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Sociology, Culture and Energy: The Case of Wilhelm Ostwald's 'Sociological Energetics' - A Translation and Exposition of a Classic Text

Stewart, Janet C.

Authors



Abstract

Sociology has largely ignored the contribution of the German Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Wilhelm Ostwald to the sociology of energy, mainly due to Max Weber’s (1909) dismissive reception of Ostwald’s ‘energetical thought’. This article reclaims Ostwald’s significance for contemporary sociology, through a translation and exposition of ‘Sociological Energetics’, first published in 1908 as the final chapter of a popular book on energy. Ostwald’s deliberations, which derive from his engagement in contemporary debates on thermodynamics and energetics, brought him into contact with classical sociologists, including Rudolf Goldscheid, Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies and Weber. Ostwald’s contribution to sociology lies in his focus on the cultural significance of energy relations and transformations. In their encounters with Ostwald and energetics, Simmel, Tönnies and Weber all reveal the potential importance of Ostwald’s work on energy relations in thinking productively about the relationship between technology and culture.

Citation

Stewart, J. C. (2014). Sociology, Culture and Energy: The Case of Wilhelm Ostwald's 'Sociological Energetics' - A Translation and Exposition of a Classic Text. Cultural Sociology, 8(3), 333-350. https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975514523937

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Apr 14, 2014
Publication Date 2014-09
Deposit Date Jan 10, 2014
Journal Cultural Sociology
Print ISSN 1749-9755
Electronic ISSN 1749-9763
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Issue 3
Pages 333-350
DOI https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975514523937
Keywords Wilhelm Ostwald, Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, Energy, Energetics, Culture, Sociology.