Chapter 4 Application: Oblivionism in the Sciences

In: Oblivionism
Oliver Dimbath
Search for other papers by Oliver Dimbath in
Current site
Google Scholar
Mirko Wittwar
Search for other papers by Mirko Wittwar in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

As a first approach at trying out the oblivion-analytical toolset, the scientific system looks particularly suitable, as several interpretation patterns are connected to the sciences, which, on the one hand, suggest a particular emphasis on permanently referring to the past. On the other hand, a strong suspicion of systematic oblivion mechanisms cannot be denied. Additionally, there is the fact that for a knowledge-sociological analysis, the social field is of particular interest where right from the beginning, the focus is on the genesis and accumulation of knowledge. In other words: it is about an action field where at first sight, oblivion does not seem to be structurally provided for.

In the beginning, it has been pointed out that the diagnosis of oblivionism in the sciences results from a cultural criticism of oblivion. Against the background of the now provided systematisation of theoretically-conceptually concluding on social oblivion processes, the finding of oblivion can once again be outlined in more detail: oblivionism in the field of the modern sciences does not seem to be if we follow Harald Weinrich’s judgement, a problem of a scientific kind of forgetfulness (Weinrich, 2004). Social oblivion, which has been structurally inscribed into the sciences – in the sense of incorporated-practical knowledge – must indeed be a subject of an analysis of oblivion in the sciences but is hardly covered by the criticism of oblivionism. The latter is rather about a kind of oblivion coming from a certain kind of the selectivity of rationalisation and modernisation processes. It depends on the point of view if the here addressed wanting or making forget is understood to be intentional or if it is about simply accepting the side effects of progress-relevant decision-making and particular institutional order.

Weinrich’s criticism sounds like a gloomy comment on those aspects of selection that have been introduced as a reaction to the growing intricacy and complexity of the sciences as a whole – sometimes at the urging of science policy, sometimes of the scientists themselves.1 It is largely left open what is lamented, after all. Is it about the objectification of scientific work that, as a result of rigorous steering of attention, falls into oblivion sooner, or focuses on those social entities whose striving for genesis of order violates habitual practices of scientific preservation and accumulation of knowledge? There are only vague hints concerning the field of scientific activities this criticism aims at. It is about the selectivity practices of the natural sciences. However, as it is stated by a cultural scientist who is no proven science studies researcher, it seems as if Weinrich’s criticism is due to a bad feeling when it comes to the (media-)public perception of the sciences, assuming that in the context of funding science and attributing resources the same standards measure the cultural studies and the humanities as the natural sciences. This leads to the impression that these are the workings of a hegemonic oblivion regime ignoring the subtle discipline-related cultural differences within the sciences and – starting from some guiding disciplines – unduly making the habitual, differentiated practices of knowledge production subject to its relevancies and selection principles.

The criticism of oblivionism in the sciences is the starting point and inspiration for the here presented analysis of social oblivion. It has already been pointed out that oblivionism covers only a part of this institutional oblivion if it is located in the realm of volitional ways of oblivion (I) (wanting to forget and making forget). Oblivion in the sciences covers a much more comprehensive phenomenon whose problematic nature has not been recognized and analysed due to habitual routine and practice aspects. At the same time, the social institution of “the sciences” is a vast field whose many facets – like with any other institution – show more or less explicit aspects of oblivion. It would be an illusion to believe that a comprehensive oblivion analysis of “the sciences” is possible.

When in the following, by reaching back to the above-presented search heuristics, we will investigate aspects of oblivion in the sciences; it will predominantly be about exemplarily applying the analysis tool – and not about completeness. The latter could at best be achieved in the context of small-scale analysis foci, such as in view of individual organisations, subjects or disciplines. Nevertheless, the considerations to be made here aim at the entire field of scientific activity, to be able to at least roughly grasp the explicit and already existing findings from different fields. This is not to say that belonging to a discipline or profession is a distinguishing feature but that the up to here developed, just heuristic, differentiation of social entities of the sciences along the social micro-, meso- and macro level is such a feature.

The analysis in the course of this third section of analysing social oblivion, dealing with a case example, is going to happen as follows: first of all, it is about stocktaking already presented concepts of scientific memory and remembrance – also taking into consideration the problem of time in the sciences – as well as an inspection of memory concepts along the three distinct categories developed for the memory-specific analysis of kinds of knowledge: declarative-reflective, incorporated-practical, and objectivist-technical. Then the second sub-section consists of an analysis of oblivion within the sciences. Also, this starts with an inspection of already existing points of view and, by a third section, combines the results with exploring the field alongside the previously unfolded search heuristics for ways and functions of social oblivion. In this context, the existing research approaches are going to be associated with the individual table elements, further indications for ways of oblivion in the sciences are going to be taken up, and finally, starting points for research desiderata resulting from a comparison with the three ways of social oblivion – forgetfulness, wanting to forget, and making forget – at the three aggregation levels of the social are going to be pointed out.

Most of all, it must be shortly sketched what we are talking about when speaking of “the” sciences as a social field of activity, a sub-system or a social institution. Given the meritorious efforts by the philosophy and theory of science to achieve both differentiated and comprehensive conceptual definitions, we are oriented at the easiest one:2 science is an “institutionalised, multi-levelled, logically connected system of statements which accumulates knowledge by way of methods which can be objectified” (Greca, 2002, p. 699). Additionally, there are institutionalised regulations and norms which are typical for scientific activity. The highest precept of scientific activity is being obliged to the truth.3 Notwithstanding all ontological problems of the concept of truth, both institutional belonging and quality are measured by creating true or veritable insight. Enlightened, modern science no longer strives to uncover universal ideas but understands itself to be a relativist and dependent on the point of view.4 The criterion for truth is thus statements on the condition of the world, which are consolidated by experiment and argument.

For the analyses, the main focus will be on a limited selection of aspects of the genesis of scientific knowledge. Accordingly, they base the creation of scientific knowledge on a specific feature: any knowledge “fed” into scientific communication must be “new”, that is to say, it must add something to the stock of knowledge. This claim may be called the imperative of genuineness or progress.5 However, science is more than “just” regulations and networks of communication from the sociological point of view. From the perspective on science, also all decision-making contexts whose work influences the further course of science are included: science policy, which does or does not provide resources for the sciences and can support certain fields, each specific organisations in the context of which science happens, the economy with whose expectations and desires scientists are confronted, as well as the economy of the sciences itself.6 Suppose we do not consider the system of the sciences according to the stricter understanding of the theory of social systems and instead address the overall context of all actions and orders dealing with science in the broadest sense, even regarding memory and oblivion. In that case, we are dealing with a wide range of different selectivities. Whereas the manifold references of science to its social environment show different kinds of selectivity which are more or less meaningful for the scientific genesis of knowledge but are always relevant, given the ongoing accumulation of new knowledge – and the assessment of its genuineness – selectivity becomes a problem. One institutional rule of scientific activity demands the strict prevention of selectivity precisely in research work. Thus, the assessment for genuineness is only possible if everything old is included in the comparison – that is remembered. As the so-called completeness ideal of modern science is a crucial memory-specific aspect, we are going to discuss this problem in more detail later.

4.1 Memory and Remembrance

In the field of science, which is a systematised kind of the genesis of knowledge starting from the necessity to rule over nature, specific ways of dealing with the past have developed. This has resulted in the fact that any research must also always provide its “history”. How the selection of research questions happens and how the appropriate “narrations” are told is a topic of scientific research studies. Attempts at self-reflecting on institutional selectivities with the help of historical science have several times come to their limits. Like in the field of the science of history, for science research and the history of science, the introduction of the memory concept results in an extension of the range of reflections. It also covers selectivities that, according to thought style, derived from also considering everyday-practical action logics. The following section focuses on a short stocktaking of social memory and remembrance approaches in the context of science.

4.1.1 The Time of the Sciences

In the course of the previous considerations, we have been dealing with the sociologic understanding of time before discussing social memory. Time is no natural subject or one which might be considered independently of the consciousness, but it is socially created by reaching back to past experiences in view of a future that is supposed to be drafted. Thus seen, it seems obvious to put objectivist understandings of time into brackets and ask, against the background of the analysis of the memory of science, about the socially constituted time of science. This way, the view is neither at dealing with time philosophically, in the sense of a philosophy of time, nor at the various concepts of time developed by different disciplines to cope with their respective subjects. Instead, it is about a “system time”, which helps answer the question of what scientific activity considers an operatively relevant past and which deadlines are relevant to the future. Science makes use of time as an observer’s category; however, it also creates its own time. In this context, Luhmann distinguishes e. g. between the time of the observer and the time of the observed, which amounts to a problem of how to deal with simultaneity interpretatively.7

As an observer’s category, time becomes operatively relevant in simple temporal differences by marking a before-after difference. Any causal explanation is based on such a difference; it is, for example, created under controlled conditions in the course of an experiment when a state given at a time t0 is, after having been manipulated, compared to a state at the time t1.

Concerning the analysis of the memory of science, the time of observation leads to questions, to the construction of time intervals.8 Then time becomes a comparison tool, allowing for assuming some features of an object as unchanged, others however as being changeable. The time of the observer, on the other hand, concerns the social time regimes of scientific activity as such. Also, science defines itself by path-dependencies resulting from pasts and plans for the future, which are considered relevant. Thus, for example, the scientific community determines which horizons of time are acceptable for research. This holds, e. g., for the stages of a scientific career, carrying out a research project, or the question about the “half-time” of scientific knowledge.

4.1.2 The Memory of Science

Concerning the issue of memory in science, some approaches have been presented above. Sometimes we have been speaking of memory, which in most cases referred to specific selectivity mechanisms which, being rather implicit aspects of memory, must be attributed to the incorporated-practical realm. In the context of a declarative-reflective reference to the past in the context of scientific communication or scientific knowledge, some explicit hints have also been found.

The emphasis on declarative-reflective knowledge seems obvious, insofar as at first sight scientific knowledge seems to consist of explicit “knowledge” which can be accumulated, as represented most of all by scientific products, such as publications. Thus, precisely the declarative-reflective memory of science strives, if not for completeness, then for endless growth, in the context of which selectivity decisions become a problem. Thus, given the exponential growth of knowledge, it is no longer about the separation of outmoded or false knowledge but increasingly about an oblivionist practice of classifying relevance attributions. Apart from such orientations, for quite some time, the research interest has also been attracted by the practices of creating knowledge, that is, by conditions which are not – or no longer – explicated and happen rather “automatically” or indeed according to the understanding of an incorporated-practical memory.

In the following, the declarative kinds will be discussed (1), to then, with the help of practice-theoretical approaches, look for incorporated aspects of the genesis of knowledge (2). Finally, we will deal with an aspect of social memory relevant to the genesis of scientific knowledge but has yet been neglected: the objective-technical aspect (3).

In science, the archive seems to be mostly identical with the stock of knowledge, as the accumulation of scientific knowledge happens first of all by way of essays and books, which are (or may be) collected, catalogued, stored and kept ready for possible access at libraries. As the production of scientific knowledge consists much of creating compatibility and describing path-dependencies, it is not just about filing each present product. It is also about allowing for the reconstruction of developments. Constitutive for this is the museum collection of objects – and this also comprises technological apparatuses and inventions which are no longer in use. Thus, the practice of accumulating, archiving and storing comes from the agreement that knowledge collected by humankind may not be lost if one is not supposed to start from scratch again over and over. Thus, a practice has been established for science that, in quite a certain way, coordinates a topic-specific way of remembering while at the same time – at first – preventing any practical selectivity which might come along with coping with the flood of information. This may be imagined as a circular model, producing at first information or artefacts (production), to then keep them (storage), to have them ready for the further production of information (retrieval), in the context of which only part of the available information is used for the further production of knowledge (selection).9

Such an understanding results in attributing science to a “perfect memory” (Bowker, 2008, p. 4), which cannot and must not forget anything because the entire information relevant for the production of certain knowledge contents must be in principle available. The roots of such an understanding of science are in the distant past. A “classical” hint is given by René Descartes (1980), who, in the context of his regulations of the methods of the correct use of reason, demands any new knowledge to be based on the entirety of already existing knowledge. In the context of the idea of completeness the concept of memory still is most of all that of a store or container where knowledge is accumulated and provided for future use. Given the exponential growth of the stocks of scientific knowledge,10 however, this completeness ideal, which initially bothered the encyclopaedists,11 had soon to be qualified, although today it is the guiding orientation for many fields of science.12 From the awareness of the rapid expansion of knowledge and its limited availability, due to spatial distance – sometimes access to already existing knowledge required considerable efforts – the selectivity problem results.

Closely connected to the ideal of completeness is the idea that existing knowledge is replaced by new knowledge going back to Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel. In this context, Mannheim distinguishes several traditions of the genesis of knowledge.13 For example, he says, natural-scientific thought is based on the accumulation of knowledge, whereas humanities thought rather assumes the old to be replaced by the new.14 Also, this memory motif is based on the idea of a knowledge store. Now the archive is no longer understood to be material-physical but to be the knowledge of humankind that progresses on and on by building on older knowledge.15

As scientific knowledge is legitimated by progress, the genuineness or progress imperative is immediately connected to social memory. Thus, any kind of knowledge which is claimed to be new depends on reaching back to previously created knowledge by way of remembering. In this context, it is at the same time natural to also base it on the completeness ideal, as progress can be proven only by comparison to already existing knowledge. The selectivity of memory is not discussed, as reaching back must refer to a complete store or a perfect memory. Thus, the insight that the memory of science works selectively fundamentally questions the already shaken imperative of completeness and that of progress.16

For the theory of social systems, selectivity is no problem but a constitutive feature, for it explicitly reorients the memory of science from the store model to the selection function. The self-creation or autopoiesis of the scientific system happens by memory, in the context of the binary code of true/untrue, creating the “identity” of the system while delimiting it from the system’s environment, after all.17

At the transition to the practice-communicated selection mechanisms, which are also encountered in the realm of science, there happens methodological reflection. This kind of self-observation of science serves for controlling, in particular, the truth and correctness imperative. At the same time, this kind of reflection also creates precedents when it comes to proceeding with the practice of the genesis of knowledge, by certain ways of proceeding being invented, others being further developed, and yet others being declared obsolete and thus being practised no longer. Thus, the conflict between understanding and explaining social research on the one hand and quantifying and qualitative social research on the other should not only be interpreted as a dispute about the “true” approach to knowledge but, just the same, as a debate about the appropriate selection mechanism of scientific memory (Luhmann, 1996, p. 325). Fundamental methodological differences concern issues of future research and the construction of the present by way of a selective reference to the past, which e. g. declares certain elements the foundation of newly presented insights while others are at best mentioned in footnotes, as science-historical excursions and for the sake of “completeness”.

Another selection mechanism is distortions in the context of reaching back to existing research results, may it be in the form of preferring studies that are considered successful or of personally preferred schools, or in the form of purposefully ignoring certain people or positions.18

Selectivities of the memory of the sciences connected to explicitly reaching back to knowledge produced in the past – thus to memory – are attributed to the realm of declarative-reflective memory. Any selection violating the completeness rule requires explicit reason-giving and thus a formulated “rule”. This way, the declarative-reflective dimension has another side, as the subjects of remembering become a topic, as elements of scientific activity, and remembering as such.

Another access to the memory of science is provided by approaches dealing less with the explicit procedure of the scientific genesis of knowledge but rather with its implicit practices. The incorporated-practical aspect is to be found with all common routines of research. For example, it is one of the fundamental practices of scientific activity to grasp the world, which is supposed to be researched in a conceptual-organising way. Classification happens both when it comes to the naming of objects and in the context of aggregating terms and references; this is an early feature of modern scientificity. The crucial aspect in this context – and from a sociological point of view belonging to the Comte-Durkheim tradition – is the ongoing differentiation of the social organisation of knowledge. Accordingly, classificatory differentiations create more concepts ever. At the same time, classification always happens in the sense of producing types that make only certain features stand out from a given variety, prove them to be typical or characteristic, and place them into a context of interpreting the world.

Another aspect of scientific activity is the creation of hypotheses concerning contexts and effects in the form of theoretical-abstracting systems of statements leading towards achieving as simple and generally valid insights as possible. However, any abstraction achievement comes along with a reduction of complexity and must thus be understood as a selection mechanism. This is demonstrated by studies on scientific memory such as by Jens Soentgen, who, by the example of Parson’s theory of society, illustrates the memory nature of the practice of theory construction (Soentgen, 1997), or by Harald Hofer’s study, who reminds to the fact that the reification concept of the Frankfurt School points out to the destruction of the very nature of an object as a result of being scientifically named and theorised (Hofer, 2011). Hofer’s assumption is particularly confirmed in academic life, which is oriented at continuously producing reifications, thus systematically ignoring the complexity of the world.19

Furthermore, the constructionist studies of laboratory life demonstrate that frequently at a number of stages of the research process, the work at laboratories – at complicated facilities under technologically demanding experimental conditions – follows implicit routines.20 Accordingly, with the scientific fabrication of knowledge, two selection mechanisms are at work which are by far not synchronised, one of them supporting the creation of specific remembrance (declarative-reflective) with the help of institutionalised assessment routines, the other one (incorporated-practical) organising the perpetuation of unquestioned, implicit (procedural) knowledge. Also, social inequality works as an incorporated selection mechanism in academic life – this does not only hold for gender inequality but also the various kinds of age- or origin-related inequality.21

For example, when it comes to passing on scientific knowledge, selection happens according to reputation and seniority, when the judgements by older colleagues with higher reputation are taken seriously. In scientific communities, there are generational effects combining expertise with authority. In this context, Stephen Toulmin comes to the conclusion that to the same degree to which a group of people can be identified with any discipline “whose judgement carries dominant weighty with professional colleagues in the science concerned, the approval of these men does more than anything else to ensure the success or failure, not only of new societies, journals and meetings, but also of new ideas” (Toulmin, 1977, p. 283).

Scientific disciplines are provided with a degree of passed on knowledge that consists of a limited number of acknowledged ways of explaining, of a stock of as yet not established theoretical variants, and a catalogue of criteria for assessing them. As a crucial chronological interval of change, Toulmin identifies the generation or existence of an authoritative group until it is replaced. The concept of the degree of passing on suggests a twofold selectivity of scientific memory. Accordingly, within one generation, an identifiable path-dependency of passing on knowledge becomes obvious; alternative explanations are systematically rejected. However, in the course of generations, a break with this continuity can be stated, which does not always come along with a revolution in the sense of Kuhn but in any case with temporary open-mindedness and uncertainty. Then alternative explanations become negotiable – even if they have almost been forgotten.

As described by Elena Esposito, telematic memory establishes a new variant of selectivity, which is of significance most of all for scientific activity.22 It seems as if increasingly scientific decision-making by way of machine-based selectivity is pushing through, as it establishes either in the context of information retrieval or “automatic” assessment techniques in data mining. There, the procurement of information is no longer oriented at what the researching subject considers relevant but also at the programme’s selectivity or a technological system. Technological selectivity means that decisions concerning the selection or relevance of information are left to automatic routines or assessment procedures of getting access to symbolic hints in view of past events. Then the individual deciding about meaning has the task of making “sense” both of the thus investigated drafts of the future and the thus created pasts. Thus, there is the possibility that a telematically worked out draft of the future – such as in the sense of the context of two variables requiring further analysis – will later be retrospectively bereaved of its telematics past and be replaced by a past which attributes the discovery to “conventional” procedures. In other words: the reconstruction of memory remains the task of the participating consciousnesses, whereas one or the other basic decision is not at all made by scientists “in solitude and liberty” but by a technological system. In such cases, memory-related selectivity is replaced by technological selectivity to which, in retrospect, the quality of memory is attributed, which way it is made a past controlled by actors.

4.1.3 The Memory of Organising Science

The change of the scientific system, away from research tied to monasteries and feudal lords as far as free universities, was further stimulated in the second half of the 20th century. Since the educational reforms of the 1960s, however, since the introduction of increased autonomy of universities at the latest, which are now declared “entrepreneurial”, and since the implementation of concepts of new public management,23 scientific activity, as well as memory-specific selectivity, can no longer exclusively be described by the norms and institutions of “pure” science. Thus, the specific selectivities of science are increasingly completed by the organisation’s instrumentally rational selectivities or being organised. Initially, the influence of the state made sure that scientists were privileged when it came to the ideal of the freedom of inquiry. With the more recent arrangements, in return for the empowerment of scientists, coming along with deregulation processes in the context of organisational autonomy, there is also a growing influence of organisational principles on scientific production and thus a different kind of heteronomy.24

Regarding the specifics of scientific organisation, many approaches at organisational memory are (for the time being) not easily transferable. Currently, the changing organisation of the sciences in Germany is still too far away from the goal of the entrepreneurial university. Nevertheless, it may be stated that, due to the changes of administrative structures, we must assume an increased effect of non-scientific aspects of selection. The following scenarios can demonstrate this:

Firstly, defining scientists as services providers in the economic sense is a new development. It comes from a politically enforced institutional isomorphism consisting of a more or less trivialising transfer of clichés of entrepreneurial steering mechanisms onto former public institutions.25 Whereas the genuinely “science-related” binary coding of true/untrue was hardly relevant for the organisation of academic life, it seems as if the secondary coding of “renowned/not renowned” is pushing through in all fields of scientific activity – that is with research and its organisations (Luhmann, 1992; Schimank, 2010b).

Secondly, historiography in connection with research institutions is nothing new – such as coming to grips with the NS past – what has been less frequent, however, is an organisational memory referring to the nominal goal of an organisation. This is increased with the development of corporate design and corporate identity, in the context of which it is about improving publicity and inventing an organisational memory. Identification by way of narrating an organisational identity may then contribute to highly renowned scientists-celebrities keeping alumni in line as cash cows. Also, for their former institution, self-historicisation to maintain its reputation becomes significant for maintaining contacts to alumni, not least in connection to the hope of possible future donations and – in the case of tuition fees – for solvent students.

Restructuring towards public management or approaches at an entrepreneurial university demand a high degree of readiness to learn from all sides. Both administrative staff and scientists must be put on adapting to new structural guidelines as comprehensively as possible. According to the research of organisational memory, one must take care that the old will be forgotten as soon as possible, and the traditional routines will swiftly be de-learned. Also, organisational memory may indeed be rendered a problem for science organisations, a persistence mechanism that might notoriously block swift adjustment processes.

4.2 Oblivion Diagnoses

After the up to here compiled approaches at the issue of time and memory with science, now – in the same way – the view will be on studies and connection points concerning scientific oblivion. Also, there are a few contributions which – each according to theoretical provenance – touch or sometimes even mention the problem of oblivion. Two essential traits can be identified in this context: on the one hand, according to accumulation logic in combination with the completeness ideal and progress orientation, which have been characterising the sciences since the discovery of writing, any oblivion must be identified as a mistake which must be avoided at any costs. Against this background, oblivion must be rendered a problem and must be considered a leak in scientific insight. Reflecting on the loss of knowledge aims at the problem of forgetfulness in the sense of latent or uncontrolled selectivity aspects of the scientific memory. On the one hand, points of view are developed, which put the possibilities of the accumulative growth of knowledge in the sciences into question, thus, for the first time moving steering impulses of the selectivity of memory into focus. In this context, probably rather problems of wanting to forget and making forget are in the fore which may as well be described as a kind of “cleaning”.26

For the inspection of studies on social oblivion in science so far, a rough classification is sufficient. Accordingly, among the presented studies, none takes the distinction between wanting to forget and making forget into consideration, and also, there has been no explicit differentiation according to the social micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. Nevertheless, these studies may still be attributed to the levels they primarily deal with: some studies discussing oblivion in the sciences belong to the philosophy of science in the broadest sense and thus rather address the social macro-level. Other studies start from the production of knowledge and view at the social micro-level of the relations between individuals or of the practice of research. By the first step of our stocktaking, however, we will distinguish two basic kinds, one of which aims at forgetfulness in the sense of structural amnesia (oblivion (II)), whereas the other brings together several ways of more or less intentional oblivion (oblivion (I)).

Apart from the oblivion demand with which Nietzsche confronted the science of history, in view of prominent oblivion diagnoses in the context of science, Husserl’s late works must be taken into consideration. However, other than Nietzsche, Husserl does not identify any obstacle for thinking, reflecting, or progress due to too much useless remembering. Instead, with the history of the natural sciences, he identifies a trend of forgetting about the connection of sensual perception and lifeworld due to constant abstraction. In Husserl, once again in contrast to Nietzsche, this kind of forgetfulness is not at all positively connoted but is a dysfunction that, according to Husserl, is one cause among others for the crisis of European science. Nevertheless, this is no explicitly worked out oblivion theory but states an ongoing alienation that is connected to oblivion processes. However, this way, Husserl is one of the first to point to forgetfulness with the sciences, a kind of forgetfulness caused by the success of the scientific activity and being institutionally inherent to science.

By the example of the works and working of Galileo Galilei, Husserl works out the turning away of the sciences, particularly of mathematics and physics, from the sensually experienceable world in his Crisis study. For, even the idea of grasping nature as constructively determinable by way of measurement results from historical developments. Husserl demonstrates that measurement creates a world of its own that refers to the sensually experiencable world but has no longer much in common with it, as there is mathematical-computational proof and the development of methods, formulas, and theories crucial. He said Galilei was one of the first discoverers to turn away from the lifeworld by experimenting.

Galileo, the discoverer […] of physics, or physical nature, is at once a discovering and a concealing genius [entdeckender und verdeckender Genius]. He discovers mathematical nature, the methodical idea, he blazes the trail for the infinite number of physical discoveries and discoverers. By contrast to the universal causality of the intuitively given world […], he discovers what has since been called simply, the law of causality, the ‘a priori form’ of the ‘true’ (idealized and mathematized) world, the ‘law’ of exact lawfulness according to which every occurrence in ‘nature’ – idealized nature – must come under exact laws. All this is discovery-concealment, and to the present day we accept it as straightforward truth. (Husserl, 1970, pp. 52–53)

Fallen into oblivion has the fact that scientific insight is connected to the lifeworld as being extrapolated through sensual perception. As it is diagnosed also by others, science creates its own objectified or reified reality and presents it as being reality as such. Suppose the construction nature of scientific knowledge is forgotten, and this kind of knowledge is considered a knowledge higher order. In that case,27 there happens an ever-ongoing alienation from the lifeworld – and this appears as the forgetfulness aspect of a kind of science that no longer knows any routines of reflecting on its own activity.

Another aspect of mostly non-reflective forgetfulness with the scientific production of knowledge results from a crucial motif of progress or innovation – in analogy to Joseph A. Schumpeter, we might understand it as the principle of creative destruction, destruction always also including the abandoning or loss of existing (intellectual) property (Schumpeter, 1949).

The forgetfulness of science is also an obstacle for solving the questions implied in Husserl’s considerations, if sensual forgetfulness results, in the long run, in linearly moving away from the essential or the original or in ever more complicated arrangements of oblivion and forgetting about oblivion, or if one should rather assume a circular movement which will always bring science back to the original objects.28

The forgetfulness problem may be identified and dealt with differently in the various disciplines. Also there, however, it seems to be evident to at least distinguish between natural sciences and humanities.29 The already stated memory-elated practices of abandonment on the one hand and of canonisation on the other indicate that, in the former case, sensual oblivion is to a higher degree supported by abandonment assumptions and, in the latter case, a stronger orientation at completeness or at least at the discipline-specific canon of knowledge, and thus a more intensive dealing with previous knowledge is demanded.

These considerations become plausible, e. g. regarding the natural-scientific experiment, which is about the empirical assessment of causal hypotheses and which, against the background of “abandonment”, unfolds historicity as well as selectivity of its kind. It creates a highly artificial kind of reality, in the context of which the “comprehensiveness” of the world is reduced to the conditions of the experiment. The framework conditions of the experiment are controlled so that the connection between dependent and independent variable can be examined, explained and made into a law. Science-historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger demonstrates – after all by reaching back to Nietzsche, who already at his time pointed out to the arising diktat of method in the sciences – by way of his concept of “experimental systems” that experimental arrangements make the scientist again and again “exploit” a once successful system. That this comes along with an enormous reduction of insight opportunities is then no longer considered. Over practical research, in the course of which experiment is followed by experiment, one forgets the search for the substantially new (Rheinberger, 1997). Thus, forgetfulness is not generated by the progress logic of science but by the logic of causal reasoning or the science-specific imperative of truth inscribed into scientific work – and here, particularly in the context of quality criteria such as reliability or validity.30

Another kind of forgetfulness – that is less forgetting about practical facts in the context of theorising and methods of the scientific genesis of knowledge but oblivion in the field of the discursive legitimating of progressiveness – is the so-called half-life of knowledge.31 Metaphorically applying the physical concept of half-life, which describes the decline of radioactivity measured by time units, is a statistic of science research describing the time until the number of quotations halves – and thus the degree of attention an argument concerning the process of remembering attracts. Such a measure may be applied to individual studies, to literary genres or indeed to entire topical fields or disciplines. In other words: “half-life” refers to the acceptable degree of selectivity – nevertheless differentiated according to the culture of each specific discipline – when dealing with the completeness imperative concerning the legitimation of scientific insight against the background of groundwork by others. It is about legitimate forgetfulness, thus about a kind of oblivion which, in a specific scientific community, is accepted as being “normal” indeed sometimes considered unavoidable.32 The degree of the “half-life of knowledge” describes the average speed of the turnover of knowledge within one discipline and thus as a control variable for evaluation processes to decide about the sustainability of a scientific argument from this field. The resulting practical consequences of gaining a dimension of deciding about what may well be “forgotten” will be discussed later. Thus, “half-life” becomes an indicator of the volatility of knowledge in the knowledge society and supports the demand for appropriating knowledge more swiftly or for improved archiving.33 The measure, however, is not only the assessment criterion but may also be read as a coefficient of forgetfulness, with the help of which one can calculate how soon knowledge becomes outdated or is lost in the light of compatibility or of being attractive for connectivity. Also, this kind of forgetfulness has not much to do with the problem of the store or storability, and also not much with the issue of providing information or of archive organisation. Rather, it is about a measure that, with the help of means of probability calculation, can depict the giving up on nexuses.

Apart from this kind of forgetfulness, resulting from the “inner” logic of scientific activity, we may also imagine kinds of structural amnesia causing a loss of knowledge in the sciences due to “outside” influence.34 However, apart from Harald Weinrich’s criticism of oblivionism, there are quite a number of observations describing the scientific genesis of knowledge being influenced by non-scientific stimulations.

For example, in the context of the exponential rise of scientific publications, Niklas Luhmann diagnoses a change in the logic of knowledge production, which further increases the selection problem in deciding what is supposed to be remembered and what is supposed to be remembered to be forgotten. No longer is this exclusively a result of system-immanent consistency assessment but happens primarily because of the effects of an expansive supply industry.

The flood of meaning produced by the printing press makes it impossible to know what is known: to process it into running communication. What will subsequently be realised as communication is difficult to predict. One depends on auxiliary assumptions, and for doing so, one can reach back to standardisations (such as the typical scientific essay) and the novelty of results. If the text is supposed to become knowledge, it must find a reader if it is supposed to complete the as yet incomplete communication. But how? Being published is no guarantee that the book will be read, and definitely not if libraries only buy it. Not even sending books to “multiplicators” is an effective means of achieving “reading”. This way, only bookshelves are reached. Given this difficulty, alternatives start the other way round: they start from the reader’s search and decision-making practice and support him/her with the help of subject-related and topical differentiation, abstracts and keyword registers, today increasingly with the help of automatic data processing. (Luhmann, 1992, p. 157)

However, not only the “supply industry” changes the practice and relevancies of knowledge production; also, attributing knowledge value to the individual results in co-coding, in the sense of distinguishing between renowned and not renowned. The result is an implicit rationalisation of knowledge production.

Reputation requires focusing on attention and selecting what, in much probability, deserves more attention than something else. At least, this is true always when causalities are supposed to be established, and the conditions for specific effects (such as for a publication or a scientific career) are supposed to be identified. Thus, the system must provide guidelines to limit the arbitrariness of selecting topics, reading, quoting and formulating, and in the sciences, indeed, this happens by establishing a reputation. (Luhmann, 1992, pp. 245–246)

Although Luhmann identifies the scientific system itself as being responsible for the limitations, he lists a performance-related system code or, instead, its symbolic communications medium – reputation as the currency of the attention economy (Franck, 1998) – is in the fore. Precisely the impression that the orientation at reputation comes from the sciences themselves increases the suspicion that it is a stubborn interpretation of economic thinking among the sciences, which, apart from truth and progress, also establishes a relevance selection according to the success of individual persons. Thus, attention is “automatically” directed at the renowned, whereas the non-renowned is rather left to oblivion.

The situation is similar when it comes to the oblivion of science caused by political steering. If funding is granted or rejected as a result of political decision-making, this affects those concerned and the respective scientific communities as far as science as a whole.35 Political steering concerns both the scientific action fields of subjects, disciplines or research institutions and the archiving of scientific information. In single cases, the public reflects on certain subjects or disciplines that have been abandoned as not having been able to answer all the questions they have raised, so abandoning them is said to mean a loss. The project of university profiling, on the other hand, does hardly seem to consider the danger of a structural loss of knowledge as a result of dissolving traditional disciplines and of smaller, “under-critical” research units to be relevant. The abandoned “exotic” subjects are as yet not forgotten, but the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can perhaps also be applied to academia which is going on to exist even without smaller interest fields that politics consider dispensable. In other words: both university policy and the management of universities influence the differentiation process of academic life by determining which subjects may be closed down because of being less “efficient” or “effective” and, as a consequence, may be forgotten as independently organised units.

Positions that may be interpreted in the sense of processes of wanting to forget and making forget in the sciences describe intentional preliminary work for kinds of forgetfulness. At first sight, against the background of the demands of modern science, articulating an oblivion desire is normatively problematic. As a result of restrictions which are e. g. due to the exponential growth of the stock of scientific information – “these days it’s simply impossible to know everything” – on the one hand, and the shortcomings of the producers of knowledge – “there’s no need to know about bad works” – selectivity in the scientific system is legitimated e. g. in the context of evaluation. Such an evaluation refers to norms of outmodedness if it is e. g. about valuing more recent information higher than older but highly renowned works or about reception convenience when it comes to creating presentations of scientific results. The latter is in analogy with the “logic” of “Whig-history”. At the beginning of the 1930s historian, Henry Butterfield criticised his colleagues’ common practice of describing the present as a necessary consequence of certain historical developments (Butterfield, 1931). By “Whig-history”, he means a particular view of history, the tendency of “praising” revolutions if they have been successful or emphasizing specific principles of progress in the past as important steps towards the future. Such a kind of view may also determine the historiography of science, resulting in e. g, telling the history of scientific discoveries as a necessary sequence of success stories. Then, there is no need to consider that each scientific achievement happened at the cost of many failures. Consequently, entire oeuvres cannot be remembered and may fall into oblivion if, in the respective case, these efforts do not fit into a consistent image of the epistemic genealogy of a research subject. Selectivities of this kind have only marginally to do with the quality of individual research results; rather, they are blanket judgements in the context of which non-topical arguments can ignore the topical contributions.

The tendency of scientific reporting of preferably documenting success stories when working out shapes – or narrative constructions – is closely connected to the scientists’ professional legitimation needs or aspirations. This becomes obvious, among others, because studies that have neither produced the “expected” nor otherwise “positive” results are less likely to be published, although they may be highly relevant for the progress of science.36 The low degree of attention given to rejected hypotheses and research questions indicates a gigantic oblivion process inscribed into academic activities. In this context, the oblivion problem consists of the fact that the unsuccessful is not even transformed into archivable information and, secondly – should this be the case, there is little interest in follow-up communication. The problem with this kind of ignorance and thus-resulting oblivion is that many a problem is dealt with several times and shelved again as unsolvable.

Also, to the realm of the academic attribution of relevance, there belongs a phenomenon that has been analysed by Merton and Harriet Zuckerman (Merton, 1973; 1988). In an analysis of the attribution of attention around Nobel laureates, they found out that, when quoting, “great” names attract much more attention than less-known co-authors. In other words: it seems as if just the high reputation of one author results in the other one being ignored or forgotten. This phenomenon, called the Matthew effect, comes from the parable of the talents in the New Testament, where it says: “to everyone who has will more be given […]. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (The New Testament, Matthew 25:29). The consequence for co-authors of scientific studies is that the reputation of the more famous author grows ever more, whereas that of the less-known author is not increased. In this context, it is even irrelevant in which order the authors are listed in the title and thus in any bibliography. The principle of the Matthew effect cannot only be applied to individual scientists but becomes obvious also in the case of expert journals and even nations (Bonitz, 1997). The oblivion aspect coming along with Matthew effects may be understood to be intentional wanting to forget.

However, Merton also analyses the problem that a relevant contribution is not or falsely quoted. On the one hand, he is interested in the “careers” of scientific ideas, concepts and theories, which are frequently quoted and, in this context, are dissolved from the crucial statements or their originators. Merton calls such a development, which may be compared to the children’s game called “whisper down the lane”, the palimpsest syndrome. By quoting the “focused interview”, which goes back to his early works, he reconstructs the development, caused by quotation chains without he himself contributing, towards a conceptual neologism: the focus group – which was then again attributed to him (Merton, 1987). Also, in this case, forgetting about an object of knowledge is at the heart of things when falsifications, distortions or unintended neologisms are “passed on” from one author to the next in the course of inaccurate follow-up communication.37

In his work On the Shoulders of Giants, Merton pursues who exactly coined certain “winged words”. Based on the title, which mirrors the scientist’s modesty given the gigantic tradition of knowledge he necessarily refers to, he starts searching for traces of who, after all, was the inventor of a certain dictum. In the course of doing so, he reconstructs an entire range of scientific inaccuracies in the context of referring to and appreciating those on whose shoulders one claims to sit. One variant deserving to be mentioned in terms of oblivion theory is Merton’s concept of cryptomnesia which he adopts from psychology. This “unwitting plagiarism” consists of having “incorporated” a knowledge object to such a degree that one believes to have invented it oneself (Merton, 1993). “The fact that cryptomnesia can occur at all subjects the scientist to the ever-present possibility that his most cherished original idea may actually be the forgotten residue of what he had once seen or read or heard elsewhere” (Merton, 1973, p. 403).

Another selection mechanism comes from the realm of the so-called science of science. It results from the abundance of scientific information and is derived from the insight that scientific achievements are distributed in a way that is similar to what Vilfredo Pareto depicted in his income function: a large share of the income of an economy is distributed among comparably few, whereas very many must share a small part of the national income among themselves. Connecting to such functions, mathematician Alfred J. Lotka developed the 80:20 rule, according to which it is sufficient to read 20 per cent of the scientific publications on a certain topic to have an overview of 80 per cent of the total information available.

Similarly, we may understand Bradford’s Law of Scattering, formulated by library scientist Samuel C. Bradford. Confronted with scarce spatial and acquisition resources at libraries, he was looking for a formula 1with the help of which a librarian might find out which periodicals are most fruitful for readers. Also, many essays are indeed published in just a few journals, whereas many journals publish only a few articles on that same topic. Then the librarian will look for such core journals and subscribe to them. With the help of bibliometric procedures, it is possible to analyse scientific debates for frequently quoted authors or studies. Thus, by evaluating the lists of references of the 20 per cent of most renowned sources, one may assume to be provided with an overview of 80 per cent of all related literature.38

Furthermore, researchers use quotation analyses to make certain decisions connected to publishing easier: for example, the evaluation of quotations may influence the decision about where to publish if one knows which journal is more “visible” concerning the topic in question. The fact that a high reputation is connected to high quotation rates, independently of the content of the contributions, has resulted in the selectivity of its own kind, which makes texts published in certain journals – those with a high “impact factor” – more relevant.39

When it comes to the debate on social oblivion in science, this practice can be easily put in a nutshell by stating: everything not listed among the relevant 20 per cent will fall into oblivion, like everything not published in journals with a high impact. This is one aspect of Harald Weinrich’s (2004) criticism of scientific oblivionism.40

One of Robert K. Merton’s disciples, information scientist and bibliometric analyst Eugene Garfield, when reacting to criticism of bibliometric methods, addresses the phenomenon of science-related oblivion.41 To the question, if the selectivity of systematic analyses of quotations will not possibly make highly relevant texts fall into oblivion, he answers that it is highly improbable that an important scientific contribution is not quoted. He gives three different reasons for legitimately being not-quoted. Firstly, he says, some studies are only mediocre, unintelligent, irrelevant or simply mad and are thus ignored (uncitedness I). Secondly, it may at least theoretically be imagined that good and meritorious works remain undiscovered and then fall into oblivion (uncitedness II). Thirdly, he claims, many works are so famous that they are expected to be known as essential knowledge, and because of belonging to the canon, they are thus not particularly quoted (uncitedness III). Seen this way, it may even be a criterion for success if one is no longer quoted.42

Criticism of Garfield’s methods – he is the founder of the Institute of Informational Science (ISI), which, as a scientific services provider, offers quotation analyses in the context of the Science Citation Index (SCI) – always comes from one direction, as becomes evident from his reactions. Accordingly, critical questions are frequently asked by scientists being concerned that works whose relevance is not in line with the spirit of the time might be forgotten. This, they claim, is pushed on if the practice of bibliometrically informed research pushes through, as it is incapable of identifying relevant contributions which, however, have been published at “invisible” places.43 Garfield attempts to dissipate such doubts by suggesting an index oblivionalis, pointing out his quotation analyses claiming completeness. He believes it is almost impossible to overlook the works by temporarily forgotten Gregor Mendel, as precisely quotation analysis allows for identifying even marginalised works (Garfield, 1971). Indeed, it seems as if there is some scientific sleeping beauty; but that relevant information is rediscovered only after a long sleep of oblivion, he claims, is extremely rare – at least against the background of bibliometric traceability (van Raan, 2004).

After all, the oblivion problem of bibliometrics is less the indexing of natural-scientific journals, i. e. its core business, but rather consists of all those fields which are not systematically covered as well as of a particular way of implementation. If it is not about complete but about rationalised and thus selective research, there is the danger of overlooking and thus forgetting something important. Here the principle of wanting to forget appears as a special kind of ignorance; this is a problem precisely in academic life if one is satisfied with the frequently quoted “mainstream” works to which one attributes particular relevance which, however, are not necessarily topically grounded but are only based on the attention they attract among the scientific community.

As another kind of intentional – that is intended or made – oblivion in science, we may read the Scientific Revolution according to the thesis by science historian Thomas S. Kuhn.44 Delimiting himself from the idea of science being accumulative and logically progressing, Kuhn states that sciences develop further in the course of paradigms following each other. By paradigm, he understands a collectively shared view according to which scientific topics are dealt with. In this context, the epistemic process is not linear but rather happens in the sense of radical scientific turns, in the context of which a new view must have developed in the shadow of the dominating one which then, at some point in time – and coming along with “adjustment losses” of the involved scientists – replaces the older perspective which then is considered outdated and obsolete. Reaching back to Karl Mannheim’s concept of generations, the Scientific Revolution appears as a kind of social change realised by “successful” generation units. Both Kuhn and Mannheim are based on one and the same figure of a kind of change developing from the non-simultaneity of the simultaneous, which is a kind of a radical change at the same time (Mannheim 1952). This process is accompanied by oblivion processes, although a replaced paradigm is considered to be “incorporated” into the new, as this is only very limitedly the case.

Another position, called institutional oblivion, is developed by Mary Douglas, who delineates the persistence of scientific thought styles or paradigms.45 This finding is something like “good idea, but too early for the world”, and this does not necessarily refer to an idea being incomprehensible for its time. It may also be imagined that it is not worthwhile for scientists to take up a new, perhaps revolutionary, idea as long as they may still work according to their familiar thought style. Theories and fashions are institutionalised and highly change-proof. Douglas illustrates this by discovering the so-called impossibility theorem, in the context of which it is proven that an actor cannot place his/her own preferences into a hierarchy. In the late 1940s, two authors almost simultaneously reported on this formula – however, none of them was aware that this principle had been discovered already 150 years before. Additionally, even the discovery of the 1940s had been a “sleeping beauty” for twenty years before being appreciated. Douglas considers this a case of scientific oblivion for which she gives lacking congruence with the thought style of the respective epoch as a reason. Only this way, it was possible to adopt the impossibility theorem and to refer it to practical life after universal suffrage had become social reality and its pluralism-induced limitations had become known.

A new discovery it has to be compatible with political and philosophical assumptions if it is to get off the ground in the first place, to say nothing of being remembered afterwards. It is not enough to keep repeating that memory is socially structed. (Douglas, 1986, p. 80)

The arguments stated so far demonstrate that the development of scientific stocks of knowledge happens path-dependently and is co-determined by non-scientific influences. That permanent change is hardly reflected in all its broadness is due to comprehensive oblivion processes resulting partly from the structure of the field of activity of “science”, partly from the actions of other actors. We have already pointed out positions assuming some forgetfulness in the sciences, coming along with economisation or bureaucratisation. On the one hand, a mostly unnoticed change of scientific activity and, thus connected, forgetting about original meanings can be diagnosed; there are also assumptions aiming at scientific traditions being given up. In other words: assumed colonisation of the sciences does not happen creepingly, but the actors accept or even pursue it with their eyes open. In this context, we may speak of adjustment oblivion, consisting of a loss of knowledge characterised by the adjustment of scientific structures to non-scientific structural stimulations or guidelines. The kind of institutional change behind this has, in the context of the theory of New Institutionalism, already been described as isomorphism (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). At the level of actors, structural patterns of “other” social structures are identified, anticipated and – voluntarily or involuntarily – transferred to the “own” system. Thus, it is about a kind of change that is authoritative or participative but may also happen in the form of one “system” being colonised by another or by the latter’s imperatives and generalised communications media being adopted.46 In this context, the readjustment to these new organisation patterns comes with forgetting about older structures, which the actors of change desire.

Perhaps Humboldt’s university system – autonomous research in “solitude and liberty”47 as well as the combination of research and teaching – had just been past its prime when Max Weber wrote his analysis of bureaucracy. In his diagnosis of time, he stated that bureaucratisation covers all fields of social life. Modern universities are administration-like or entrepreneurially organised places where scientific knowledge is gained. Since the spread of new public management, they have been making efforts to increase their adaptiveness and flexibility. Sometimes, business enterprises provide the patterns for such efforts, as they are said to be more capable of dealing with tight resources and efficiency problems.

That scientific work in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was more accessible and more autonomous is undoubtedly a nostalgic distortion.48 And probably both increasing organisation and competition in the sciences have contributed to their exponential growth. However, by the ever more intensive influence of the organisation on scientific activity, a kind of change can be demonstrated, along with comprehensive oblivion processes. In the context of current debates on the institutional capability of the sciences to renew themselves, from an organisation-sociological point of view, one may ask how far techniques and strategies of organisational oblivion are (can be) transferred to academic life (Dimbath, 2012).

One manifestation of the transfer of organisational rationality to research is mirrored by the introduction and spread of control devices – apart from the already mentioned rationalisation of the genesis of knowledge. However, this is not about bureaucratisation but about ways of marketing due to With regard to organisations and institutions of the sciences, aspects of social oblivion prove to be well suitable for the reconstruction of restructuring processes. For example, the introduction of evaluation processes concerning scientific performance – in the form of university rankings or by reaching back to quotation analyses in the context of appointment procedures – influences the scientific aspect of scientific activity and topical orientations. Only by way of evaluative performance assessment, the initially only latently existing possibility of competitive interpretation becomes a norm for orientation. This may result in a highly effective restructuring of institutional selection mechanisms and the thus related relevance structures. However, such a rationalisation stipulation comes with the danger that anybody who does not obey will be ignored and forgotten. The concern of being forgotten, which is connected to vanity but has rational reasons, can influence topical and social-cooperative decision-making in science. The more a field of activity is open towards such motives, the more likely is it that researchers will become oriented at allegedly promising questions and contacts – that is also research that is easily evaluated and results in positive assessments. In times of high recognition for application-oriented and third-party funded research is does not seem to pay off to focus on basic research.49

Examples of politics interfering with the genesis of scientific knowledge are found in the context of authoritative systems – such as when any way of coping with the knowledge that is a problem for the nation or the ruling elite is supposed to be prevented.50 In this context, two trends can be identified. Whereas sometimes research concerning specific topics is more or less outspokenly prohibited, the “softer” variants consist of channelling anyway stretched resources exclusively to projects which either deal with desired questions or provide counter-expertise to politically unwanted facts.

Interference with scientific liberty, which may be connected to hope for oblivion, after all, also becomes obvious in the case of political decisions which are prepared, e. g., by ethics commissions. Then the oblivion expectation is towards the aspirations of scientists to further pursue certain morally or ethically problematic research questions – research fields under taboo must be forgotten. This expectation is supported by resembling the decision to pursue these research paths no longer. The debates in Germany on red or green genetic engineering, stem cell research, or preimplantation diagnostics are just some examples of the transitions between political steering and inner-science self-limitation – which can only be negotiated politically; however, system-immanently – may be fluent. In any case, it is kind of an “intentionality of not knowing”, stubbornly grounded by the various actors, which, as protective or positive ignorance, results in avoiding lengthy controversies (Wehling, 2012, p. 112).

4.3 Perspectives of Social Oblivion in the Sciences

After having presented some explicit and implicit approaches to oblivion phenomena in the context of science, now, with the help of the previously unfolded analysis heuristics, the significant number of starting points for an analysis of social oblivion in science is supposed to be grasped. As the method is oriented at an analysis tool gained from theoretical considerations, in the following, it will be about generating hypotheses; the tool serves as search heuristics for as yet undiscovered research problems or a new contextualisation, a rearrangement or a connection to already known questions.

Due to the small number of studies on “oblivion” in science, which are furthermore scattered across various disciplines, the “granulation” of sociological systematisation had to be reduced by several levels. However, it has been possible to maintain the systematics of search heuristics. Accordingly, we have stayed away from structuring according to aggregation levels – which, however, would have been fruitful only heuristically – and from distinguishing the two intentional variants of the conditions for oblivion (oblivion I). For the following considerations, these aspects are going to be reactivated so that in the context of science, it will be possible to pursue social oblivion in the field of the social micro-, meso- and macro-levels, in combination with the kinds of oblivion of forgetfulness, wanting to forget and making forget.

4.3.1 Obliviating Researchers

At the level of the subjects and social interactions of scientific activity, aspects of oblivion are viewed as of significance for the constitution of subjects or identities on the one hand and for personal communication among actors. For quite some time, we have been provided with an empirical approach to investigating such aspects, i. e. the research field of ethnomethodology and science and technology studies. Bruno Latour and Steven Woolgar or Karin Knorr-Cetina demonstrated that scientific activity is as permeated with an abundance of practices and routines as everyday action at many places.51 The ethnomethodology approach, which is highly sensitive towards “traces”, seems to be an adequate way of proceeding to identify conditions for oblivion and the reconstruction of science-specific aspects of forgetfulness.

Regarding the micro-sociological level, the following kinds of oblivion will be exemplarily discussed. Thus, not presenting the results of empirical analyses is in the fore but an exploring way of sounding out. It aims at a wide field of different situations, starting from everyday stereotypes typically connected to a “scientist” type of oblivion. Like with the development of the conceptual analysis tool, also the search for oblivion aspects happens at first in the field of structurally grounded forgetfulness (1) and then in the fields of volitional wanting-to-forget (2), and then in the field of instrumental making-forget (3).

At the level of individuals, seemingly natural processes of oblivion can be distinguished according to two aspects: if it is the subject’s forgetfulness given the social reference frames, social roles, or relevant institutions to be found in academia, or if considering the interactions between individuals within research. Furthermore, a combination of these perspectives may be imagined if the relations of the role bearer to his/her everyday social environment are considered – even beyond the field of activity of “science”.

If we start with the individual consciousness, kinds of oblivion become visible which the subject, as far or as soon as he/she becomes aware of a loss of knowledge, attributes to his/her forgetfulness or the forgetfulness of others. The former two examples are connected to the researcher’s identity. As the identity scheme is constantly updated, and as only in exceptional cases time indices – such as memory-relevant, biographic steps of development in the sense of aha or eureka experiences – are inscribed into this updating, change will be forgotten in the course of the stream of consciousness. This may be stated both when it comes to developing of the personality of a scientist (a) and concerning the development of individual expert knowledge by way of incorporating the thought-style of the scientific community (b). Another kind of forgetfulness can be observed with interactions between researchers, if in certain situations these define their exchange of knowledge as being secondary and thus less relevant (c). Contents which are both topically and inter-subjectively significant may fall into oblivion again immediately after having appeared because they belong to the everyday, practical repertoire of behaviour for which usually no explicit routine of reflection is provided.52

The individual identity construction connected to the professional personality results from certain aspects of the professional biography. These are often success stories combined with an artificial, coherent, and narratively created identity in the sense of self-narration or self-history.53 By comparing the self-concept, which is continued in the form of a scheme, to those aspects of a situation that are considered relevant, only part of what has been experienced is used for updating, and much is forgotten en passant. Identity development is idealisation and self-reification simultaneously, making us forget other aspects that are usually considered irrelevant in the environment of relations.54 One example of such development oblivion at the level of subjective horizons of expectation is the dissatisfaction of many experienced researchers with the skills of written articulation of young colleagues when it comes to jointly write scientific publications, or the sometimes lacking sensitiveness of examiners for the fears of candidates, which may be due to the experience of being a candidate having been entirely eclipsed by the experience of being an examiner.

We have already pointed out forgetting about sources, as discovered by Robert K. Merton, which he calls cryptomnesia or obliteration by incorporation.55 In the course of their production of knowledge, researchers incorporate wide parts of their sets of theoretical and research-practical tools and the boundaries of the epistemically possible, which are defined by the discipline-specific thought styles of their time. Thus, with a growing experience, they get ever more used to the predominant paradigm or the familiar theoretical perspective whose nature of being common science can no longer be seen due to a slowly consolidating, topic-specific oblivion of origins and histories. It is not only about an oblivion-theoretical explanation for tolerated plagiarism, coming along with humbly admitting that one is sitting on the shoulders of giants, but about being too much oriented at the past, a problem Nietzsche pointed out. However, what Nietzsche moralises as the vanity of the historian becomes a knowledge-sociological issue, e. g. in Mannheim’s concept of ideology: due to the professional-biographically consolidating orientation at the existing, one does no longer see the new. What is forgotten most of all is, among others, aspects of irritability.

As an issue belonging to the interaction among scientists, forgetfulness becomes a problem at the boundary between everyday action routines or rituals and scientific communication. For example, only in the rarest cases, the informal exchange during dinner or on the threshold is accompanied by organised documentation – such as in the form of ad-hoc memoranda, which themselves require organised archiving. Although the thus developed ideas may contribute to the genesis of knowledge, the context of their creation – in the cryptomnesia sense – is easily forgotten. Indeed, the informal exchange is an acceptable source of inspiration in any field of activity – however, if it is about precisely documenting the genesis of this knowledge, this field becomes a subject in need of reflection. This is, even more, the case if, concerning the memory of informal encounters, we must assume some inequality-systematic selectivity: insights gained from a threshold conversation with a Nobel laureate may be supposed to be better remembered and to find their way into research documentations than chats with doctoral candidates during the coffee break.56

A second aspect concerns the many ideas generated in the course of informal exchange but not pursued further. As yet, oblivion-sociological analysis asking about the loss caused by this uncontrolled selectivity can be inspired only from the fiction of a library of unwritten books and essays as well as from an archive of identified yet undiscussed research questions.57

Another approach to the analysis of oblivion at the social micro-level results from perceiving “automatic” or “natural” forgetfulness with others. For the sciences, this becomes relevant on the one hand if subjects attribute forgetfulness to other subjects or groups, or if on the other hand subjects conventionalise, reify or exploit their own forgetfulness to gain legitimation advantages during interactions with others.

In some segments of academic life, which is characterised by a high degree of the division of work, by being professionalised and organised according to “ordinary science”, it may be that the problem of generativity in the sense of the individual desire to create or bequeath something which may last does not play any particular role. Those being active in the sciences may be provided with meaning-making of this kind either from organised work or from fields of life. However, science may as well come along with a high appreciation of an instinct of workmanship – in particular where the idea of autonomy, in the sense of “solitude and freedom”, is still relevant.58 The motivation for scientific activity may aim at individual achievements and, in this context, at making contributions to the collective property of social knowledge. Then, the scientist creates something he/she bequeaths to posterity – a desire which aims at the opportunity to be remembered, by one’s work, by the collective and to this way become immortal.59 If this is a relevant motivation, scientific activity seems to be connected to the subject’s awareness of his/her own finiteness while at the same time providing an opportunity to work against the danger of being forgotten. Who has “dedicated” his/her life to science, may believe to be worthless if not succeeding with inscribing him/herself into the “history book” of this system.60 Thus, the fear of not creating anything that might last would be a driving force for relentless production. In this context, the focus of oblivion analysis is on the structural oblivion of a professional and reference group as anticipated by the individual member and related to his/her own actions, as well as on the diagnosis of behavioural patterns resulting from the involved actors’ attempts to cope with this.

Another starting point for forgetfulness at the micro-level does at first sight not look particularly obvious from a knowledge-sociological point of view. It concerns whether the specifics of the scientific field of activity create a typical kind of forgetfulness among the involved individuals that could be distinguished from other social contexts. The common stereotype of the absent-minded professor is one example.61 In this context, only partly the proverbial absent-mindedness finds expression by moments of forgetfulness, as first of all, it consists of a strong focus of subjective attention on the reality segment of science while being comparably much estranged from paramount reality.62 Due to his/her behaviour, the absent-minded scientist disappoints expectations of the everyday world; however, he/she may hope for indulgence, as the lack of attention may be excused by his/her focus on the highly prestigious activity of producing insights. As, by way of the title, his/her professional status is associatively connected to his/her personality, it may be assumed that this complete personality – and not only the professional aspect – has completely been absorbed by this déformation professionelle. However, the interpretation pattern of absent-mindedness – beyond the indulgence shown towards absent-minded scientists – also tells about the expectations connected to this field of activity in the context of the social differentiation of labour. Thus, an individual’s absent-mindedness and, coming along with it, his/her forgetfulness are not only interpreted as a weak spot but are really expected and are attributed to the scientist even in minor cases.

It is remarkable with this kind of oblivion that specific social roles or positions with a lesser degree of adjustment to these roles and positions, determined by social reference frames, are expected. The scientist is allowed to habitually not take part in socially expected changes of context. Some forms of social misbehaviour are excused, as he/she is allowed to stay within an esoteric sub-universe with relevance structures that are mostly non-transparent for the outside world due to his/her profession. In this context, his/her strange behaviour measured by everyday relevancies results in the frame of the interaction being modulated in the sense of Goffman (1986). On the other hand, the private and professional environments of absent-minded scientists are expected to adjust the structure of their interaction to the fact that this subject will stay within the frame of science. This may find expression by assistants or partners developing structures for coping with typical, forgetfulness-induced failures – such as always having a packed overnight bag ready, just for the case that once again, the time for going on a trip has been forgotten. An analysis of forgetfulness oriented at profession-related stereotypes is not meant to insinuate that the professional group of scientists is prone to dementia. Rather, it is a cause for an analysis of interactions at the interface between purely scientific communication and other horizons of communication. Then, forgetfulness is not necessarily interpreted as a spleen of a certain group but may be analysed as the starting point for attention and mutual recognition deficits.

The issue of wanting-to-forget, which at the level of the individual or the interaction among individuals is illusionary, after all, may be considered intended oblivion, both when it comes to developing the scientist’s professional identity and to make sure that there happens successful interaction in the context of scientific activity. Also this is not exclusively about the individual’s steering or control achievements. It would also have to be assessed in how far purposeful communication, which must be associated with wanting-to-forget, can be symbolically articulated and thus becomes action-relevant.

Wanting-to-forget, aiming at individually available, perhaps persistently stored knowledge which is perceived as a burden, comes from the desire to no longer add one’s own experiences to subjective memory. This way the issue of trauma as an injury of the soul, which is most of all dealt with by psychology and the neuro-sciences, is – in a weaker form – transferred to aspects of everyday experience. In sociology, such an approach is found in Goffman who deals with damaged identity and the ways of dealing with it in the context of interactions.63 In the following, some typical aspects are going to be pointed out to which in the case of scientists may be connected to the desire, in the sense of a strategy of coping and updating, to no longer remember or forget certain experiences. At first, the focus will be on the identity work of the scientifically researching subject.

A particular kind of identity-affecting wanting-to-forget can be derived from a purposefully selective reference to social frames, such as when scientists attempt to keep reality levels separate. Such a separation may work as self-protection and comes along with giving up on transferring the knowledge contents of one field to another. Also, this is a specific kind of self-forgetfulness, in the context of which consequences of social differentiation – such as separating work from life – are reflected by the individual’s identity. In the form of intended or at least accepted forgetfulness of shape, wholeness or configuration (Gestalt), the individual may do without the idea of integrating his/her self. Then there develops a patchwork or hybrid concept of identity used instrumentally or is accepted as a result of being overtaxed. Such a concept may then be used as a socially accepted kind of “split personality” to justify actions that look inconsistent.

The history of the sciences provides examples of scientific insight and social ideas of truth colliding with each other to such an extent that the scientific individual seems to have no choice but to keep the two fields separate. For example, sometimes, the philosopher’s attempt to live according to the system he/she has invented seems to be possible only at the price of madness or disintegration, as it is demonstrated e. g. by Auguste Comte’s biography.64 By ignoring the purposeful integration of different kinds of knowledge, constituting themselves by identity – which may be compared to an intra-role conflict65 – and by preferring one out of several contradicting fields of knowledge, it is possible to create unambiguity. This comes at the price of artificially created ‘schizophrenia’ which, in the form of differentiating subjective worlds of meanings, may come along with integration problems when the accepted and thus unsolved contradictions are forgotten as such. Thus, this is the same synchronisation problem researchers are confronted with when believing to proceed without being influenced by everyday rationalities. However, this problem, which is dealt with by more recent scientific research, is two-faced: on the one hand, it is an ideologically maintained everyday forgetfulness of those subjects as being active in academic life. On the other hand, some consciously accepted professionality forgetfulness happens in coping with everyday problems. The latter may result in inter-personal conflict when scientific expertise is applied to solving situations of everyday conflict.66

Another aspect of volitional oblivion becomes evident by the obligation to, in the course of one’s work, at first work out the state of research. Given a large amount of information to be processed, it may be that the individual scientist develops selection strategies that are helpful for focused research while at the same time ignoring allegedly irrelevant additional information or alternative orientations, as long as no obstacles appear which might make a new approach necessary. Oblivion strategies aiming at ignoring existing, collectively binding knowledge must be filed under oblivion (I) as preconditions for “natural” oblivion and are found at different passages of the self-reflections of scientists. Among the techniques of selecting information, there are selective reading methods – “you cannot read everything” – such as the limitation to titles, abstracts or introductions and lists of the keywords, and so-called skimming or scanning techniques.67 In any case, documents of scientific arguing are not completely acknowledged, and the “messages” of authors are reduced to a few statements which are considered essential, yet already at that stage, their relevance is decided, and a selection is made. One work is remembered, the other one forgotten.68 Only after such a superficial selection it is decided if a publication is taken into further consideration, perhaps even received in more detail, or if it is left out of consideration and thus left to oblivion.

What is true for the researcher’s identity may also be related to the change of subjective guiding orientations. Oblivion is subjectively reasonable and desired where a longer research activity proves to be so outmoded and pointless that any further dealing with the concerned subject must be ended. This may be connected to giving up on proven thought routines and thus complete sub-fields of a grown profession-specific context of experiences. Reorientation amounts to relearning, coming along with wanting to forget the old thought style. According to Thomas S. Kuhn, any scientist moving outside a valid paradigm is confronted with the need to decide to pursue his/her different orientations further or stick with the current mainstream.69

Another irritation for activity-induced identity comes from mistakes made in the past, which, given the organised scepticism among the sciences, should be considered a lesson to learn and a reminder (Merton, 1973, p. 280). From the perspective of the development and presentation of professional identity, however, mistakes are considered a flaw and, if they frequently come to one’s mind as a persistently burdening memory, are accompanied by the desire to forget them. Concerning the scientific production of knowledge, such problems must be diagnosed not only for research mistakes documented by publications but also for the emotional-affective experience of the writing of publications. Sometimes writer’s blocks come from the feeling of being incapable, of repeating old mistakes or again and again encountering them in the course of editing.70

Apart from any scientific action logics, wanting to forget can also be comprehended in the context of a typical yet mostly “invisible” change of framing. For example, the shift of priorities in the context of scientific work, away from “pure” research activity and towards becoming committed with science policy, science management or the acquisition of third party funding – in particular when reflecting on different action logics – results in the desire to forget experiential contexts or at least to not addressing them any longer. Sometimes such a reorientation is under suspicion of “changing sides” by third parties remaining in the field of research, coming along with the judgement that the concerned person has forgotten about his/her “old” criteria.

A similar diagnosis must be made concerning the transition from university education to non-university professional life. In particular, in the case of those studies which are less predetermined by vocational fields, graduates become fully swallowed by “the” practice, they adjust to their new working conditions and leave their sometimes very complex theoretical knowledge as well as the habitus acquired during scientific education “in the cloakroom”. From the scientific point of view, however, there is the impression that many contents and aspects of the science-immanent practice of reflecting on things, based on exactness and attention, are all too readily or purposefully forgotten.71

Even mutual adjustment in scientific interaction may be connected to aspects of wanting to forget if either joint failures of the past or discrepancies and conflicts are no longer a topic of discussion. Then, at the level of interaction, we may speak of ways of constructive silencing, for example, if theory-related or proceeding-related differences are ignored for the sake of further cooperation.72 By doing so, the interaction partners do not only forget by pursuing a tacit consensus, being silent about conflicting matters. To leave the potential for conflict aside, they connect the hope to bridge the gap from the past through successful interaction. This way, failed or offending experiences in the course of interactions are overwritten by experiences of success. In how far experiences of conflict which, in the form of disappointment, have created a persistent memory can be controlled this way can hardly be estimated by the interaction partners.73 Similar to the concept of suppression of psychoanalysis, there is still the danger that conflicts might, again and again, erupt unexpectedly and in ways that cannot be foreseen. This may be the case if different connotations such as personal disappointment – that is, affective aspects – influence the scientific interaction. We may also imagine conflicts developing in research projects if there had to be “too many” compromises and if fundamental differences affect a project’s “smooth running”.

Apart from these variants of wanting to forget, starting from the individual consciousness, there are also preconditions of oblivion resulting from outside influences on the subject or the interaction. The identity constitution is about processing environmental impressions the individual interprets as indications or symbols of burdening experiences. At the level of interaction, such a figure develops if interaction partners ignore problematic information coming from the situative context.

In contrast to the confrontation of the self with problematic memories, wanting-to-forget involves a specific interpretation of memory stimuli. According to Schütz’s terms Anzeichen (indications) or Merkzeichen (marks), these are autonomous and unsystematic indications which, for the actor, become elements of his/her definition of a situation by irritating his/her original draft for action.74 In view of the above-unfolded concept of a sociological spectre, here it is about every day or topic-specific “spectres” appearing as unexpected memory stimuli and again and again making us aware of that what we want to forget – associations of the unresolved we frequently try to counter by way of avoidance. Connected to the concept of trigger-stimulation, this is a “compelling” influence of the social environment which may cause a specific kind of remembering. This influence comes from the adjustment of situative perception and experience or subjective having-become.

The here addressed issue can be illustrated by way of science-critical myths and narratives: Goethe’s sorcerer’s apprentice cannot get rid of the ghosts he has evoked, or Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein, who is haunted and held accountable by the monster he has brought to life. Vast parts of the philosophical criticism of progress may be read as cognitive faculty clashing with the indications of its limits – a symbol-communicated re-entry of modern modernisation maxims in the course of an allegedly linear process of social rationalisation.75 Criticism of progress refers to the desire to forget our knowledge of limits, as the latter is considered an obstacle to innovation. Already at the level of individuals and their interactions, it can be shown that not-wanting-to-see well-known limitations are the same as the desire to, if ever possible, forget this kind of knowledge, for the sake of progress – perhaps as a kind of everlasting hope for progress.

Another variant of wanting-to-forget refers to ignoring context-specific indications of apparent problems, dangers or potential dangers. This is a kind of “we-ought-to-have-known”, as it is told by many tragedies of the history of science and is connected to a particular readiness to sacrifice or to a quest for knowledge without any caution or regardless of life and limb.76 However, even credulity may be characterised as a kind of wanting-to-forget that ignores hints, inconsistencies, or warnings when scientists, as frequently reported in connection to plagiarism, were all too easily deceived. Then the credit of trust does not consist of looking away once but systematically and path-dependently and the volitional forgetting of causes for suspicion.

From these starting points for wanting-to-forget at the social micro-level, concerning oblivion (I) in the context of science, we may conclude that the desire not to consider certain existing knowledge cannot exclusively be due to overlooking indications or traces. There must always be an experience- or context-specific “frame” within which, again, expectable, existing knowledge would have to be activated by remembering and transferring to action. For practical considerations, individuals or interaction partners decide for volitional forgetting, serving at first for realising once made plans or not putting their implementation into question or endangering it. It is easier to guarantee social action by giving up on the activation of knowledge not in line with the draft and systematic doubt. The precondition is the readiness to ignore problems and concerns to a certain degree and “just have a try”. Behind this, there is the hope that, if things get tough, all reservations will be “belied”, and one may forget all sceptical knowledge with an easy conscience. In other words: this is a credit of trust which must be understood to be a risky strategy of making-forget by the involved actors. In case of failure, the reflection deficit is usually individualised: then it was careless, deliberate, light-hearted or simply deluded-mad (individual) actors. However, it is remarkable that due to the damage being individualised, there are hardly any consequences for the practice of science as a whole and that the relevance of structural causes is forgotten.

More than wanting-to-forget, making-forget – as a precondition or enablement for forgetfulness – is characterised by desire or intention being followed by action and that the creation of preconditions for oblivion may also explicitly refer to forgetting with others. The following selection of examples of making-forget presents ways of (self-) delusion that can be stated in scientific activity. Their overwhelming majority comes from the realm of scientific misbehaviour, the research of which at the level of individuals and their immediate relations has lost its bad reputation of befouling one’s own nest and denunciation only in the wake of fabrication and plagiarism scandals.77 The oblivion-theoretical perspective provides orientation for such attempts at investigating deviating behaviour in the sciences. It may help with systematically grasping the structural framework conditions, initial motivations, chances of success and consequences of covering, hushing up, pretending, overlooking and ignoring.

If it aims at manipulating the remembering subject as such, making forget comprises first of all actions of self-delusion. In the context of research, these may also be used purposefully by consciously ignoring certain restrictions of the epistemic tool set. This may happen by “theoretical” cleaning on the one hand, however, by exclusively determining a particular epistemic method on the other. Without careful assessment or debate, alternative approaches are purposefully ignored and thus left to oblivion.78 The personally preferred “standard method” entices to ignoring potentials for irritation. This may as well be considered a structurally induced kind of forgetfulness if specific ways of proceeding or theoretical figures have been standardised across disciplines or paradigms. However, using a method always requires the researching individual who applies the appropriate regulations in a more or less orthodox way and may, by rule-based steering of his/her perception, may work in favour of his/her forgetfulness.79

Also, scientific activity results in piling both material and immaterial objects that no longer seem relevant after certain tasks have been accomplished. If there is no sufficient room or “capacity” for storing, or if one phase has been finished, there starts tidying up, discarding or “mucking out”. As a comprehensive routine of assessing for relevance, cleaning is a self-technique of making-forget, by way of which objects which are no longer used, which may function as memory stimuli, are systematically taken out of view. Tidying up one’s workplace is, at least symbolically, the same as liberating and clearing the consciousness.80 Also, in the context of science, “ritual” cleaning comprises more: symbolically and materially, it perpetuates a strong kind of oblivion which is supposed to prevent from carrying dead knowledge. The weeding routines at archives, the perpetual updating of collections of textbooks connected with discarding research literature that is no longer used and thus identified as being outmoded, fulfils the double function of releasing capacities for the new and getting rid of memory stimuli that are considered worthless.81

By the up to here addressed kinds of intentional oblivion, we have discussed aspects from the border area between volitional and instrumental oblivion, which can be distinguished first because of implementing oblivionist drafts for action. Making-forget happens, among others, by way of activities aiming at producing forgetfulness with others. Then, making-forget – similar to what illusionists or magicians do – happens in the sense of “toying” with the frameworks of the order of interaction or with influencing it.82

Thus, making forget is part of the methodological practice of scientific epistemology. In some contexts of data genesis, for example, it is considered legitimate to make the observed individuals or interactions forget, as soon as possible, that they have been subject to observation. From those ways of making-forget, which are considered legitimate, we must distinguish the many “innovative” strategies by which researchers try to make their presentation look good. Then, making forget refers to a field of individual impression management that has previously been considered a “grey area” of legitimate action practice, self-presentation, and strategic communication. Among these, there are specific ways of (self-)delusion, overlooking and ignoring other people and their contributions and purposefully manipulating rememberability.

Usually, the mechanisms of institutional regulation rule out such deceits – only the in context of ethnology, folklore studies, psychology or sociology, as an exception, they are part of the methodical tool set, if researchers cannot reveal their questions or their observation activities without irritating their research objects, thus influencing its behaviour.83 As long as there is no knowledge of the actual reasons to participate of e. g. a “participating” and the covered observer cannot be forgotten. The problem of forgetting exists only if, on the one hand, the knowledge of the researcher’s “identity” is always existent in the field and actions are required which prevent ongoing reflection and communication about his/her unique status as well as a thus resulting role attribution. One example is the data collection method of the ero-epic interview, according to Roland Girtler84, who attempts to make an interview partner forget that he/she is in an interview situationwith the help of a specific interview technique. Things are similar when it comes to the use of recording devices for the collection of data. The use of such devices must be legitimated by informing about recording. However, as soon as this has been done, it is desirable that recording is (made) forgotten as soon as possible to avoid the shyness of many people towards such devices and thus resulting distortions.

However, in academic life, we encounter variants of making-forget also beyond the genuinely scientific action logic. For example, researchers tend towards drawing the (scientific) public’s attention away from career-damaging behaviour, past mistakes or even attempts to deceive and instead to cases of success or personal achievements. The strategies of oblivion-producing self-presentation are manifold. For example, one or the other less prominent publication may be deleted from the list of publications, or one just speaks of “selected” publications, making oneself appear in a favourable light. Similar things can be observed in the context of presenting fields of activity or project studies. The individual’s name is presented as a “product” or “label” with the help of specific communication media and is thus an element of an institutional archive of openly accessible scientific information. However, this is an organisational aspect of providing information that may be organised by an archivist “him/herself”. The list of publications and the curriculum vitae are also tools of hiding and making forget, as in everyday use, they suggest an expectation of completeness.

What must also be counted among making-forget is strategic disregard, the purposeful ignoring of different and possibly competing positions, paradigms or perspectives. Under conditions of a surplus of information, the quoting researcher must make a choice. If a colleague working on similar issues has as yet not published his/her results prominently, it may be supposed to be not seriously sanctioned if his/her contributions are ignored, to not attract the attention of one’s readers to these works. Another strategy of making-forget is placing a quotation into one’s context or arguing. Thereby, it is possible to hide even relevant insights gained by other researchers in footnotes or side notes without providing them with appropriate space for discussing the research topic. The rules of attributing scientific attention and reputation grant a certain leeway when deciding about relevance. Apart from the obligatory construction of memory, there also happens consciously controlled forgetting.

Furthermore, the strategy of ignoring allows for no longer paying attention to disturbing objections or persons and positions declared irrelevant by one’s reference group. However, these variants of produced oblivion, consisting of ignoring concrete subjects, come along with the second kind of oblivion closer to forgetfulness. Thus, the researcher approves with ignoring and, consequently, forgetting about the orientation towards completeness and innovation, which is rooted in the professional ethos of the sciences. As a collectively shared pattern of behaviour, this results in progressively moving away from the completeness imperative.

Another way of making forget is the call for forgetting topics or individuals. Although nobody is obliged to abide, and although precisely such a call for oblivion may raise the interest, still this is an attempt to manipulate memory. How successful such an effort will be, depends on the interaction situation; however, it may be powerful if the authorities of a “school” tell their students which colleagues from the discipline shall be considered and ignored. What in one case may still be considered an action-related consequence of a differentiation process becomes a real problem if scientific “disciples” fall into disfavour with their “teachers” and become subject of a damnatio memoriae in the form of attention and recognition being systematically withdrawn.

Finally, another kind of manipulation by way of making forget is found with how researchers present themselves and science-related memory work. Furthermore, strategies that must be attributed to individuals are also to be found with academic teaching. For example, the student tactic of placing literature at hidden places in the library must be interpreted as a way of making-forget. On the one hand, motivated by making sure that one will have access to a book or by withdrawing literature that is relevant for examinations, this forces others to cope with the missing of a trace of certain knowledge. In some cases, this results in losing time preparing for an examination if the missing book must be acquired from elsewhere. In other cases, such behaviour results in changing the preparation strategy in the sense of “braving the gap”, which, after all, makes the topic that has been declared to be examination-relevant less remembered. Regarding research scandals, this field of student misbehaviour also knows an “adult” variant. Making-forget is closely connected to deviating behaviour by researchers if they try to deceive, hush up, hide, or forge. Such misbehaviour comes with violations of the transparency imperative, which has been a tradition of scientific activity since Enlightenment if authors use esoteric jargon or do not provide evidence for the origin of the ideas stated in their publications. Full plagiarism serves most of all for making work easier in the context of striving for scientific recognition in the form of titles and reputation; however, if it is successful, regarding the affected originator, it is the same as purposefully working in favour of forgetting original research achievements.

In the context of research and science, these considerations on making-forget at the level of individual and interaction result in several actions which may be understood to be preconditions for later forgetting by the actor him/herself as well as by others. The examples demonstrate that intended oblivion may be “imagined” both as being differentiated according to different kinds of knowledge and depending on context. Accordingly, it seems to be very difficult to intendedly forget relevant knowledge – the intended action of no longer wanting to know something is indeed too closely connected to this knowledge. However, in the context of long-term action and given third parties, it turns out that it is possible to create a loss of relevance. This can be in the form of self-delusion or deluding others. As it makes instrumental use of ignorance, deletion, elimination or destruction, such a “shaping of relevance” is always a unique case – usually, there is no need to repeat it.85 Therefore, it is possible to maintain the illusion of forgetting or making forget as a reason to act, and also, it may increase the chances that possible remembrance stimuli will disappear. Then, the consequence is a shaky kind of oblivion that has an effect, at least for the time being.

4.3.2 Obliviating Research Institutions

Now that we have distinguished forgetfulness, wanting-to-forget and making-forget at the social micro-level, we will look at the meso-level of groups, networks, and organisations. Also, for the realm of the sciences, this medium level provides an observation perspective which is particularly helpful for depicting the encounter of different realities. This is not about adjusting the motifs and ways of reason-giving of individuals to social structural aspects but about forgetting in the context of group cultures – another possibility to differentiate results from distinguishing intra- from inter-organisational oblivion. Furthermore, there is the possibility to distinguish organisations given fundamental goals. With organised science, we find both organisations belonging to the economic or administrative organisation in the broadest sense – then the purpose of organisation aims, at least nominally, at certain kinds of services – and organisations of participation and the representation of interests.86

Before we analyse the kinds of oblivion within the organisation of scientific activity, it must be clarified which organisations may be counted among the scientific production of knowledge. For example, there are business enterprises with their own research departments, non-university research institutions, and universities and colleges in the category of performance-based organisations in the broader sense. On the other hand, to the category of the organised representation of interests, there belong groups and networks such as subject-, discipline- and thus also profession-specific alliances – such as associations of scientific professions as well as their sub-divisions, academies87 or large-scale research compounds and collaborative research centres – and also scientific-political bodies. Then, regarding the scientific system, it must be asked how far and where knowledge production follows organisational principles. If we apply the concept of organisation already, if it is about social relations cooperating to achieve a common goal, almost any corporation is organised in a way. Then distinctions are only possible concerning the degree of their regularity and their formal or routine stability – such as in the form of the division of work. However, such an expanded concept of the organisation must also grasp aspects of organising everyday behaviour. It cannot be limited to identifying rationalist-bureaucratic structures, as then the manifoldness of organisational routines, myths and rituals would not be covered.

Mixed relationships characterise the reality of organisations in the scientific realm; attributing certain motifs to a specific type of organisation is not intended. For example, both performance-based organisations and the representation of interests may be associated with decision-making ability. For example, in such a case at universities, the autonomy of the cooperative management level takes a back seat to state and politics influencing the university. This way, the organisation of topical interests is eclipsed by the organisation of administrative or education-political interests, which may also be performance-oriented. The situation is similar with non-university research institutions, where the individual’s decision-making autonomy may be predetermined by the topical foci of the research institution or by the interests of clients. Furthermore, we may differentiate according to the degree of organisation of each respective institution. Accordingly, Frank Meier, in his overview of organisations of science production, describes universities as “weak organisations” which, however, might change in the course of the state’s decision-making authority being extended on universities, or also as a consequence of the introduction of ways of so-called public management (Meier, 2007, p. 789). An analysis of organisational oblivion in science will have to deal with both organisations as rationalised, social contexts of decision-making: planning, steering and control, and with social groups such as communities and networks plus their collective consciousnesses and collective identities. In the following section, these questions will again be pursued by way of distinguishing the three kinds of forgetfulness (1), wanting-to-forget (2), and making-forget (3).

Forgetfulness (oblivion (II)) with organisations, which must be attributed to the social sub-system of science, can be diagnosed for all three kinds of scientific organisations. In the context of general access to organisational knowledge, in particular, those practical and non-explicit ways of producing knowledge move into focus which is also connected to “automatic” oblivion. First of all, it is about those stocks of knowledge that are practically used and not stored for documentation – that is, habitual routines that are no longer subject to decision-making by the group. Among these, there is the knowledge about cooperative-corporative ways of organising the production of scientific knowledge. This holds for intentions to document and report, which are still carefully carried out at the beginning of cooperation, to then being either abandoned or becoming empty routine. Also, it applies to coordination meetings at regular intervals, which, as a result of sometimes high time pressure, do no longer seem to make sense to the actors of everyday research work if the cooperation seems to run smoothly. Being liberated from everyday-practical pressure to act in the context of scientific activity allows for more thorough ways of proceeding when it comes to the production of secured knowledge, which must be realised by way of higher demands on communicative feedback in view of a kind of organised scepticism (Merton, 1973). In particular, these ways of scientific quality assurance are threatened with soon disappearing from view, given the increasing output- or application orientation of the sciences.88 The efficiency requirements and the necessity of accelerated knowledge production question the right to thorough forgetfulness the sciences have been granted.

Apart from forgetfulness in carrying out the scientific production of knowledge, there is a kind of forgetfulness, which has to do with the identificatory frame of the organisation – with collective identity or corporate identity. A structural kind of forgetfulness is an element of organisational narratives, in the course of which only certain events are passed on or mythicized, while other events are no longer kept available for later memory. In the case of scientific organisations, the memory of particularly famous members might be people who have been awarded science awards and whose publicly recognized achievements are connected to an exemplary status – hides the fact that the organisation avoids almost any memory of the minor or major achievements of other members.

The third kind of forgetfulness covers aspects of the loss of knowledge resulting from a lack of reflecting on the history of one’s organisation. Suppressing the perpetuation of a collective awareness of history within an organisation is connected to the coming and going of leaderships and the thus connected change of interests and goals. For example, the relevance system of a professional association changes with the individuals occupying the crucial switch points, and these individuals are just the same the representatives of certain strategic concepts or value horizons within the organisation. The thus encountered connection of individual and representative role allows for decisions about relevance which do not only systematically ignore certain alternatives but may, in the future, also neglect existing knowledge contexts. However, a high degree of organisation-related forgetfulness is also persistent memory due to power-induced reforms and “revolutions”. A certain degree of “natural” oblivion, allowing for change and adjustment, is inscribed into any organisation. However, it may also be steered – or avoided – by way of the organisation’s statutes. To a limited extent, the self-documentation of an organisation serves to work on its identity and present the organisation to the public. Dealing with the NS past both by business enterprises and by authorities and associations is an indication of the attempt to purposefully avoid forgetfulness and establish a connection between organisational and national identity – that is, between collective identities at different levels.89 The forgetfulness to be observed in the context of changing leadership positions and the positions of delegates may be transferred to organisation members at all levels of the hierarchy, as in the course of staff fluctuation in particular stocks of practical-routine knowledge are constantly left to oblivion.90 Given the employment situation of the non-professorial academic staff at German scientific institutions, which is often described as precarious, research institutions appear as highly forgetful organisations because of fixed-term employment. In how far the forced mobility of the scientific staff is a crucial element of research – in the form of increased adaptability and innovation readiness of the individual who is supposed to be scientifically socialised together with forced organisational forgetfulness – is hardly discussed in this context. From an organisation-sociological point of view, the effect of decreed forgetfulness by way of fluctuation in the field of research could be researched by way of a comparison with appropriate experiences at enterprises.

In the case of wanting to forget, the desire or intention to forget something among an organised group – after all, the volitional variant of oblivion (I) – is characterised by a sometimes tacit consensus: then, there is agreement that a certain, nameable and thus declarative-reflective, knowledge content is an obstacle for achieving the goals of the group. This does not refer to any oblivion-preparing activity but to the development of relevancies, such as in the sense of the selectivity-communicating statement: “Forget about it.”

Only in passing, wanting-to-forget in the organisation of scientific education shall be addressed here. In the university realm, the topical organisation of teaching is a matter of the scientists employed there. If not only one professor represents a subject, usually the teaching organisation happens through an exchange with a representative of other subjects. In this context, the contents of lectures and seminars are not exclusively oriented at individual research foci but also at a “local” canon negotiated by the teaching staff. In other words: basic education is constituted by all those involved agreeing on contents they consider necessary. Consensus about the obligatory knowledge for future researchers is en passant followed by a consensus about less relevant knowledge. Thus, the counterpart of canonisation as a small-scale selection in the positive sense is selection in the negative sense, by way of exclusion at the level of teaching. Differentiation of these levels or organising the knowledge to be passed on is telling because those receiving this knowledge consider this “top-down” selected knowledge the subject-related knowledge par excellence.91

The question of where and in which ways organised research wants to forget must, on the one hand, be investigated by the example of the actors of knowledge production. With many research projects, several scientists deal with the individual aspects of an issue. Thus, the organisation of their activities aims at producing a result. On the other hand, in the case of the organised representation of interests, there happens profession-specific cooperation in the context in which the programmatic selection of knowledge is communicated.

The intention to jointly “give up” on a particular experiential context so that from then on, it will no longer be supposed to be addressed may be based on different motivations. Processes of agreed oblivion are common in the sciences – even more as even oblivion requires organisation if scientific progress is not supposed to be affected. Thus, a consensual selection of what is supposed to be forgotten happens when specific abstractions, interpretation patterns and schemes, systems of classification and categories are declared to be outmoded or refuted. In the following, the organised possibility of preconditions for oblivion in the context of scientific activity shall be considered more closely as a kind of organisational context of cleaning.92

In the context of steering epistemological relevance by way of the organised representation of the interests of science, cleaning conflicts appear in the form of negotiating state of the art. As early as in the context of subject-related congresses – such as during the discussions after the lectures – both established and innovated concepts and theories are continuously assessed. Thus, the goal of these debates is at first to control the appropriateness of terminological-theoretical work, in the course of which the expansion possibilities and limitations of subject-related semantics and theories are fathomed out and determined. Then, by way of canonisation and historicisation, such “germ cells” of conceptual innovation may produce the result that concepts are “determined”, which are defined as being fruitful or hopeless. As a result, it is repeatedly determined what must be kept as a memory and forgotten. As this is no positive determination right from the beginning but rather a kind of negative selection, due to this variant of organising some organised scepticism (Merton, 1973), a certain wanting-to-forget may be stated. After all, this results from leaving obsolete concepts and theories or certain contextualization to oblivion by declaring the topic to be “over”.

The situation is similar to the organisation of research work, which aims at the production of knowledge. Replacing older patterns of explanation and concepts with new ones cannot exclusively be explained by the principle of the screen memory, as such a replacement does not at all happen without conflict. The topical controversy happens at all levels of the organisation. Consequently, it is necessary to achieve consensus at the level of individual teams about no longer using a theorem or model that has been recognized as being outmoded. As soon as this has been done, the research unit must relearn. In case of such a revision of the group-specific canon, older research results are devaluated or reinterpreted against the new order’s background. This is in line – although on a smaller scale – with the processes of paradigm change in the sciences as described by Thomas S. Kuhn (1962). Similar observations can be made when it comes to making use of research tools. Research groups may agree on volitional oblivion if tools or licences they have been using so far are no longer valid, are replaced by other products, or are completely abandoned. From a research-organisational point of view, in this case, there is no reason to reach back to these aids, and usually, no remembering older ways of proceeding and the thus connected means by way of self-documentation or nostalgia is needed. As soon as the remembering access has no practical use anymore, one may agree to delete appropriate hints as far as this is worth the effort. Decision-making within a group makes it easier for a new practice to push through without opposition.93

Another kind of organisational wanting-to-forget is basically about controlling what is to be expected due to a selective development of those stocks of knowledge that are considered relevant. For example, the control of epistemological relevance can also be observed in the context of interdisciplinary fora. This is no longer about a process of cleaning in the context of inner-discipline semantics and theories, but about a competition for terminologies, theories and possibly interpretational sovereignty when it comes to issues dealt with from the respective subjects’ points of view. In the case of an encounter of organised knowledge producers of different kinds, there is no reason to assume that any of the groups will give up on defining the problem – in the interdisciplinary context, any cleaning seems to be mostly ruled out. However, what may be imagined are sometimes the import and export of concepts and theories at a metaphorical level. Then it may be that adopted terms become popular, resulting in at least temporary readiness to give up on established concepts and theories of one’s own, which are thus conditionally be left to oblivion.94

The inter-organisational competition among organised knowledge producers is – similar to the interdisciplinary competition for interpretational sovereignty – about pushing through with one’s positions and perspectives or about making them so widely known that there is a growing probability of follow-up communication. What from the outside appears as a cleaning context is now completed by attention-economic aspects. Then organised scepticism serves only as a frame for struggles about positions, in the context of which no understanding-oriented discourse is intended (Habermas, 1984). In this context, wanting-to-forget may happen at two levels. On the one hand, the group wants to forget the positions of its opponent or rather the legitimacy of his/her points of view, and on the other hand, it wants to forget that its behaviour makes use of organised scepticism only to make its stand in the competition for concepts and theory offers.

Finally, indications of organisational wanting-to-forget are also found about copyright or unsettled property rights questions if individuals claim their rights towards corporative actors.95 Volitional oblivion on the side of an organisation consists of ignoring a problem as long as possible, for example, to point to an unsettled legal situation or assuage the concerned parties. Behind this, there is the hope or expectation that the issue will “naturally” fall into oblivion – an attitude, however, which disregards the “spectres”. One example of such a development is the story of the HeLa cell cultures, which were indispensable for cell research for decades. These are cell cultures that have been bred from one cell strain over many generations. Initially, these cells came from US American cancer patient Henriette Lacks and were, without her or her family’s consent, processed on and on (Skloot, 2010). Requests by the family concerning the case mainly were ignored and then assuaged by the concerned hospital and later also by “science”. Here medical research was under the threat of a new, expensive remembrance culture as a precedent, which is why – from the point of view of research – it looks institutionally reasonable to forget about the origin of the used “raw material”.

Making-forget in the context of organised science can be connected to substantial research scandals on the one hand and science-fiction fantasies and conspiracy theories on the other. Apart from uncovering hush-ups as far as to criminal behaviour for the sake of securing or maintaining particular benefits or power interests, however, there are also a number of legitimate practices in the context of purposefully initiated oblivion – systematic unlearning alone serves as a steering strategy of the management if obsolete stocks of experience or knowledge are no longer supposed to be used.96

It has already been pointed out that the preparation of intentional oblivion is a process happening in the context of social relations. Whereas usually, the individual consciousness is not capable of self-referential making-forget, it is possible to support or to cause oblivion with others. We shall speak of inner making-forget in the context of organisations if certain actors or holders of positions attempt to influence the “natural” perpetuation of organisational knowledge or the selectivity of organisational memory. Such activities are at first nothing else than steering, as it is also described in the literature on organisational knowledge management, memory, learning and sometimes even oblivion. However, making-forget may also happen in subversive ways, by unauthorised members interfering with the perpetuation of experience. Furthermore, we may imagine steering interventions contradicting the organisation’s goals, which again may make it necessary to keep the motivations secret and distract from the organisation’s goals, which have been identified as being problematic.

According to the previously made distinction between performance-oriented and participation-oriented goals of organisations of the academic system, any inner making-forget may rather be expected for the former type. This is because the ideal type of the participative organisation rules out any manipulative strategies of awareness control, among which there also counts “made” oblivion. Even if such groups develop leadership structures, they are not free of micro-political activities, in reality. These activities, covertly pulling strings, take care that there are majorities for votes. Additionally, they pursue particular interests with the help of information policies or attempt to oblige the members to identify formats of a collective identity that are in line with particular interests.97 There, making-forget happens in two ways. Firstly, those meso-social reference frames as being available for collective remembering are manipulated98 by reshaping objects, topographies, narratives or myths so that the perpetuation of the knowledge of the meaning of the organisation’s cohesion is steered to the desired tracks. Secondly, this kind of manipulation, as far as it is open to reflection, must be as comprehensively forgotten as possible. This happens by removing those traces which might indicate any influence on the collectively relevant roots of memory.

Starting points for a diagnosis of organisational making-forget in the sciences are, for example, micro-political processes among the boards of academic self-administration. For example, already the putting together and organisation of the agenda items of leadership meetings may include instrumental oblivion if particularly disputed items are placed at the end of an overfull agenda. Traces are removed e. g. if the archived examination papers of prominent – in the positive or the negative sense – former students are removed from the archive, spare the organisation the uncontrollable consequences e. g. of questions by journalists.

Furthermore, making-forget may happen at the level of professions, if sections or teams of academic associations – below the level of a discipline – provide for canonisations by determining, with the help of reading lists, hence, the literature that is considered relevant for their field of interest. Institutionally, such lists are not binding – however, they provide practical orientation and distract the interested researcher from independent investigation and assessment. By defining relevancies, professionalising groups determine the selectivity of knowledge production and thus control the scientific-topical debate as long as they are not challenged. Oblivion is organised by representatives of professions and happens at the threshold to the mode of wanting-to-forget at the level of academic interest groups, as usually groups of representatives are elected and provided with the authority to represent. At the same time, these groups are out for creating rememberability, which is why in their case, oblivion happens with the help of cover memories.

There are several studies on the comparison of organisational oblivion with organisational learning from the perspective of performance-oriented organisations. The learning theories developed by organisational research are explicitly about organisational oblivion or unlearning. As a 1change management strategy, making-forget must be placed among those measures taken by the leadership of an organisation when adjustment processes are supposed to be made more efficient. In this context, organisational memory99 is often connected to undesired routines, conservatism and inflexibility and is characterised as the “enemy” of flexibility and change.100 Although there are hardly any empirical studies on organisational oblivion with public authorities, many findings may be transferred to the here discussed performance-oriented institutions of academic life.

Furthermore, making-forget happens at the level of academic education. Usually – and particularly in the case of introductory classes –, putting together the syllabus for a seminar is a shaped kind of selection. Each steering of the students’ attention comes along with ignoring other relevant information. This is the institutional structuring of knowledge production in the context of academic teaching. This way, teaching defines core topics that aim to create appropriate basic knowledge for further research and pass on, en passant, the specific interests of the teachers to the learners. Thus, the establishment of schools must be described as a mechanism of organised selection in the course of which any orientation at alternative paradigms is systematically ruled out.101

The problem of making-forget also includes attempts to influence an organisation’s environment, as far as this activity aims at purposefully covering organisation- or interaction- or competition-relevant information. In view of scientific organisations, such processes may be supposed to be identified in the context of irritation or non-irritation.

In organised lobbying, the strategy of topical making-forget is a borderline case in the context of which it must be distinguished if participative organised groups interact with groups of the same kind or with performance-oriented organisations. Possible starting points for this variant of oblivion are to be found in the debate on saying goodbye to full-scale university. It is stated that particularly the complexity and variety of this kind of university makes sure that not every fashion is followed. If minor subjects are no longer offered and the universities are reduced to standard measure, these organisations are said to lose their independent-mindedness (Kreckel, 2002). There, making-forget happens at two levels. At first, organisational decisions concerning the profile of a university are conflict-laden. Tactical aspects of making-forget are to be identified if one interest group succeeds with changing the relevance structures needed to reproduce another group. Criticism of a structural change of university and science, aiming at a bureaucratisation or economisation of knowledge production as well as at making the communication of knowledge subject to didactics, thus lamenting the destruction of the idea of the university, address such motifs of making-forget, insofar as they assume contradicting interests of different groups. In this context, it is assumed that those interests as being inauthentic for the social function of the action context succeed with pushing through. University leaderships and administrations enforce a readjustment of the organisational relevance structure, which consists of successively turning away from defining what “establishing the truth” means and turning towards more competition for reputation.102 In the process, “good” scientific work is replaced by “successful” work. University educationalists change the relevance structure of the organisation of the scientific communication of knowledge, as they can make their insights on the effectiveness of the knowledge transfer heard. By making the academic communication of knowledge subject to didactics, they change the ways of the institutionalised disclosure of knowledge.103 Consequently, students or the academic audience are no longer obliged to actively collect information, meaning that they must, in the course of acquiring knowledge, shoulder the laborious effort of disclosing knowledge and understandingly comprehending the ideas of others. Instead, the scientists have an obligation to fulfil, which is meant to force them to “take their audiences from where they are”. The odd genius, over whose comments there used to be much insightful puzzling, is supposed to be forgotten as soon as possible against the background of new concepts of teaching and learning. Comprehensive irritation as providing access to insight is replaced by controlled and well-dosed irritation; the academic audience is equated with an interested public.

Even decisions about profile building, which consists of rededicating research funding and staff resources to those considered capable of development, result in changes in the organisational structure and organisational culture. Disappeared places of knowledge production, former local research foci, and former members are no longer recalled by the new members of the organisation and the decision-making structures relevant for them – except in the case of nostalgic recalling by individuals.

Another way of making-forget consists of purposeful manoeuvres of competition-oriented measures: instrumental oblivion with research by and in the context of scientific organisations is, on the one hand, found with the secret research programmes of the industry and the military, which hardly ever become publicly known. The goal of secrecy and removing traces is to distract public attention from activities the organisation is responsible for and which would require an explanation given their (media-)public environment.

One specification of organisational making-forget in the sciences is decision-making favouring establishing and institutionalising a certain kind of memory. However, what in the case of wanting-to-forget appears as ignoring past failures and mistakes oriented at working on the organisation’s identity may be understood as a discourse-related adjustment strategy as well as fighting off in the context of making-forget discourse-communicated attacks on the organisation. In Germany, this is the expectation that organisations will face and reveal their involvement with the NS regime. This way – like with any kind of historicisation – scientifically “objectified” knowledge is produced, which is supposed to replace diffuse experiences or memories whose effects on the organisation are difficult to control. By presenting scientific knowledge of a subject, the possibilities to appropriately assert particular-biographic and unobjectified knowledge are reduced. Thus, the organisation’s decision to face and reveal wards off any possible spectre which might affect the work of the organisation and might absorb resources – and this holds not only for the finally produced historical narratives but already for any concern related to the past which, by establishing an “authorised” institution, is channelled into a direction which is favourable for the further existence of the organisation. Thus, historical memory work is a selection mechanism contributing to pushing back inadequate contents of experience and memory and thus making them fall into oblivion.

Furthermore, oblivion strategies may – against the background of the public reputation of the research organisation – also aim at past research if the latter is no longer in line with the state of e. g. the debate on the ethics of science. Confronting the organisation with the spectres of its past will result in any historicising and commenting “coming to terms” only after a more extended period of suffering resulting from public pressure – politics and mass media. Until this, the coping strategy of an organisation that has an interest in maintaining its operability may consist of ignoring and, if possible, removing the traces it is confronted with or which appear again and again.

Concerning oblivion with science, it may be stated that two dimensions become relevant for analysis. One of them covers the distinction between organisations that are oriented at performance and organisations of lobbying. On the one hand, the other one covers the organisational striving for adjustment to outside situations and, on the other hand, internal integration in the sense of creating organisational identity. If we disregard structural amnesia, which we have called forgetfulness or oblivion (II) and can be diagnosed with any social entity, shaping the selectivity of knowledge production appears – in the Weberian sense – as being both instrumentally and value-rational. Instrumental and value rationality include oblivionist aspects insofar as constantly decisions must be made about which knowledge is supposed to be kept available and which not. Insofar as these are decisions about steering concerning the institutional structures of an organisation of the scientific realm, we may also speak of an instrumental and a value-rationalism of science.104

4.3.3 Institutionalised Oblivion

The final section of the analysis of oblivion by the case example of the academic system is going to deal with the explicitly institutional structures of “the” sciences at the social macro-level as well as with the thus connected unwritten rules in the sense of an implicit order, which are understood as practices. At first, it will be about the normative structural aspects of modern science. These are progress, connectivity, completeness, and rigour as the selectivity of arranging arguments – some of them have already been pointed out. The level of social-scientific aggregation and abstraction suggests placing more weight on aspects in the sense of oblivion (II) than on the intention-related preliminary stages of intended or made oblivion (oblivion (I)). Even if a norm that may be associated with memory implicitly creates forgetfulness, it will be necessary to provide evidence of an organising intention at this level. However, it may be supposed that indications for norm-related forgottenness in the context of institutional change can be identified. Thus, in view of oblivion (I) variants, the analysis will be first of all about hidden, or better: not further explicated, levels of meaning within scientific practice. Furthermore, according to the scheme so far, at the social macro-level, we will look at first for perspectives of forgetfulness (1). Then, at the level of social steering, it will be about issues of intended oblivion in the sense of wanting-to-forget (2) and making-forget (3). This will happen by reaching back to remembrance approaches and – thus resulting – oblivion policy.

Forgetfulness as – usually mostly unquestioned – structural oblivion in the context of scientific practise may – according to the previous considerations – appear in various shapes. At the heart of the analysis, those selection mechanisms are attributed to the social scientific memory. These may be distinguished according to two patterns, one of which develops oblivion from practice; the ways of science-specific acting create relevancies which are not supposed to be reflected on because relevance structures change as a result of progress, and attention is rather directed at innovations than at the side effects of their implementation. We may thus speak of self-created forgetfulness. The other pattern of non-reflected forgetfulness develops in view of other fields of the social production of knowledge. Due to the primus inter pares status within the knowledge order of modern societies,105 any activity of “the” sciences which is perceived from the outside creates a forgetting about habitual stocks of knowledge in other fields – for example, as a result of technological innovations, of so-called “scientification” or the transfer of knowledge.

The – primarily unnoticed – loss of existing knowledge exclusively due to scientific activity may appear in three forms. Forgetfulness goes unnoticed, firstly, with objects of scientific activity (object relation), secondly in the context of scientific activity as such (subject relation), and thirdly in the situative context of scientific activity. The distinction between subject relation and contextual conditions is necessary, as an unnoticed change of the stock of knowledge or the social structure of knowledge and the conditions for the production of knowledge may happen both as a result of scientific activity as such and of the non-scientific environment. Any kind of this forgetfulness has to do with forgetting about the having-become of the concerned object or its history, insofar as reflecting on dealing with it as well as its change or transformation disappears from view. This inattentiveness is because the selectivity of the scientific memory covers only certain aspects of disclosing its objects as being relevant and making appropriate use of structuring processes. In the following, five variants of forgetfulness from the realm of scientific activity will be exemplarily considered.

That science tends to forget that its subjects are grounded in the lifeworld by abstractedly moving ever farther away from the actual objects, was stated by Edmund Husserl (1970) in his crisis paper. What he demonstrates by the example of mathematics can be analysed in several respects in terms of oblivion theory. Analogies are to be found in the natural sciences. Also, model-like theoretical constructions result in a reduction of complexity which, in the course of further dealing with existing insights, is nothing else than successively moving away from the original phenomena and questions. However, vice versa, it may as well be imagined that objects are established through scientific reconstruction. Then their meaning is maintained, whereas the object under research changes – a problem of the humanities and the social sciences. Accordingly, terms may be more stubborn than the objects they refer to.106 Only in exceptional cases is there the need to write histories of terms to comprehend language adjustment to social developments (Koselleck, 1985; 2006). One example is the reconstruction of syphilis as a scientific fact by Ludwig Fleck (2012). There, it is demonstrated how many terminologies and the belief in facts depend on the respective age style. Fleck contributes to the theory of oblivion by making clear that the objective fact of a disease picture is accepted as being given without putting it into question because the historical circumstances of the diagnosis and, thus connected, the construction of the phenomenon have not been passed on within their contexts, and the manifold errors of scientific diagnostics and analytics have systematically been forgotten. Today, this kind of structural forgetfulness is due to the fixation on progress which is typical for science. The social attribution of relevance aims at the new and the better; obligatory remembering serves only to emphasise the obsolescence of the now outmoded knowledge – any confrontation with the “day before yesterday” seems unnecessary, at least for routine operation. The situation is similar when it comes to the practical handling of the technology of scientific apparatuses. It may be that innovations of scientific devices are documented – however, for making use of devices, there is usually no need for any exact knowledge of the details of their development. This way, devices become objectification of insights assumed to be objective when it comes to their materiality and function. Their development is grasped as being “constructed”, which has hardly any significance for their practical use and is only in cases of exception archived and documented at technology museums.

Similar motifs are to be found in the works of Michel Foucault and Reinhart Koselleck. Their interest in archaeological-genealogical analyses or analyses of the history of terms aims at those historical-political framework conditions as determining scientific thought and, most of all, the scientific creation of terms. Which outside influences have the potential to cause an unnoticed loss of scientific knowledge? Both approaches indeed take the context-dependent changing of the meaning of terms into consideration:107 Accordingly, scientific or – in Koselleck – social-political terms must not be understood according to their respectively current meaning but against the background of the predominant discourse at the time of their introduction or use.108 Usually, the operative way of using each discipline-specific toolset of terms does not care about the fact that the terms have “historically grown”, which is forgotten against the background of a minimum consensus that may continuously be updated. The epistemological damage caused by this lack of reflection on the history of terminology is comparably low, apart from the necessities of historical understanding crucial for scientific, social history, even more as the scientific communication goes on. However, by forgetfulness in terms of the history of terminology, one accepts a reflection deficit, and this is where the power-political aspect comes to bear – there is no differentiation of typical tendencies towards influencing. In other words: for science, it is hardly of relevance which political influences have contributed to coining its terms as long as the system’s communicative autopoiesis is not disturbed. The change of languages in the scientific realms happens in ways that are similar to those depicted by scheme-theoretical approaches for explaining the memory function of the individual consciousness: nexuses in the sense of attributions of meaning which currently are not needed and also do not maintain any historicisation of their genesis as permanent associations are forgotten.

What becomes evident with the change of the terminological toolset, which does not only ignore traces of reification in the sense of double forgetfulness or forgetting about forgetting, may as well be a result of science-political steering. Science depends on funding, which in Western societies is distributed at the level of society, i. e. at the level of the state, civil society or private business. The result of this is losses of autonomy which are reflected by the influence exerted by research policy. If we consider that the Humboldt type of science that enables solitude and liberty is a historical exception, we may state that since time immemorial, science has less been determined by academic self-administration than rather by normative regulations and goals set from the “outside”. When it comes to reflecting on exogenous institutional change, science seems to be mostly blind. Perhaps reflecting on the development of one’s working conditions is an obstacle for swift progress, similar to the terminological toolset. However, according to the Enlightenment claim of the modern sciences – in a way like a corrective – there exists the institution of the history of science.109 Its function is not least to institutionalise this reflection on the conditions under which scientific activity happens and keep the “operative business” of all other disciplines clear of appropriate demands for reflection. Thus, in the context of endogenous forgetfulness, we may suppose that institutional reflection on the development of science, of all, as it is done by the sub-discipline of the history of science, prevents the systematic-asymmetrical association of science and social power structures from being confronted with any, possibly unproductive, revolt as a result of historicising reflection. Outside influence is covered up by a memory function that functions as a forgetfulness generator.110

After elaborating on external interventions into endogenous aspects of forgetfulness with academic activities, now the focus shall be on the case of forgetfulness in the context of selection mechanisms in the form of self-control. One variant, which has already been mentioned, is connected to striving for reputation. According to Robert K. Merton, reputation – in the form of attention attributed by the scientific community – is a much more powerful system of recognition than, for example, public interest in successful research (Merton, 1973). The power of reputation-induced motivation comes from the fact that the discipline-related attribution of attention comes from topically informed and, thus, particular relevant sources. Given the researcher’s self-presentation, it is also an indication of how successful his/her activities are and may, in quasi-medial ways, result in more attention being attributed. As already stated, Merton calls this Biblical principle of “to everyone who has will more be given” the Matthew effect. In this context, self-referential forgetfulness covers all those actors involved in research and their findings which do not benefit from these reputation mechanisms, according to the addition to St. Matthew’s Gospel: “From him who has not, even what he has will be taken away”. Another kind of endogenous forgetfulness at the institutional level comes from the internationality of science and, thus connected, the necessity of translations. Translating is always connected to the selectivity of its own kind, as it is always the result of interpretations by the translator. Sometimes this may lead to massive topical distortions, which, on the one hand, may help the topical debate, which is based on such a translation, to completely new associations, however to misinterpretations on the other hand. What is forgotten in the process is the consensual reading of a scientific statement within one language community. It must be stated in this context that translations must be considered to be ambivalent in this respect. On the one hand, they systematically create a loss of knowledge; on the other hand, they allow for new interpretations, some of which would have been difficult to imagine by reaching back to the original text within the language community of its origin.111

Furthermore, forgetfulness at the institutional level covers ways of losing knowledge resulting from the scientific system interacting with other sub-fields of society. At first, this concerns the status of scientific knowledge as the predominant kind of knowledge in modern societies. Secondly, it concerns losing knowledge due to the transfer of knowledge, which again must be understood not as one-sided but as a mutual exchange process.

Forgetfulness may also consist of oblivion in non-scientific contexts, which is unintendedly caused by scientific activity. The problem of forgetfulness caused by the successful transfer of knowledge is to be identified with the interaction of social knowledge orders. Knowledge orders refer to different, sometimes mutually related systems of knowledge production and application, in the context of which certain ways of producing knowledge are more likely to become legitimate than others, each according to culture. An unsettling of knowledge orders can be described regarding the great epistemological changes: the Copernican turn as the turning away from a mythical-religious conception of the world and towards one based on the natural sciences. Along with shifting interpretational sovereignty from one kind of knowledge to another, there are other, comprehensive processes of oblivion because, this way, complete systems of interpreting the world become obsolete. Considering such processes is like speculating about the evolution of knowledge in the course of which, for example, we might ask what the world of today would look like had shamanism not been replaced or moved to latency zones but developed further. In enlightened, Western modernity – and this has been pointed out – science may be understood to be the primus inter pares of the kinds of knowledge. However, the fact that it is most likely to be legitimated has not resulted in its absolutisation and other kinds of knowledge being completely suppressed, as imagined by the utopian scenarios of a state of letters or Comte’s scientific religion. Concerning the analysis of forgetfulness, there concludes hinting at the search for the traces of other, older kinds of knowledge among the, only allegedly, entirely rational knowledge of the scientific kind – for which already Ludwig Fleck made provisions. Thus, the research of scientific practices would have to be extended by a culture-historical dimension, by not only observing and then asking how far scientific action could be legitimated as rational, well-founded or justifiable. Findings based on observation could also be culture-historically put into question by analysing them for traces of forgotten systems of meaning. Statements expressing that We Have Never Been Modern (Latour, 1993) or that in the past even traditions were inventions (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1992) are this way additionally legitimated.

Beyond the statement that the pushing through of certain kinds of knowledge in the course of social or institutional change is always connected to suppressing alternative ways of interpreting, we may then ask about the conditions or mechanisms due to which one kind of knowledge becomes superior to another. Two interpretations may be imagined in this respect. On the one hand, we might assume suppression by the “aspiring” kind of knowledge – then the decline of outmoded kinds of knowledge would have to be described with the help of Freud’s motif of the screen memory. On the other hand, however, this suppression might as well be understood to be the result of specific mechanisms of forgetfulness. Then, these would have to be connected to the social functions fulfilled, in different ways, by the new kind of knowledge – in the sense of functional equivalents.

However, in the light of more recent developments in dealing with the scientific production of knowledge, expertise and scientific knowledge, the thesis of the primacy of scientific knowledge may also be doubted – for example, diagnoses of the progressing economisation and politicisation of science point in another direction. Exogenous influences – even at the institutional level – are capable, based on power, of changing the structures of the scientific production of knowledge. Examples of this are, among others, the structural consequences of excellence initiatives and university pacts by way of which politics may control – by way of exerting influence from the outside – not only the communication of knowledge at university but knowledge production as a whole. Due to the change of guidelines and priorities for funding, older regulations fall into oblivion, as the scientific system is forced to adjust to the conditions set by its environment. Similar influences may also be stated given the interfaces between the sciences and business, particularly in the engineering sciences field. When it comes to scientists providing information as advice, it is possible to give evidence to changes of both the genesis and the provision of knowledge, which is, at the institutional level, reflected by the contradiction between basic research and application-oriented research (Stokes, 1997). Thus, this is an exogenously-induced kind of forgetfulness due to more or less enforced cooperation with other fields of society.

Another kind of knowledge loss that is not exogenously reflected on results from knowledge transfer, contents between different realms of social activity. Using scientific knowledge, which is closely connected to the problem of knowledge transfer – that is, the transfer of scientific knowledge or the scientific jargon to non-scientific language and relevance systems – always comes along with distortion, simplification, trivialisation or reinterpretation.112 A loss of knowledge happens at first in the course of translation as such, in the sense of a loss of exactness, as the information must be adjusted to the needs of each respective “practice”. Whereas scientific knowledge is still being provided within the sciences, the non-scientific actors start to use this available new knowledge. For science, this becomes a problem – as oblivionism – if later it is confronted with requests or questions referring to stocks of knowledge that are attributed to it without any immediate recognition is possible. In other words: the structure of meaning of externalised knowledge has changed so much that it is no longer possible to easily conclude on the original content of the transfer, not to mention the scientific context of its development. In such cases, scientists may be confronted with traces of their work that are not theirs or which are, due to environmental influences, sometimes pretty “weathered”. The interaction of science and a non-scientific “practice” may produce different aspects of forgetfulness. It is thus not only about the meaning of scientific knowledge being distorted but also about the adjustment of scientific actors in the context of feedback if now the latter are trying to comprehend the self-will of this practice and readjust their own concepts according to application. As a result, those “dubious” terms – lamented by science – whose originally clear meaning has been forgotten due to diffusely using them. This variant of exogenous forgetfulness results from knowledge contents circulating or oscillating within and among different kinds of knowledge.

The heuristic delimitation of wanting-to-forget in the context of institutionalised contexts appears to be problematic, as institutions are no actors with intentions. Nevertheless, at the social macro-level, institutions represent culture-specific, binding rules in the sense of explicit or at least explicable expectations. Since non-compliance may be sanctioned, any delimitation from wanting-to-forget and making-forget becomes difficult. Also problematic seems to be the epistemological grounding of intentional oblivion, as allegedly at the highest level of regulation, oblivion is least wanted by science. However, already Nietzsche demonstrates in his critique of memory that to a certain degree and in certain fields, “the” sciences face a loss of knowledge, accept it and must even normatively welcome it. Some arguments pointing into this direction have already been stated. Altogether, they present the evolution of knowledge, with obsolete or redundant knowledge being pushed to the back for being unnecessary. Additionally, the argument of limited capacities points to selection demands given an exponential growth of available yet at the same time relevant knowledge. Then, apart from such a levelling of desired oblivion, there is a kind of oblivion aiming at the production or the producers of knowledge as such. Accordingly, in the context of science-immanent violations of rules, there exist field-specific opportunities of rehabilitation which, each according to how grave the violation of the values and norms of good scientific practise or ethical principles and self-limitations is, make such a violation, as well as the thus connected “condemnation” by the scientific community, fall into oblivion. In this respect, there are hardly any clearly defined regulations – however, the periods needed to “live down something” would have to be clearly determined.113

One basic motivation for endogenous wanting-to-forget is the will to settle or clarify or organise the unorganised. Different variants of institutionalised action contexts preparing oblivion processes are found at the level of practices and institutions. Three orientations must be distinguished in this respect. At first, such a wanting-to-forget may result from the constant rationalisation and modernisation imperative by which modern science is characterised (a). Secondly, the consequences of such processes of change must be considered, as the intention of wanting-to-forget may be derived from them (b). Thirdly, an institutions-communicated kind of wanting-to-forget may be imagined, referring to measures that seem to be necessary for maintaining the system (c).

Wanting-to-forget resulting from rationalisation imperatives is a widely spread kind of adjustment to manifest or only alleged institutional preconditions. Thus, it is an open question if the patterns which make certain aspects of oblivion look desirable really serve for achieving goals by way of concrete drafts for action (calculated oblivionism) or if it is just orienting at field-specific values (value oblivionism).

As a reflecting effect of information science and economics, at first for scientific practice and the institutional structure of the entire scientific realm, a change of values or a standardisation effect by way of scientometric procedures can be diagnosed. Accordingly, it must be assumed that the scientific analysis of the scientific production of knowledge comes along with the possibility of optimisation and rationalisation. Thus, scientific insight retroacts on the conditions of its creation.114 For example, the “evidence-oriented improvement” of publication strategies, which has been mentioned above in the context of the organisation of scientific activity, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The “evidence-based” readjustment of the practice is followed by establishing appropriate behavioural expectations that again come along with kinds of oblivion expectations.

This complicated context can be illustrated by the debate on the consequences of bibliometric methods. Bibliometrics is feared, resulting in increased readiness for a kind of selection that is oriented at attention-economic criteria and thus establishes an appropriate degree of wanting-to-forget. It has already been pointed out that Eugene Garfield attempts to dispel such concerns brought to his attention in various ways. However, his reactions mark some cornerstones of an oblivion discourse in the context of the scientific production of knowledge. For example, the proposal to classify scientific disregard according to three kinds of uncitedness must be read as a contribution to classifying scientific ignorance and legitimating it. Scientific works which are not quoted and thus “fall through the cracks”, he says, are either of low quality, wrongly placed or already too well-known.115 Consequently, the desire to make one’s success visible through the mirror of bibliometrics or to refer to successful works when selecting references is provided with legitimation with the help of which doubts concerning the completeness of the references quoted in the course of a study may be dissipated. In Garfield, the index oblivionalis is not meant to select cases for assessing bibliometric artefacts (Garfield, 1971) but as a pile of rubbish where everything gathers, which may well be forgotten.116

Elsewhere, Garfield reports on a study in the context of the Science Citation Index, in the course of which a list of works from the subject of biology was compiled which had not been quoted over five years. Garfield asked the authors about their explanation that their essays had been overlooked or forgotten, and he concluded that many of these works provided exclusively descriptive information. This kind of information, he said, was little relevant for further research. As a reason why such works are produced, Garfield assumes that it makes sense to collect data and publish them. However, he says, this comes at the cost of a lower probability of being quoted because data collections are first of all used for examination papers and theses. Then, however, the strategy of rather not publishing any descriptive material in essays derives from these considerations. This way, it is insinuated that there are relevant and less relevant fields of scientific communication. Nevertheless, this way, an entire genre of scientific treatises would be wrong with certain communication fora and may fall into oblivion (Garfield, 1970a).

The example presented by Garfield points out a transition from scientific reflection to reflectivity. What initially is analysed as a scientific issue is transferred to optimisation knowledge and becomes, after all, a foundation for evaluation. From an oblivion-theoretical point of view, the transition from optimisation knowledge to a criterion for evaluation may also be described as the normative-norming change of intended oblivion (calculated oblivionism) to wanting-to-forget as a matter of course or to ignoring (value oblivionism).117

In the context of the completeness ideal, Garfield (1975) emphasizes that citation happens between the two poles of being deficient and being inflationary and that the “correct” measure – what he means is the subject-culturally-specific average in the sense of an obliteration coefficient which is similar to the half-life of knowledge – cannot be explained normatively but must be explained against the background of the respectively current culture. In other words: not even the citation-communicated way of dealing with the completeness ideal can be functionally explained nor by reaching back to norms, but it is a historically changeable social fact. Garfield bases his observation on the limited availability of scientific texts and the strong focus of the scientific discourse on exchanging letters and personal debate. The selection of texts, he says, which are a must for the list of references of a new essay, cannot be compiled according to completeness but must happen out of deference to beneficial information or out of respect towards those “giants” on whose shoulders one considers oneself sitting. Citation, however, is no practice to be performed by the individual alone; it also follows a consensus about what must be quoted within the scientific community. Because of the forms and rules of canonisation, Garfield gives an implicit hint that within the cultures of the respective disciplines, citation-communicated remembrance and the possibility to forget happen in an orderly manner. The professional associations within the sciences deny both oblivionism by way of canonisation and the cleaning of the canon by creating criteria for obsolescence by way of self-observation. For Garfield, these criteria seem to be determined by impact; however, there is also the possibility that certain traditions of quoting are created which, as long as a topic is discussed, must be continued. Then, the obliteration coefficient would inform about from when on certain scientific information is canonised enough so that there is no need anymore to inform about its origin and that, as a consequence, the latter may be forgotten – at least in view of the operative research documentation.118

Technological and social change, which has resulted in the frequently described exponential growth of scientific information, most of all due to the development of faster and more comprehensive possibilities to communicate, makes the legitimation of controlled deletion processes inevitable. However, such a deletion process must be preceded by withdrawing relevance from the concerned object. Even such devaluations do not happen coincidentally but following social orders. Some of the rules such processes are based on have already been described. What must be added now are the struggles about definitory power coming along with any kind of social change and the naïve idea of clearing out in the sense of “natural” obsolescence.

In the course of a kind of social change that is attributed to technological progress, there is a growing necessity of selection. Accordingly, practices are developing within the cultures of scientific disciplines which do legitimate certain selection mechanisms but not others.119 Other than scientific evolutions, this is not about topics but about practices of dealing with scientific knowledge. Thus, the assertiveness of each new generation of scientists, in view of dealing with archiving techniques alone, would also be a predictor for specific ways of legitimate oblivion. Additionally, each generation in the cultures of the respective disciplines prefers theories, schools or worldviews. Apart from the change of paradigm, a change of generations may trigger processes of de-canonisation and declaring obsolescence. In line with this, the turning away of the mainstream of sociology from structural functionalism can be identified as a process of wanting-to-forget in the history of sociological theories. Simply declaring Parson’s theory outmoded and topically insufficient while ignoring the effects of the change of generations, however, is short-sighted, at least from the point of view of a history of science.120

Whereas a change of paradigms or replacing a generation of scientists sometimes comes with conflicts, schools or positions may also simply “disappear”. Such a “dying out”, however, is an exception that is only allegedly coincidental. If we accept Garfield’s considerations, a scientist’s career success is measured by the usefulness of the information he/she has published. In terms of structure, particularly science following the Humboldt tradition can research even remote fields due to the ideal of academic liberty when choosing one’s research interests. Academic liberty depends on the completeness ideal and thus on the thus connected imperative to remember. Apart from the latter, it becomes difficult to not proceed according to an attention economy. Seen this way, the academic Sleeping Beauty is an artefact of modern, attention economy-oriented science, as anyway, the “princes” would have made their way to their Sleeping Beauties – it is their task to look for them incessantly. Wanting-to-forget for reasons of lacking compatibility or employability is not allowed for a kind of science that is oriented at the completeness ideal.

Another kind of practical or institutional wanting-to-forget can be investigated by changing the observer’s point of view. For example, oblivion may be analysed functionally. Whereas the dysfunctionality of oblivion may soon be identified as a flaw of the academic system, it seems to be revealing – by reaching back to Nietzsche – to interpret the perspective of wanting-to-forget as a readiness to forget and as being (eu-)functional for the further existence of the academic system.121 However, oblivion may be functional even if wrong ways, failures or even social sanctions are supposed to be forgotten to allow for new beginnings. In this context, we may distinguish four starting points. At first, desired oblivion may aim at certain individual actors. Secondly, such a kind of oblivion would have to be viewed in terms of knowledge or information, which, thirdly, may be limited to dealing with risky knowledge. Finally, the forgetting assessment of the basic values or identities of the cultures of disciplines must be viewed at, as it is frequently made a topic of discussion in the context of interdisciplinarity.

From the institution’s point of view, the actor perspective in the field of institutional wanting-to-forget aims at the researching individual. In this context, at first two starting points may be viewed: on the one hand, we might ask how dealing with damaged reputation or the standing of science is organised. On the other hand, in the sense of a weaker variant, we might ask about the institutional way of dealing with “underperformance”, that is, reputational damage due to commonly deficient publications or those which are alien to the genre.

Already in Greek antiquity, the social problems were documented if mistakes are not forgotten. Thus, it seems to be functional not only in the political realm to indeed sanction violations of rules but, from certain points on – depending on the extent of the violation – to no longer persecute them or to no longer remember them after the end of “punishment”. The principle of amnesty is based on such oblivion, which is functional for maintaining the community. For the time being, it is oblivion-theoretically unclear if social orders of amnesty have also been transferred to the sanctioning systems of the scientific system or, given the special status of science, if it has its own mechanisms of sanctioning and its own calendar of remembering mistakes. In favour of the first solution, there is generally a fact that in many societies, violations in the realm of the sciences also have legal consequences – such as violations of copyrights or secrecy norms.

However, oblivion is functional also when it comes to restoring reputation after misperformances – this is not about intended mistakes but sloppiness or bad quality. When scientists have completed the long qualifying period, when such a reputational damage has tough consequences, there are hardly any authorities that might effectively attest bad or misperformance to them. Only recently, in the context of ethics commissions and scientific evaluations, a kind of “memory” for such cases begins to constitute. If the rememberability of scientific misperformance is functional for the development of innovation and progress cannot be decided here. As a result of the introduction of places of memory for the sciences, such as evaluation systems,122 awards and competitions, the possibility of institutionally intended oblivion in the sense of practical-routine, rehabilitating oblivion, is somewhat suspended.123

Against the background of its normative-norming effect, even the half-life of knowledge may be interpreted as a criterion for orientation in the sense of Nietzsche or De Solla Price. If it is known how soon knowledge is turned over in a certain discipline or sub-discipline and how soon it decays in the light of institutionalised remembering, which is depicted by citation, an understanding of normality can be derived that retroacts the “durability” of new knowledge. From such a way of dealing with the concept of half-life, there derives a change of the selection practice, which makes the quotability of a scientific contribution depend on its publication date. To this, we may object that, after all, the thematic relevance of the argument to be quoted must be crucial. However, against the background of the exponential growth of the flood of information in so many fields, particularly of the ordinary scientific system, it is no longer possible to make such a decision about relevance, which is why right from the beginning also the age of a source may be included into the memory calculus.

From this way of selecting, which results from the surplus of information of the scientific production of knowledge, we must distinguish a kind of oblivion which refers to information connected to self-imposed restrictions. On the one hand, information of potential dangers which result immediately from scientific work is programmatically remembered. On the other hand, risk assessments result from social negotiation processes and rather address ethical-normative aspects or hazard potentials about which no consensus can be established between controversial positions. Functional oblivion aims at knowing about hazards that are differently judged at different times, which way it may serve for scientific progress. On the other hand, such volitional oblivion, happening in the sense of “revising” risk assessments, also comes with the possibility of interest-related negation. Then the reification or mythologisation of risk assessments is constantly assessed. At the same time, however, due to the discontinuation of certain interests or to no longer paying sufficient attention to them, the Promethean potential of scientific progress may again and again newly be unleashed. Then, this would be the case, although there was a consensus about not further pursuing certain paths and orientations in the past. Any self-limitation of science contradicts the scientific pursuit of progress and is thus subject to a rather institutionally communicated wanting-to-forget. On the whole, it seems as if information produced in the context of organised scepticism, as evaluative or otherwise secondary knowledge when it comes to scientific statements, depends on the position it gives expression to and the latter’s market opportunities.

One last variant of institutional wanting-to-forget results from the context of the progressing differentiation of the sciences. Not only the differences between natural sciences, social sciences and humanities but also the ever more specifying epistemic and disciplinary cultures result in limitations of the transformability of scientific insight from one field to another. Sometimes the differentiation of the entire system is considered dysfunctional when it comes to solving pending problems, which results in the call for interdisciplinary research cooperation. Apart from the apparent advantages of multi-perspective cooperation, interdisciplinarity comes with mutual understanding problems due to different terminologies and research methods. If interdisciplinarity is successful, the involved actors may consider the ties to their disciplines of origin to be outmoded. Then the history of differentiation of inner-scientific kinds of knowledge is forgotten, which may result in both the development of a trans-disciplinary self-understanding and a trivialising mixing-up of incommensurable research traditions, theories and terminologies. Integration at the cultural level is only possible by partial and purposefully initiated forgetting of differences; similarly, in the realm of a much-differentiated structure of institutions, it comes with the danger of forgetting about having become and development achieved and sometimes carved out stages of differentiation and delimitations are forgotten.124

Institutional ways of wanting-to-forget may also be viewed from an exogenous perspective if science comes in touch with other realms of society. Also, then it is at first about influences from non-scientific sectors which provide reasons – within science – for wanting-to-forget certain knowledge contents. Furthermore, the primus inter pares of social kinds of knowledge tends to expect the non-scientific realms to forget about their own kinds of knowledge and replace them with scientific ones. Thus, what is described is an interaction of different kinds of knowledge, with the sciences contributing, characterised by mutual expectations of oblivion.

The fact that other action fields of society are influenced by scientific knowledge has in many contexts been described and problematized as scientification. Nevertheless, examples can also be given for the other way round. The sociology of science in the context of science and technology studies documents that scientific thought is constantly influenced by everyday practices reflecting the social situation of the respective period. Also, science becoming economised refers to scientific structures of meaning being permeated with non-scientific values and regulation structures.

At first sight, purposeful oblivion at the level of the practices and institutions of science seems even more unusual than the institutionally implicated acceptance of oblivion. It has been described in the context of variants of wanting-to-forget. Nevertheless, however, with the regulatory structure of “the” sciences, aspects can be identified which not only support or allow for the loss of existing knowledge. There are also aspects in which the structure of making use of knowledge and thus of the selectivity of “systemic” remembrance is controlled. Viewed at are more or less explicable institutionalised strategies with the help of which knowledge is purposefully exposed, accentuated, and covered up or hidden to safeguard the existing order. At this level, neither the particular interests of the individual nor organisational strategies are at the fore.

The history of scientific knowledge orders shows temporary empowerment for self-control by those being active in science. If initially science was strictly determined by social power relations and the thus connected, sometimes arbitrary research interests, with Enlightenment, there has been much more leeway, going as far as the idea of the freedom of inquiry. Thus, a period of the greatest autonomy of research would be the suitable point of reference for the development of institutional making-forget. Historically, this period is embedded between two non-scientific regimes: if initially science was kept in leading-strings by nobility and clergy,125 it becomes evident that political and economic power interests monopolised the sciences since the late-industrial society. However, made oblivion is not only a question of scientific autonomy but also a strategy of growing authority from an inside point of view. Endogenous making-forget includes three aspects of purposeful oblivion, the first of which concerns the institutional dealing with documenting the conditions for creating scientific works (a). The second one aims at the predatory competition of scientific interpretation offers and solutions to problems (b), and the third one concerns the practical dealing with violations of rules (c). In view of the interaction between scientific knowledge orders, there are added exogenous aspects of the predatory competition between knowledge orders (d) and forgetting about errors (e).

A first starting point for the systematic withdrawing of knowledge from third parties and for making them forget comes from a tradition of scientific work which goes back to a dictum by Francis Bacon: de nobis ipsis silemus.126 Günter Burkart reconstructs the history of this rule regarding sociology and shows that since antiquity (Plato), the writing of scientific works has been flanked by semantic objectification offers. For example, he says, the “I”, representing the author’s subjectivity, is only tolerated with the foreword to a treatise, whereas the remaining text must be written in the style of a “transpersonal authority” (Kohli, qtd. in Burkart 2003, para. 1). Furthermore, he states, it is unusual to make problems occurring in the course of writing the text part of the argument – we have already delineated the practice of not telling about failed experiments. However, ignoring the imponderables of research goes even further if also wrong ways are kept secret. From the point of view of certain sociological schools – such as from a hermeneutic or phenomenological point of view – such objectification practices are hardly comprehensible, as they conceal the fact that a researcher is entangled with his/her research topic, thus making it fall into oblivion. The success story of scientific knowledge can be explained by the latter being artificially objectivist. Only seemingly the practice of concealment and making-forget relieves the authors from their obligation to self-reflection. It is crucial that the reception of scientific works has to do with fallible individuals and a powerful institution called “the sciences”. If general validity and objectivity are claimed, historical or biographic contextual information must mostly be left away. In terms of an analysis of oblivion, such a reification of scientific insight allows for diagnosing the institutionalisation of invulnerability or sacrosanctity, which can be maintained as long as it is possible to also adapt scientific knowledge in an objectivist way.127 Such an immunisation strategy has the effect that scientific knowledge can only be put into question from the realm of science – a fact which, however, may put science under pressure in the course of other knowledge orders becoming empowered.

Another variant of institutional making-forget can also be identified within the sciences, in the context of the competition for interpretational sovereignty. The fact that citation networks or citation cartels boost certain ideas – so to speak as cover memories – cannot exclusively be explained as a survival strategy of individual actors of academic life. Behind such purposeful-oblivionist reasons, there are regulation structures that only create or support such developments. In this context, the concept of normal science appears as the ideal type of a hardly innovative while at the same time saturated period in the life cycle of a successful paradigm. Only in passing Thomas S. Kuhn points out that work in a mainstream context is always accompanied by displacement effects given potential alternative possibilities of interpretation.128 Thus seen, history and the history of science are a history written by the victorious side that has pushed through against competing worldviews or solution offers. This competition happens through systematic remembering and not remembering, and if just one particular line of the development of scientific insight is strategically preferred, everything else is ignored. Thus seen, the principle of scientific schools is also an institutionalised aspect of making-forget when it comes to competing perspectives – it is about taking care that at conferences, the “right” positions will be heard and the “right” people will occupy that vacant chairs. What at first sight must be interpreted as a power play among actors within academic life (also see Toulmin, 1977) turns out to be a fight for interpretational sovereignty and the opportunity to define problems which are fought with the help of orders of making-forget and is constitutive for the progress of science.129

A third starting point for the diagnosis of social making-forget concerns orders of how to deal with mistakes and misbehaviour, in the context of which it is not about functional amnestic oblivion or oblivion for the sake of rehabilitation but about procedures for cleaning knowledge which has been made available by way of system-specific remembering. In contrast to cleaning by sorting out the redundant and the obsolete, the focus is on the correction. Whereas the sciences do not provide for any damnatio memoriae and the documentation of proven errors is kept in the archive, forgeries are withdrawn from circulation. Accordingly, in scientific publishing, one increasingly withdraws works that have been recognized as forgeries or plagiarisms. This withdrawing practice serves for maintaining the reputation of a journal’s or publishing house’s editorial staff, which, for reasons of quality assurance and integrity, cannot accept certain breaches of the regulations. Apart from an unreliable source, however, also a memorial is deleted from rememberability. In view of the public perception of science, such a measure also has the effect that the traces of the scandal are washed away, and investigations are made more difficult.130 Thus, the analysis of making-forget at the institutional level contributes, among others, to understanding the allegedly lacking awareness of the problem when it comes to scientific misbehaviour. Much suggests that the structural conditions enforce maintaining a “clean conscience” of objective science so that the status of primus inter pares is not endangered.

Finally, it is about regulation structures of purposeful oblivion, with the help of which science makes its stand or secures its status within the structure of social institutions. In the following, we are going to discuss two aspects which have already been addressed several times: the competition of knowledge orders, in the context of which now it is no longer about desirable oblivion but about institutionally rooted oblivion techniques and ways of making-forget in case of misconduct negotiated in the light of the public. Both variants of practical or institutional making-forget are functional in view of the autonomy of the scientific system; however, they come along with problems concerning the inner-scientific basic orientations of truth and progress.

The elaborations so far provide indications that the fight for interpretational sovereignty and resources within the scientific system, flanked by oblivion mechanisms, also happens at the societal level, in the sense of competition between modern science and other societal institutions. Indeed, since Enlightenment and the pushing through positive science, the primacy of the scientific kind of knowledge are mostly undisputed in modern society. However, not even this status is a matter of course, and it must be secured with the help of orders. Having pointed out to this is one of the merits of Michel Foucault, whose archaeological and genealogical analyses of societal discourses attracted attention to the gradual change of societal knowledge orders. Reiner Keller pursues this perspective according to oblivion-analytical points of view by demonstrating that the discourse is organised with the help of exclusion mechanisms or control procedures insisting on reducing the number of speaking subjects. Moreover, regarding scientific knowledge, he demonstrates that even the scientific basic code, the separation of “true” and “false”, is not at all exclusively based on reason:

The rubbish heap of history does not only consist of perishable and perishing social orders but also of those ideas and knowledge statements which have been eliminated because they no longer meet the demand of ‘speaking the truth’ or, in this context, are at best considered ‘insignificant’ in this context. (Keller, 2011, p. 127)

From Foucault’s point of view, science appears as a vehicle for the spread and enforcement of knowledge for the sake of action or control, which, after all, allows for separating any kind of unwanted knowledge by considering it “false”. However, it is also in the interest of scientific actors to leave out competing kinds of knowledge and erase their traces or make them fall into oblivion.131 Then, the process of making-forget does not consist of “concerted” or individual actions but of defining specific regulations for being scientific, which systematically exclude other interpretation offers. Then – sometimes very purposeful while at the same time in a way which is both institutional and in line with the regulations – it is forgotten that now a certain solution to a problem which formerly has been considered scientific is no longer understood to be scientific but esoteric.

The second exogenous order of making-forget results from the way in which science deals with attacks on its primacy of interpretation. Science cannot afford to be criticized by the public. Self-purification must swiftly produce institutional consequences before any steering starts from the outside. Accordingly, in view of science in Germany, Marco Finetti and Armin Himmelrath come to the estimation that forgeries have indeed been a topic of discussion,

[…] but almost all the time off the record and preferably concerning the cases of other people. Whenever they discovered lies and deception at their own institutes and laboratories, universities and research institutions as well as the organisations of the scientific system connected to them, took every effort to investigate and close such cases in secret. In secret – and on their own. The main goal was always to keep out the public, the media, and certainly state and justice. (Finetti & Himmelrath, 1998, p. 32)

Public silence and hiding information about scientific misbehaviour is no specific to the German scientific system. However, the international comparison conducted by Finetti and Himmelrath provides indications of the different institutional framework conditions under which aberrations or mismanagement are discussed. Perhaps in Germany, the institutional field science activity is under particular pressure to win over the public opinion and must thus invest in keeping back information about failure or making it forget as soon as possible. Then, however, all this is not the strategies of individual actors but developments practically or institutionally coming from “the system”.


At about the same time when Weinrich’s book on oblivion is published, university research starts to become established in Germany, dealing with the problems Weinrich hints at, among others – however without placing this into any knowledge-sociological or oblivion-analytical context. The meanwhile voluminous literature on this field provides many indications which may be assessed in view of social oblivion. As the following section is going to be about sounding out oblivion-analytical problem fields in the sciences, however, here we are going to stay away from a closer inspection. Yet still, university research comes first if it is about having a closer look at one of the topics identified in the following.


A concise overview of crucial positions on the road to the development of modern science and its inclusion into “society” is provided by Stefan Böschen (2007).


Striving for truth is already inscribed into the conceptual understanding of knowledge. By the criterion of truth, “knowing” is different from “thinking” or “believing”. Of course, it cannot be about a kind of truth, excluding all human needs and interests, which is “conceived of as an accurate representation of how things are in themselves” (Rorty, 1998, p. 4).


On this see e. g. Max Scheler’s (1965) considerations on the grounding of scientific knowledge by way of connecting to a relatively natural world view.


Peter Weingart describes the quality demand, according to which newly added scientific knowledge is also legitimated by being topically new, as the “imperative of genuineness” (Weingart, 2003, p. 22). Elsewhere, the necessity of progressiveness is pointed out, too (see Dimbath, 2011b; Luhmann, 1992; Popper, 2002). That progress cannot be reduced to the improvement of the capability to predict is demonstrated by Richard Rorty’s concept of “philosophical progress occurs to the extent that we find a way of integrating the worldviews and the moral intuitions we inherited from our ancestors with new scientific theories or new sociopolitical institutions and theories or other novelties” (Rorty, 1998, p. 5). It is obvious that necessarily this comes along with processes of oblivion.


A comprehensive characterisation of science as a social field of activity is presented – from a functionalist point of view – by Walter L. Bühl (1974). A more recent overview of the networking of this institution is to be found in Peter Weingart (2003).


Here Luhmann makes use of the figure of the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous. By way of its observations, the system of social meanings creates time: “With primary observation, after all, the simultaneous is only simultaneous as long as observation happens; and only if this observation is observed (which may as well happen within the same system) its actuality can be distinguished and called an actuality of time, that is an actuality with a future and a past.” (Luhmann, 1992, p. 105)


In this sense we may also understand Luhmann’s considerations on the problem of time and memory within the scientific system: “Indeed memory makes its running business easier by way of chronologically (or also spatially) extending and thus organising those aspects of meaning it is assessing. It operates e. g. according to the rule that contradicting issues cannot have been at the same time and the same place. However, it operates only while operating, and only concerning the meaningfulness it takes up in each case. Thus, knowledge cannot be understood as kind of a time-proof stock but only as a kind of complex assessment operation. We speak of “experience” when wanting to say that in current situations it is possible to mobilise knowledge of the past and the future.” (Luhmann, 1992, pp. 128–129)


Selection does not only refer to the process of selecting but also to selection made, and thus to a structure of information considered relevant for a certain problem of scientific production. From the point of view of the production process, this information is taken from the “past” or indeed from the stock of documented experience.


An influential study on the growth of scientific knowledge – it doubles every 15 years, making the science the “institution” with the fastest growth – has been carried out by Derek de Solla Price (1963).


Here we may go as far back as to before the age of the most famous encyclopaedists, D’Alembert or Diderot – such as to Konrad Gessner and his Bibliotheca Universalis. With the beginning of printing there developed “the idea of enforcing the totality of knowledge by help of a timeless ‘order of orders’ in one single book. […] The order of knowledge is important to master experience, to govern the present, or to conquer the future” (Schneider & Zedelmaier, 2004, p. 355).


This can e. g. be read from a contribution by Uwe Schimank (2010a) who, given the flood of publications, demands a self-limitation of the producers of knowledge. For example, he says, swift production ignores the completeness ideal if not even topically relevant literature is taken into account.


See Karl Mannheim (1936, p. 13; 1952, p. 170) who states that natural-scientific thought always continues the construction of a system, whereas philosophical thought in the sense of Hegel’s dialectics must achieve always new syntheses or “systematization centres”- a motif which is also taken up again by Richard Rorty (1998).


This view may as well be reversed, however, if we consider the quotation practice of the natural sciences: there, referring to “classical authors” and the constantly repeated interpretative reference to theories which are considered fundamental is mostly ignored. Already the research context of a study informs about its theoretical orientation, the methodological quality criteria determine the comprehensibility of the process of producing insight, so that probably there is no need to further take into consideration those giants on whose shoulders one is of course sitting.


Reiner Keller brings together the different dimensions of meaning of the archive concept according to Michel Foucault (1988): “The archive is ‘the universal system of the formation and transformation of the statements […]” or “the law of what is allowed to be said, the system governing the appearance of statements on individual events […]”. “Archaeology analyses discourses ‘as specific practices within the element of the archive’” (Keller, 2008, pp. 77–78).


Here, once again the grave irritation becomes obvious which results from the assumption of standardised logics of the scientific genesis of knowledge. The distinction between natural-scientific and philosophical progress in Rorty (1998) or Mannheim (1952) cannot be arbitrarily further differentiated – however it cannot be ruled out that with modern science we might encounter even more interpretations of progress than only the accumulative and the dialectic ones.


Already beforehand it must be pointed out that, given the mass production of scientific knowledge, other selection anchors may be imagined which might be differentiated according to disciplines (see e. g. Luhmann, 1996, p. 325).


The equivalent in the science of history is that perspective which is accused of being whig history. Lamented are different manifestations of a kind of presentism construing historical reality according to criteria of the presence – or of the researcher’s current state of mind and preferred values. In the worst case, it is said, historians give a completely wrong depiction of the past (see e. g. Mayr, 1990).


These positions start out from Edmund Husserl’s (1970) concept of meaninglessness; they are also found in the context of Heidegger’s (1967; 1975) oblivion of being, however also in the context of the criticial theory terms reification and context of delusion (Grave, 2008).


See the analyses of laboratory life by Bruno Latour and Steven Woolgar (1979) as well as Karin Knorr-Cetina (1981).


This begins with Aleida Assmann’s (2006) observation, according to which women deal with remembering and are still forgotten, whereas men prefer oblivion and are more likely to be remembered. Studies on forgotten female scientists provide indications for this (see e. g. Honegger & Wobbe, 1998), however also the effects of the habitual differences, described by Pierre Bourdieu (1988), between scientists of different origin or age limits in case of appointments are testimony to a variety of selections which, in each different ways, are the result of reaching back to past events.


See Elena Esposito (2002; 2013) on telematics as well as on the perfect memory of the Internet. However, Daniel Bell already provides indications in his diagnosis of post-industrial society: “An intellectual technology is the substitution of algorithms (problem-solving rules) for intuitive judgments. These algorithms may be embodied in an automatic machine or a computer program or a set of instructions based on some statistical or mathematical formula; the statistical and logical techniques that are used in dealing with ‘organized complexity’ are efforts to formalize a set of decision rules.” (Bell, 1973, p. 30–31). Equivalnents are to be found in the more recent literature on tracking by seach engines whose algorithms reconstruct path-dependencies and make them into individually “custom-made” information profiles and offers: “In July 2010, Google News rolled out a personalized version of its popular service. Sensitive to concerns about shared experience, Google made sure to highlight the ‘top stories’ that are of broad, general interest. But look below that top band, and you will see only stories that are locally and personally relevant to you, based on the interests that you’ve demonstrated through Google and what articles you’ve clicked on in the past” (Pariser, 2011, p. 61).


On the concept of NPM see Stefan Lange and Uwe Schimank (2007).


For a critical view see Richard Münch (2009; 2014).


Birger P. Priddat (2013) discusses this phenomenon, which is frequently discussed as the economisation of university, and emphasizes that at best it is a kind of political economisation in the sense of “politically intended scarcity”.


In the context of these kinds of oblivion, Bowker (1997) in an essay on organisational memories distinguishes between clearance and erasure. In both cases the focus is on an interest-guided change of selectivity mechanisms. In this context, clearance refers to recognising existing selection structures as such and replacing them by new ones. Bowker demonstrates this by the example of nursing, where the traditional, handwritten, system of documenting is replaced by the electronic and catalogue-based documentation of performance.


That scientific knowledge is considered to be of higher rank in the context of societal classifications of knowledge is to be found e. g. in Peter Weingart, Wolfgang Krohn and Martin Carrier (2007). In more recent modernity, however, relativisations of this hierarchy can be diagnosed (Böschen & Dimbath, 2012).


As it is well-known, this problem – however not in the form of materialism but of the analysis of the (intentional) awareness of objects – is already the starting point for Husserl’s (1980) attempts at developing phenomenology as a foundation of scientific thought at his time.


It must be doubted that the analysis of oblivion should leave it with this rough yet, in terms of the history of science, highly evident distinction. It must be assumed, for example, that there exist levels of kinds of forgetfulness both of universally scientific as well as differentiated – down to the level of individual disciplines – kinds of forgetfulness. Here, the direction taken by Karin Knorr-Cetina (1999) with her differentiation of knowledge cultures seems to be promising.


All this is closely connected to the criticism by Paul Feyerabend (1993) whose point of view can be differentiated, in terms of oblivion theory, by formulating theses about where wide parts of that kind of knowledge remain which has come from gloomy (ir)rationality.


The citing halflife is the mean age of all references in one field – calculated by tenths of a year – recorded by help of huge databases such as the Web of Science (Havemann, 2009, p. 54).


Also, here e. g. Mannheim’s distinction between the accumulation of knowledge and the abandonment of knowledge becomes valid. Both ways of dealing with older insights result in different half-lives, as they result in specific quotation cultures. Precisely in the humanities and the social sciences the constraint of pointing out to those traditional lines of knowledge which have produced new insights is bigger than with the natural sciences where obviously the connectivity to existing research may mostly be presumed.


Christian Wolff reveals the mythical nature of this concept, by pointing out to the fact that the reference value of half-life is not changing knowledge but “social behaviour in the context of scientific publishing”. Instead of speaking of shorter half-lives or the decay of knowledge he suggests different analogies: “New knowledge deposits in layers above the previous state of knowledge, without this knowledge being judged on or changed concerning its quality. Precisely with application-oriented sciences with short half-lives the sources referred to by scientific literature often give testimony to a very short chronological horizon: what is older is not perceived, not because it is irrelevant but simply because it is believed to be too old, because there is not enough time for thorough research or because digitally unavailable literature requires too much effort.” (Wolff, 2008, pp. 212–213)


For a differentiated estimation of the suspicion of the sciences being economised see Uwe Schimank (2008).


One example of such an unequal treatment at the level of individual universities is the Excellence Initiative (see Münch, 2006). As soon as the distribution logic is connected to the providing of resources – such as in the context of applications – it is no longer about a “good” research idea but about the formal correctness of an application in the context of sometimes highly complicated procedures. In any case those being allegedly “weak” will be forgotten – universities, disciplines, scientists – who lack sufficient equipment to compete in a system of scientific competition.


Although currently, by the Journal of Unsolved Questions (JunQ), there exists a scientific forum for failed analyses, precisely the fact that it is interdisciplinarily oriented and run by doctoral candidates allows for the conclusion that it is of comparably little relevance for inner-discipline discourses.


One example of such a distortion – little consequential in this case, but remarkable – is the diagnosis of the “steel shell of serfdom” which was attributed to Weber’s theory of bureaucratisation, although the phrase is not to be found in Weber. Weber just spoke either of the “steely shell” or of the “shell of serfdom”.


On this see e. g. Franz Havemann (2009), and on the development of the impact factor as well as on investigating “significant” journals see Eugene Garfield (1976).


Also imaginable are arrangements which make a qualitatively minor contribution in a journal with a high impact factor look like being of higher rank than a qualitatively major contribution published in a less visible or prestigious journal. Thus, this procedure works in favour of attention-economic behaviour, by assuming that a kind of selectivity which is dissolved from the basic ideas of scientific activity – intended oblivion – is met with agreement and is thus implemented.


As an oblivion strategy, the practice of scientific oblivionism undermines the completeness ideal, from which there results the question if that what is quoted most frequently is indeed topically appropriate or of what is going to happen with the practice of quoting if no longer there is the claim to have at least made the attempt to assess all relevant sources on a subject.


Accordingly, Garfield – for example when comparing with other evaluative rules for selection such as peer review – writes: “Yes, a better evaluation system would involve actually reading each article for quality but then this entire congress is dedicated to the difficulties of reconciling peer review judgments. When it comes time to evaluating faculty, most people do not have or care to take the time to read the articles any more! Even if they did, their judgment surely would be tempered by observing the comments of those who have cited the work” (Garfield, 2005, p. 20).


Garfield mentions the concept of uncitedness at several places, when it is about giving reasons for scientific literature being obsolete. The most detailed clarification he presents in the short memo “Uncitedness III – The Importance of NOT Being Cited” (Garfield, 1973).


It is remarkable that Garfield’s reactions are oriented at objections which are the result of injured vanity. It seems that he is hardly aware that, if quotation analysis pushes through as a method of science-related remembering, a new kind of selectivity will be introduced.


See Thomas S. Kuhn (1962), for whom the Scientific Revolution is a structural aspect in the context of which oblivion effects are at best accepted. From an oblivion-theoretical point of view, the dispute about the leading thought style seems to be about the question of who, from which position, may call for making a competing paradigm fall into oblivion.


In this context, we may think of Ludwik Fleck (2012), who is explicitly mentioned by Douglas, however also of Karl Mannheim (1986), both of whom describe the persistence and change of thought by way of the concept of thought style. Kuhn (1962, himself concedes that for a long time he had not known about Fleck’s works and that his concept of paradigm is mostly congruent with that of thought style. However, also with Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse we may identify many congruities with thought style or paradigm.


Accordingly, Jürgen Habermas’ (1984) colonisation thesis, originally referring to the lifeworld, my as well be transferred to the realm of science. Then the diagnosis describes originally scientific aspirations being monopolised by power and money.


On this see Helmut Schelsky’s (1963, pp. 118–120) considerations on forgetting about academic solitude.


In Max Weber’s lecture on “Science as a Vocation” (1946) we read about the uncertainties of the profession of the scientist already at the beginning of the 20th century.


In this context, Uwe Schimank (2008) states that this way the orientation at marginalised, special topics might be limited.


Accordingly, a history of research bans will have to reflect both on the value horizon and on the interest in stabilising power of societies. It is doubtful in how far research interests can lastingly be suppressed by power interests, which would then result in oblivion. Scientists being confronted with research bans may resort to emigration as an evasive move.


On this see most of all the basic documents of Science and Technology Studies and of laboratory constructivism by Bruno Latour and Steven Woolgar (1979) as well as by Karin Knorr-Cetina (1981).


By the concept of epoché, phenomenological philosophy demands that the subjective perspective is to be excluded, thus taking into account the danger of this kind of forgetfulness. Only at first sight those problems as to be connected to the individual consciousness belong to the scope of psychological research. They become sociologically relevant most of all because of their sometimes conflictual effects, as frequently this is disappeared knowledge connected to the expectations of others – thus, here we might speak of asymmetrical forgetfulness.


Also, occupational research assumes that such memory-related constructions of successful processes as well as positive attributes are the regular case (Kohli, 1975). The status of being an expert, which is relevant in the scientific realm, is at the same time the foundation of a “personal experience of meaningfulness” which is based on experiencing one’s own usefulness for the group (Beck et al., 1980, p. 220). For the time being, both an analysis of the selection mechanisms of occupation-biographic remembering and of the memories of individual professions are lacking – with the exception of a few studies from the field of biography research which, however, are rather implicit.


The term self-reification, going back to Georg Lukács and adopted by Adorno, at first only refers to giving up on recognizing one’s own (or, to have it in Heidegger’s terminology) authentic subjectivity. Then Axel Honneth (2005) places it into the context of a recognition-forgottenness, which again is not far from seemingly naturally or “automatically” forgetting about one’s own having-become in the sense of lacking reflection on the fact that the individual has grown into the social expectation contexts he/she serves – no one is born a master. Harald Hofer (2011) in his reconstruction of different variants of reification speaks of development- or historicity-forgottenness, among others.


On cryptomnesia see Robert K. Merton (1993, p. 25; 1973, and on obliteration by incoroporation as the “automatic abandonment” and thus disappeance of older knowledge into the new see Merton (1968, p. 35).


Whereas science research is currently exploring these informal acts of communication among researchers, such as in the context of congresses, the here suggested approach goes one step further. It is assumed that the informal context is indeed a black box of creativity and innovation on the one hand; on the other hand, it is in line with specific orders of ignoring the here exchanged information – one might think of hierarchies, belonging to generations and groups, which reduce or support forgetfulness.


One step into this direction was made by Andreas Urs Sommer (2012), with his Lexikon der imaginären philosophischen Werke [Encyclopaedia of imaginary philosophical works] – motivated by the finding that “works not to be found anywhere” extend, as an “intellectual history of the unthought”, the “thought horizon of humanity”. When he is interested in increasing variety “instead of reducing manifoldness to dull simplicity” (Sommer, 2012, p. 9)- this is where he criticizes the practice of the history of philosophy – he starts tackling what oblivion analyses, among others, may be capable of.


One such motivation for deciding for a vocation is mentioned e. g. by Max Weber (1946) in his lecture on science as a vocation – delimiting from a purely bread-winning motivation for scientific activity.


The penitents in Dante’s Inferno can only be redeemed if in this world somebody remembers them – the most terrible of all punishments is being eternally forgotten (Weinrich, 2004). In science research, Steve Fuller, connecting to works by Bourdieu as well as Latour and Woolgar, points out to this motivation, by stating that scientists with their research work attempt to establish credibility. This credibility is measured by the researcher’s capability of rousing the interest of others. “If they succeeded, they have avoided oblivion – at least for a little while” (Fuller, 2000, p. 39).


How little thinkers have actually been shown that grace is demonstrated by Randall Collins (2002) in his analysis of the philosophical canon – some ancient philosophers had more than 1,000 disciples, of which only very few are still today found at the archive of sciences, and certainly most of them are not canonically remembered. A really “classical” approach at the problem of oblivion in social groups – again in the context of science – is already provided by Charles Horton Cooley (1918) who points out that societies are ungrateful and usually soon forget about past merits (see also the related chapter of Olick et al., 2011, p. 131).


Such an example is also to be found in Sigmund Freud (2010, p. 24) who, in the context of his oblivion-theoretical analysis of failures, mentions the Professor of the “Fliegende Blätter”.


On this see the considerations by Alfred Schütz (1967) who connects to Henri Bergson and William James.


On the self being offended or damaged, see Goffman (1963), on interactive coping see Goffman (1952).


On Comte see e. g. the elaborations by Wolf Lepenies (1988).


See Ralf Dahrendorf’s (1973) role theory.


Such cases are addressed by the concept of the “helpless helper” whose professional orientation aims at acquiring and applying professional knowledge for treating his/her own psycho-social deficits (Schmidbauer, 1992).


Not every dscipline allows to ignore canonised knowledge for reporting, due to the abandonment assumption, and not every researcher is able to make use of reliable – because complete – citation analyses. Accordingly, in sociology it is lamented that existing knowledge – on this see the keyword “tertiary illiteracy” in Christian Fleck (2013) – is acknowledged too superficially, given a processing expectation which is perceived as being unrealistic (see e. g. Albrecht, 2014).


Oblivion motifs are also to be found in the context of the “salami-slicing” publication strategy, consisting of publishing research results only bit by bit, in order of keeping the complexity of the argument low while at the same time increasing the number of publications (on this see e. g. Schimank, 2010b).


A similar problem results from the question if the decision between basic research and application-oriented research must be made in the sense of either-or or both-and. The fact that, as has frequently been shown (see e. g. Stokes, 1997), the research-systematic distinction cannot easily be maintained, does not change the reality of this factual decision-making problem.


On this see the reflction on problems in the context of writing scientific works by Howard S. Becker (1986), in the context of which the oblivion desire aims at the therapy for the emotive disturbance, not at remembering past failures.


In view of the practice shock experienced by sociology graduates when starting non-university gainful work, Stefan Kühl and Veronika Tacke (2003) speak of “sociology” being left at the office door like a coat. This motif of intended oblivion resembles Ulysses’ stay with the Lotophages, to which Weinrich (2004) reminds.


Possibly this oblivion figure might explain the cooperation of “serious” scientists with “dubious” ones, if for the sake of lucrative cooperation (win-win-situation) e. g. research-ethical contradictions are ignored, silenced and left to oblivion. As concerns being silent about past disagreements, in such cases, insofar as they happen according to certain conventions, there is a micro-social parallel to amnestic oblivion at the meso- and the macro-level (see e. g. Meier, 2010). The intention results from the implicit agreement that professional commitment can only be continued together.


Karl Lenz (2003) analysed silencing, hushing up and deception in partner relationships. His considerations may be transferred to the working relationship in science, if there is an agreement about not mentioning “notorious” problems – in case of mutuality this is an aspect of wanting-to-forget, in case of one-sidedness it is an aspect of making-forget.


By indications, Schütz and Luckmann mean knowledge elements finding expression by processes or objects of everyday life, in the context of which the following is true: “In general, an adequate interpretation becomes more difficult when fewer components of the original situation are available to A. The interpretation will be more difficult the greater the disparity between the knowledge B originally acquired and the indication to be used for interpretation” (Schütz & Luckmann, 1973, p. 268). On markers they state: “We can say in general that the further removed a mark is from the original situation of its establishment, or the less at hand the relevant components of the original situation are for the interpretation, or the more anonymous the one who made the mark is for the one who interprets it, thhen so much the less can the mark convey specific knowledge” (Schütz & Luckmann, 1973, p. 275).


Also here we find a motif of reflective modernisation, as modernisation processes rebound on their own foundations (see Beck, 1992).


Granted, here sometimes also “invisible” risks play a role, if it is e. g. about the fate of physicists who have been handling radioactive material (Marie Curie). The negation of danger is also found with the fates of discoverers who are missing or died during their expeditions, such as Robert F. Scott or Roald Amundsen.


Heiko K. Cammenga (2014) elaborates on intermediate results of the debate now happening among the scientific profession, by pointing out to trivial offences by scientists and demanding an institutional place to go for whistleblowing.


Then, in disciplines for which there is a pluralism of paradigms it may suffice to identify a point of view which differs from the preferred tradition of theories e. g. just by the quoted literature, to be able to put aside a position without further consideration. This way, the individual actor contributes to an illegitimate, selective follow-up communication or he/she establishes a paradigm memory whose way of working, however, is hardly explicated and can only be understood as resulting from belonging to a school.


This is to be understood as an oblivion-theoretical interpretation of the accusation of simplification in the sense of Feyerabend (1993, p. 10–11).


Remarkably, Aleida Assmann (2012) counts the cleaning routine among “automatic oblivion”, as if cleaning was a kind of structural automatism.


Bowker (1997) pointed out to “cleaning” as an oblivion mechanism which may be associated to the literary character of the Wegwerfer [Discarder] in Heinrich Böll. At the level of individual and interaction, these are practices of making-forget whose function and explicit meaningfulness are reflected on only to limited extent – yet still, these are “minor” transition rituals in the sense of Turner, in the border area between ritualism and social, symbol indicating action.


In Erving Goffman (1986) this is described as deception.


For this purpose, there exist self-obligations within the disciplines – see e. g. the ethical code of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS) and of Berufsverband Deutscher Soziologinnen und Soziologen (BDS).


On this see the elaborations in Roland Girtler (2001) which imply that the alien nature of the field researcher is purposefully forgotten.


Only in Oscar Wilde’s spectre comedy the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville must again and again renew the blood stain which reminds to his crime, after the family of the US American ambassador, who has purchased the castle with the ghost, has stubbornly made use of a stain remover. In case of persistent memories, not even committed making-forget will work (Dimbath & Kinzler, 2013).


On this distinction see Uwe Schimank (2002).


In our context here, an academy is no educational institution but, in the sense of “learned societies”, a long-time and, to a certain degree, organised forum of scholarliness and scientific exchange. Academies are a counterdraft to university which over its history has repeatedly made the impression of mismanagement, failing to behave according to the contemporary understanding of knowledge or when it comes to self-administration and self-disciplining (Schelsky, 1963, pp. 31–33).


Accordingly, Michael Burawoy (2011, p. 39) bemoans mode-2-science, denying it the capability of creating knowledge. Due to accepting commissioned research, he states, it is forced to work faster and more superficially (quick and dirty). Another example are the changes for publishers of scientific literature, which are subject to the fast pace of markets and now face the problem of estimating the different tempi of becoming outmoded of the disciplines they publish. In this concern, Wulf D. von Lucius states that the lifetime of titles has decreased and that, in view of assortment policy, it is not easy to distinguish “between justified adjustment and exaggerated eagerness” (Lucius, 2005, p. 39).


German sociology – as a scientific community – and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie as the association representing it are currently debating the significance of National Socialism for the discipline. This is both about analyses of history in the strict sense and about issues of establishing a remembrance culture more firmly, given a kind of oblivion lamented by several protagonists of the debate (see e. g. Deißler, 2013).


On this see James P. Walsh and Gerardo R. Ungson (1991), Sylwia Ciuk and Monika Kostera (2010) or Christopher Pollitt (2009). An action-theoretical-utilitaristic analysis of the determinants of organisational oblivion and the thus connected costs is to be found in Guy David and Tanguy Brachet (2011).


Such a way of proceeding might as well be attributed to the realm of making-forget, in particular if “schools” are developed at science locations. Then it is not only about leaving away everything the decisions makers are not interested in but about, quite purposefully, making the students ignore competing interpretations, schools, methods or positions.


Here the fact must be pointed out to that this refers neither to the process of “cleaning” nor to any semantic change to be located just at the institutional level. To the context of cleaning their belongs first of all the discussion of existing concepts and theories as it is both part of everyday research and of the reflecting self-steering of scientific communities.


There are a number of examples: the introduction of each new software product replacing an older one comes along with oblivion effects. At the level of the organisation, the adjustment of DOS surfaces to the Window system or the introduction of editors were connected to group decisions in the context of which the older ways of proceeding were collectively abandoned – and forgotten.


Such replacement or trivialisation processes are sometimes described in the context of the DFG priority program on the use of social scientific knowledge (Beck & Bonß, 1989).


James S. Coleman (1982) in his diagnosis of asymmetric society unfolds this figure – however without pointing out aspects of organisational wanting-to-forget or sitting out.


On this, see the overview on forgetting about knowledge management with organisations by Stephanie Porschen (2011) as well as the analysis of obliviating organisations in the realm of science by Oliver Dimbath (2012).


The research of the organisational memories of trade unions tells about manipulative strategies of purposefully forgetting about unpleasant events and situations in the past (see e. g. Debouzy, 1986).


According to the micro-sociological frame in the context of Goffman’s interaction structure and to the macro-sociological social reference frame according to Halbwachs, there lacks an appropriate concept at the meso-social level of groups and organisations. Both frame concepts are able to integrate groups, so that a third concept does not seem to be necessary. However, misunderstandings in the context of theoretical classification may be avoided if the limited group-cultural structures are labelled as “meso-social frames”.


The question of organisational memory was raised by Bo L.T. Hedberg (1981) – the term is found in organisation-sociological studies already from the early 1970s (see e. g. March, 1972). Oblivion as a strategy of organisational steering is analysed by Pablo Martin de Holan and Nelson Phillips (2004a; 2004b).


Such an estimation is to be found already in James March and later in James P. Walsh and Gerardo R. Ungson (1991) – for an overview see also Oliver Dimbath (2012).


Also in this context it must be reminded tot he organised passing on of a certain selection of scientific knowledge not least in the context of thought styles – and by representatives of certain generations – as described by Stephen Toulmin (1977).


Niklas Luhmann (1992) makes such a diagnosis, as an example of the change of the functions of systems and, as a consequence, also of a system’s structure.


For a similar view see Richard Münch (2009, pp. 87–88).


This finding also holds for organisations in the non-scientific realm – however, it was developed while starting out from an oblivion-theoretical analysis of scientific organisations (see also Dimbath, 2010).


On the hierarchy of societal knowledge orders see Peter Weingart, Wolfgang Krohn and Martin Carrier (2007) as well as Stefan Böschen and Oliver Dimbath (2012).


Semantics change after e. g. the social structure. Niklas Luhmann (1993, p. 15) demonstrates that the change of the complexity of the social system and its operations is answered by a change of semantics.


For this, the ethno-methodological approach according to Harold Garfinkel and Harvey Sacks (1970) provides the term indexicality.


As it is well-known, Michel Foucault (2001) demonstrates this by the example of the historical development and changing meaning of madness as well as of lunatic asylums. By the example of a memorandum of 1807 Koselleck illustrates that the term “citizen” there is a very recent terminus technicus “that had just been minted, that is not to be found in the Prussian Civil Code, and that registered a polemical engagement with the old society of orders. Thus, it is a concept that is consciously deployed as a weapon in the struggle against the legal inequalities of the Stände, at a time when a set of civil rights that could have endowed the Prussian citizen with political rights did not exist.” (Koselleck, 1985, p. 76).


This argument is also found in Bernhard Giesen (1999). However, here it must be pointed out that the establishment of the sub-discipline of the history of science is certainly no aspect of any conspiracy against science. Like others, it is a result of scientific differentiation processes, is in the service of Enlightenment, and works according to the criteria of scientific practice. However, being an element of the scientific system, it creates boundaries which make any science-historical commitment by non-historians subject to the suspicion of being amateur work, thus making it risky to defend oneself against system-immanent oblivion effects. However, such an effect supports those non-scientific determinants which have an interest in affirmative behaviour and diligent aspirations to progress.


Also, here the similarity to Freud’s concept of the cover memory is obvious – only that now it is about social and no longer about psychic processes.


The interpretative art of translating is easily confronted with the expectation of being capable of a meaning-identical transfer, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the institutional range of language. Accordingly, Parson’s translation of Weber’s “stahlhartes Gehäuse” as “iron cage” is of course a non-identical and consequential distortion (see Baehr, 2002) – however, any judgement on the consequences seems to be difficult. For this, Jan and Aleida Assmann (1983, p. 279) introduce a differentiation: in the field of canonised knowledge, any written storage may reduce the openness towards interpretation. As soon as the forms allow for another, new meaning, however, in the course of the hermeneutic process also the meaning is readjusted – and thus the original meaning is forgotten.


The transfer as well as the use of social-scientific knowledge has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. A thorough analysis of the thus resulting problems is to be found in Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Jeffrey G. Reitz (1975). A certain degree of skepticism, indicating the forgetting of original meanings, may also be stated for the German debate, such as in the context of the DFG priority programme on the use of social-scientific knowledge (Beck & Bonß, 1989).


After the fabrication scandal he was responsible for, Korean clone researcher Hwang reappeared comparably soon with his research – which was now honest according to what he claimed. However, it seems to be his problem that without fabrications it is not possible to realise such successful, widely visible research. It is remarkable, however, that perhaps it depends on the respective national research culture or on the resources available to the researcher how soon one might be ready to forget previous violations. If sanctioning comes along with degradation or the withdrawal of resources, also oblivion in the sense of rehabilitation, which is a less clearly delimited variant of amnestic oblivion, will be slowed down – on the case and the debate around it see the elaborations by Alexander Bogner and Wolfgang Menz (2006) which aim at an ethicalisation of science.


Also, these are effects which, in the context of the theory of reflective modernisation, have been comprehensively analysed and described.


The three kinds of uncitedness described by Garfield may be completed by another one, where the problem of systematic recognition deficits is taken somewhat more seriously. Elsewhere, Garfield (1972) demands a particular catalogisation of academic examination papers which are less perceived but may still present fruitful ideas and hints for research. It seems as if in the early 1970s Garfield could not imagine that the problem he raised, that of a kind of uncitedness resulting from a genre which right from the beginning had a bad reputation, could be solved by the practice of cumulative examination papers – quite in the sense of bibliometrics focussing on the genre of the scientific essay. However, even from this approach there concludes the strategy to better hand in examination papers of the cumulative kind. Vice versa, as a consequence we may then forget about studies which did not succeed with achieving the demanded number of reviewed journal essays. Accordingly, Garfield plays down also Merton’s obliteration phenomenon – i. e. if wondering why one’s own ideas are not quoted, one may as well imagine that obviously they already belong to the matter-of-course and sedimented canon. Thus, being forgotten may indicate great success: “Obliteration – perhaps even more than an astronomical citation rate – is one of the highest compliments the community of scientists can pay to the author. So, if Archimedes were alive today, he could take comfort in the fact that his primordial paper on pi had been obliterated” (Garfield, 1975, p. 398).


In the social sciences and the humanities, the practice of publishing in the context of commemorative publications, compilations and conference proceedings is criticised, as these are said to be “burial fields for articles” whose contents are much less likely to be published than essays in reviewed journals. In how far this is really a kind of storage oblivion of manuscripts which otherwise are difficult to publish or if these are incoherent compilations serving for making lists of publications longer cannot be decided here.


On this see Oliver Dimbath (2010). The example of Garfield allows for the suspicion that in the course of time Garfield the information scientist changed into Garfield the information entrepeneur. However, it is not possible to be satisfied with stating a “both-and”, as sales arguments and placations are used to dissipate scientific doubts. Basically, the here stated development of a new kind of wanting-to-forget would be exogenously caused – even if the scenes are located within the sciences (endogenous).


Behind this there hides the question about a culture of wanting-to-forget which is different from discipline to discipline. In view of sociology in the German-speaking countries, the question may be raised of what with theorizing causes this strong obligation to “classical” authors. It seems as if the cultures of other disciplines are much less obliged to their classics, and sociology, of all, which considers itself a science of modernity, seems to submit in this respect to a particularly persistent remembrance imperative – while at the same time forgetting about other positions which might be as relevant for the respective problem.


Accordingly, it can be observed, for example, that the online encyclopedia wikipedia was initially kept away, by way of citation bans, from academic teaching, for having a reputation of being dubious. At the same time, however, the process can be observed that renowned encyclopedia publishers stop publishing printed editions – not least by referring to the success of freely available online encyclopedias (see the stop of the Encyclopedia Britannica). Furthermore, it becomes obvious that although collaboratively created Internet encyclopedias experience fabrication scandals, on the whole they prove to be reliable compilations of information. If now one states that due to the principles of their organisation the new information media are not much less reliable than the traditional ones, the initial rejection becomes reduced to the power relations between different generations of scientists.


Similar things may always be assumed if authors point out to a “forgotten” position, theory or school. This holds for ethno-methodology (see Langenohl, 2009) but also in view of psychoanalysis in academic psychology or for critical theory.


The differentiation of the functional concept refers to Merton’s (1968) critique and specification of sociological functionalism.


On this see the works by Michèle Lamont (2009).


One starting point for the investigation of practices by way of which scientific misperformances – after having become obvious – are levelled once again is provided by Goffman (1952; 1963), whose considerations on the interaction order may also be read in view of the aspect of order. In his works on the reconstruction of the damaged self he compiles strategies allowing for saving face or for restoring the “lost face” for oneself or for others. In the realm of scientific activity and perhaps also at the level of the cultures of individual disciplines this kind of interactive amnesty will look differently – all in all, however, it is about a reduction of relevance and thus about the preparation of oblivion processes. One example of the adaption of Goffman’s ideas in science research is to be found by the analysis of peer review procedures by Michèle Lamont (2009).


Such a development becomes obvious in the course of the Bologna reform process at German universities, if courses are supposed to be oriented in an interdisciplinary or topical way or at application or problems. One consequence may be that graduates from these courses may no longer develop any discipline-cultural identity of their subject, which again influences the perpetuation of the knowledge structures of the cultures of these disciplines.


In ancient civilsations, kinds of scientific knowledge are not compatably institutionlised – however, also changing between the freedom and unfreedom of “intellect” can be described by long cycles or waves.


We are going to be silent about ourselves.


It is remarkable that this problem has been raised by sociology, of all – one possible explanation why hints at this kind of making-forget came neither from a natural-sciences point of view nor e. g. from that of the classical humanities is provided by Wolf Lepenies (1988) in the context of his thesis of sociology oscillating between literature and science.


First of all he refers to scientists not joining in with this change paradigm and who are thus marginalised (see Kuhn, 1962).


It cannot be doubted that such a practice may be dysfunctional and may result in mismanagement. This could be practically prevented only by way of sufficiently supporting all perspectives – a utopia without excellency competitions and tendering processes. This means saying good-bye to selectivity by way of success.


Science scandals of his kind seem to be repeated periodically and with minor variations. In the 1990s there happened massive forgeries in the field of medical cancer research, in 2004 the forgeries of physicist Jan Hendrik Schön, who had been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize, became known, and in 2010 a number of plagiarised doctoral theses by German politicians were revealed which, among others, finally resulted in Defence Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg resigning from office.


Indications are the discrediting of psychoanalysis by modern psychology as well as the pushing away of so-called alternative medicine by academic medicine, the rejection of classical biology by molecular biology etc.

  • Collapse
  • Expand


Forgetting and Forgetfulness in Modern Science