The ‘two cultures’ problem and renewal of the humanities
As a historian and social scientist Wallerstein, in his discussions of reintegrating the ‘two cultures’, has focused on the task of building a 'historical social science’. In terms of unifying disciplines within the university, he has proposed as an initial step the merging of all the existing social science disciplines (including history) into a single faculty (Wallerstein 2004: 171), but it is clear, both from his discussion of Braudel’s ‘interscience’ (chapter 4) or his repeated reference to the ‘complexity studies’ in the natural science and to ‘cultural studies’, that his basic design projects a total science that does away with the threefold division of humanities, social science and natural science. As a matter of fact, he bluntly asserts at one point: ‘We desperately need a collective discussion, and whether we call this discussion science, philosophy, or social science is a matter of great indifference to me’ (Wallerstein 2004: 56).
But the most important point about Wallerstein’s discussion of the ‘two cultures’ seems to me his perception of this problem as a crucial part of the genesis, maintenance and imminent collapse of the historical social system known as capitalism. As for the practical problems created by the gap between the humanities and science, numerous persons, including C. P. Snow who first put into circulation the phrase ‘two cultures’, have pointed to them. How the split was introduced into Korean society in an even more extreme and absurd form so that division into ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ students from high school on is rigidly enforced to produce all kinds of pernicious consequences has recently been well argued by Professor Kim Young-Shik (2007). Wallerstein’s major insight is that such a division represents more than side-effects or complications attendant upon the development of natural science; it represents a crucial factor in the operation of the modern world-system, or the capitalist world-economy. The effective management of this world-economy needed a higher level of predictive ability than before, and at the same time, by positing such scientific knowledge as the only truth, the system acquired an excellent weapon in the world-wide expansion of capitalism. But precisely as the capitalist world-economy entered its phase of terminal crisis, the existing ‘structures of knowledge’ came to be shaken and the need arose for a new epistemology.
Paik Nak-chung is Professor Emeritus of English at Seoul National University, and the registered editor of The Changbi Quarterly.