About Us - Social Theory Research Network

Objective - History - Operating Rules

Social theory resp. sociological theory in the European tradition is central to sociology. Theory provides guidance. Against sociology’s internal fragmentation, it raises the big questions. It aims at exploring the theoretical underpinnings of the significant questions of macro historical change, e.g. the ongoing global transformations.
More generally, social theory pervades the discipline by offering concepts and ontologies that provide sociological research with conceptual and methodological tools.
Supporting the cognitive identity of sociology, the RN offers a forum for all sociologists interested in theoretical debate and conceptual work. It fosters communication and serves as a platform for research collaboration.

Currently the ESA Research Network "RN29 Social theory" has a membership of about 100; June 2017).


The 'classics' of sociology (the likes of Durkheim, Simmel, Weber and Marx) were amongst the first to carry out this theoretically informed empirical research. Their work provides fruitful insights even today, and that's partly why they are still considered classics. From the early 20th Century onwards, their work was read and re-interpreted by North-American scholars who in turn provided Europeans with a new framework (to study society and to read the classics). Their work was innovative and significant though it also removed the European traditions from their original interests and context.

In the last couple of decades, things have changed a lot. With the work of Bauman, Beck, Bourdieu, Foucault, Giddens, Latour, Luhmann and Habermas (to name only a few), it's possible to talk about a new era of European social theory. It therefore makes sense to run a Social Theory Research Network - a venue that allows for the confrontation of the multitude of European theoretical traditions. Furthermore, the recent changes to Europe also necessitate this network. Europe is going through huge transformations - some of those changes also apply to other parts of the world, others are specific to Europe - and social theorists need to reflect on them. 

At the ESA conference in Amsterdam (1999) a preliminary business meeting was held. Participants expressed the need for a Social Theory Research Network and outlined future plans, one of which was the organisation of a conference 'European Social Theory at the turn of the Millennium' in December 2000 in Copenhagen. This conference was organised by Margareta Bertilsson and Risto Heiskala. It was a great success, and it was also a platform for organising the various theory sessions at the conference of the European Sociological Association in Helsinki (2001). Since Helsinki 2001, we organised various sessions at the conference of the European Sociological Association in Murcia (2003), as well as in Torun (2005) and Glasgow (2007). We further organised highly successful intermediate conferences 2002 in Moscow (thanks to local organiser Valdimir Kultygin), 2004 in Paris (Gilles Verpraet), 2006 in Madrid (Fernando Dominguez-Rubio), 2008 in Innsbruck (Frank Welz), 2010 in Prague (Jan Balon), 2012 in Athens (George Pleios), 2014 in Münster (Gallina Tasheva) and 2016 in Barcelona (Marta Soler).


Operating Rules

The ESA "Guidelines for ESA Research Networks" (see in detail at www.europeansociology.org, Research Networks) apply to the RN management, in particular ...

  • The executive board of the Research network of at least 7 members "should represent at least 4 different countries. The usual term of a chair is 2 years (maximum 4 years), and the vice-chair should take over as next chair. This way we have a rotation of persons in charge but also a continuity. You are asked to continually refresh and rejuvenate your board. This structure will also be vital for the future RN Council as both the chair and vice-chair of each RN will automatically be members of the RN Council."
  • ... "Board members work as local representatives in their country and establish links to institutions and to colleagues working in the same field of research" ...
  • "The Network Coordinator, other named officers and board members are elected at the Business Meeting held at the biennial ESA conference to serve for a 2 year term.
  • The Network Coordinator and named officer(s) should not normally occupy the same position within the Research Network for more than two consecutive terms of two years. It is therefore recommended to rejuvenate the board and plan well in advance for successors.
  • All board members must be ESA members in good standing and formal members of their Research Network."


  • The RN usually invites the organiser of its biennial midterm conference to become an executive board member.
  • From 2008 on the RN successfully introduced the practice of selecting keynote speakers at midterm conferences from the pool of paper submitters. There have been very positive side-effects (and world-famous paper submitters).





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