Jason Oakes reviews Hunter Heyck, Age of System: Understanding the Development of Modern Social Sciences (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)
Jason Oakes is a postdoctoral scholar in the philosophy department at UC Davis, where he works on the history of growth models in 20th century biology and the human sciences. We asked Jason to review Hunter Heyck’s new book on the social sciences in the mid-twentieth century. Here’s what he had to say.
You can reach Jason at oakes(at)ucdavis(dot)edu
There exist tree or root structures in rhizomes; conversely, a tree branch or root division may begin to burgeon into a rhizome.
-Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1981)
The notion of “system” is a commonplace background concept. Many research specialties have a systems name for one of their problems areas, and it lives in popular and public cultures as well. There is the financial system, the ecosystem, the solar system, and the social system, sometimes simply called “the system,” standing in for social arrangements that feel stultifying yet seem outside of immediate personal control. The idea’s continued presence in the early 21st century makes it difficult to remember that not too long ago it was even more pervasive. Hunter Heyck’s Age of System: Understanding the Development of the Modern Social Sciences, re-acquaints us with the span of time from the interwar period to the Ford Administration when “system” was not just a piece of familiar intellectual furniture, but one of the central organizing concepts in economics, anthropology, sociology, and political science.