One of a kind – the foundation of the Faculty of Sociology

The first Faculty of Sociology in the history of German higher education is founded at Rheda Castle on 16 September 1969. The faculty conference elects Professor Dr. Joachim Matthes as dean; Professor Dr. Niklas Luhmann becomes vice dean. Like the university planner Schelsky, most of the Faculty’s founding staff comes from the Sozialforschungsstelle Dortmund (Dortmund Social Research Centre) of the University of Münster.

The Faculty of Sociology at Bielefeld University. Excerpt from the documentary by West German public broadcaster WDR “Das Hochschulporträt Bielefeld” (Portrait of Bielefeld University) from 1969.

Source: WDR (Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FS 31)

The faculty represented a breakthrough for sociology in Germany. In Bielefeld, the foundation of the faculty offered the opportunity to reorganise the way sociology was taught and researched without being hampered by earlier developments in university and faculty history. Even before the faculty was established, there were disputes about the take-over of the Sozialforschungstelle Dortmund (Dortmund Social Research Centre) and its library as well as the new concept of a more job-related teaching programme in sociology. The battle for a “vocational diploma course”, the concept of “active professionalisation” and the examination regulations dominated the first years of the Faculty. In addition, the definition of research foci (among others sociology of law, political sociology, mathematics of the social sciences, Latin American studies or science studies) needed to be agreed upon. Against the background of the student movement, there were also internal disputes, which corresponded to the classic dichotomy of “right-left” political allegiances which were particularly apparent when appointments to professorial positions were made.

  • Faculty conference on 17 November 1969.

    Photo: Bernhard Preker
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG_1.3_6_4
  • Formative sociological minds: Professor Dr. Niklas Luhmann and Professor Dr. Helmut Schelsky during the faculty conference on the opening day of teaching on 17 November 1969.

    Photo: Bernhard Preker
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG_1.4_1_3
  • Dean Professor Dr. Joachim Matthes, during the faculty conference on 17 November 1969.

    Photo: Bernhard Preker
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, NEG_1.4_1_2
  • Author conference on the Rowohlt paperback series “Studie Sozialwissenschaften” on 13 April 1972 at the AVZ of Bielefeld University with Norbert Elias (far left), Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, publisher Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt, Joachim Matthes (on the right) and Ernesto Grassi (far right).

    Photo: Ed. Heidmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01952

Famous scientists of sociology in Bielefeld

Nevertheless, the possibilities for structural scope in founding the new faculty exerted a great fascination: The Faculty, and the ZiF, were key in attracting the sociologist Norbert Elias, who fled to Great Britain in 1933, to work in Bielefeld from 1978 to 1984. The 18th German Sociologists’ Conference took place in Bielefeld in 1976, as did the XIII World Congress for Sociology in 1994.

Many scientists enjoyed the academic freedom that the new Faculty provided, including the renowned sociologist Niklas Luhmann who developed his systems theory here. His work would, in turn, go on to shape the image of the Faculty of Sociology to a considerable degree. In addition, the Faculty established an internal structure of working and research areas that facilitated the study of contemporary societal transformations such as the sociology of the media or of gender relations.

Today the faculty combines a number of subjects under its roof. In addition to general sociology and several specialist sociologies, political science and social anthropology as well as social science (as an interdisciplinary combination of sociology, political science and economics) are represented in teaching and research at the Faculty of Sociology.

  • Opening of the XIII World Congress of Sociology by the President of the German Bundestag Professor Dr. Rita Süssmuth on July 18, 1994.

    Photo: unbekannt
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01941
  • Participants of the World Congress in the University Hall.

    Photo: unbekannt
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01939
  • The Main University Hall during the World Congress on Sociology, which brought together 4,000 scientists from all over the world.

    Photo: unbekannt
    Source: Quelle: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01940
  • First Niklas-Luhmann-Guest-Professorship in 2005: Professor Harrison C. White, here at his first lecture together with Rektor Professor Dr. Dieter Timmermann and dean Professor Dr. Lutz Leisering on 11 May 2005.

    Photo: Norma Langohr
    Source: Universität Bielefeld