference theme will be discussed, both in plenary and in parallel sessions. Keynote speakers are David Christian, Nina Baur, John McNeill, Giselinde Kuipers, Richard Sennett, and Randall Collins.
The conference will be held in the Trippenhuis, home of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), in the centre of Amsterdam.
Please see the program here.