Circumventions and confrontations: Georg Simmel, Franz Boas and Arthur Ruppin and their responses to antisemitism

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Focusing on Georg Simmel, Franz Boas and Arthur Ruppin, three prominent sociologists or anthropologists of German Jewish descent, Morris-Reich analyses their professional responses to antisemitism. He argues that there is a close relationship between their respective epistemic definitions of society and their suggested methods for the study of social phenomena, and the respective forms and registers of their responses to antisemitism. The three cases demonstrate a range of responses, from a strategy of circumventing antisemitism as a distinct phenomenon (Simmel), to one aimed at the transformation of antisemitism into a subset of a general category of prejudice (Boas), to a direct confrontation with antisemitism as a multifaceted phenomenon that possesses universal as well as particularistic aspects (Ruppin). The analysis implies that there is a negative correspondence between the respective responses and antisemitic discourses: Simmel's social theory did not engage with antisemitic writers directly; Boas attempted to undermine antisemitic writers by addressing the shortcomings of racist methodology; and Ruppin attacked antisemitic writers on what he viewed as empirical grounds, while sharing several of their epistemic assumptions.

Keywords: Arthur Ruppin; Franz Boas; Georg Simmel; anthropology; antisemitism; racism; social theory; sociology

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2010

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