The A.SK Social Science Award

of the Social Science Research Center Berlin

in the Context of Scholarship



August 2007


Angela and Shu Kai Chan endowed the prize in 2007. It will be awarded every two years by the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). The donors tied the selection of the award winners to the mission of the A.SK Academic Foundation, which is explained most extensively in Shu Kai Chan’s book Social Capitalism.[1] The prize seeks to encourage ideas for radical economic and political system reform. Reforms which are necessary to respond to the profound challenges that make existing systems like industrial capitalism or state communism long obsolete. The donors see the radicalism of reform ideas that the prize wishes to support embedded in a threefold context of scholarship. This radicalism can be substantiated in idealistic perspectives of economic development, scientific theory, and universal history.

            The foundation mission, in its analysis of economic development, is based on the assumption of an upheaval in economic and social living conditions, which far surpasses the caesura of the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, necessitating new economic and political institutions. The post-industrial era with its production methods, characterized by escalating reliance of science and the worldwide interlinkage of markets, demands radical reorganization of industrial societies because they are no longer adequate to meet the new challenges. Chan’s analysis is reflected in the new economic paradigm, developed especially by Douglass C. North, one of the founders of New Institutional Economics.[2] The 1993 Nobel Prize winner emphasizes this new epochal caesure as the “Second Economic Revolution” and is linking far-reaching consequences for the adaption of economy and society to it. The extensive economic theory and economic political instrument that the New Institutional Economics infers, is suitable to identify such reforms which do justice to this upheaval. Shu Kai Chan was able to study the fundamentals of this institutional revolution when he studied political economy in Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, Frankfurt am Main, and Marburg in the 1930s. The debate surrounding the reform of economic liberalism that dominated the German academic scene of the time and which created concepts like ordo liberalism and social market economy, did not leave him unaffected.[3] They significantly influenced his thinking and activities since then and are also reflected in his Social Capitalism, which he began to write in the early 1940s during his time as lecturer at University of Chunking.

            The main idea of the A.SK Social Science Award is also grounded in a context of scientific theory. Due to the groundbreaking work of Ludwik Fleck[4] and Thomas S. Kuhn[5] we know more about the sociological context of the development of science. Accordingly, the cycle of “normal science” in academic thinking spans from the “crisis of the paradigm” via a revolutionary paradigmatic shift to a new “normal science” whose premise will be again vehemently defended. This model underscores the persistence of scientific thinking that significant efforts require their breaking up. From Chan’s point of view, research in the fields of economics and politics is presently – to put it in Kuhn’s words – “in a period of pronounced professional insecurity”[6]. Awarding the A.SK Social Science Award can, therefore, contribute to a breakthrough to a new, more realistic “normal science.”

            What is most important for the donors are the consequences of a universal history ‘law’ that links the past thousand years of progress of human society to the rhythm of revolutionary upheavals and thus renewed the fundamentals of global society as well. In his epochal study “Out of Revolution”, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy voiced this principle most prominently. The study was published in 1938, during Chan’s period of study.[7] In the great European revolutions – from the Papal Revolution in the 11th and 12th centuries to the Russian Revolution – Rosenstock sees events whose economic and social anatomy brought with them not only a ‘global’ new semantics of economic and political discourse, but rather the world wide dissemination of new production methods and political principles. It is this universal historical and century-spanning analytical background that gives the mission of the A.SK Academic Foundation its unique imprint.         

[1] Shu Kai Chan, Social Capitalism, New York: Vantage, 2002.

[2] Douglass C. North, Structure and Change in Economic History, New York: Norton, 1981; Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, Cambridge: CUP, 1990.

[3] Franz Oppenheimer’s demand for a reform of landownership [“Aufhebung der Bodensperre”] (Großgrundeigentum und soziale Frage, Jena: Fischer 19222) certainly also counts to the excitement of this period of economic liberalism reform, which can also be found in Chan’s reform considerations. See also another characteristic work of Oppenheimer (who was the academic teacher of Ludwig Erhard): Weder Kapitalismus noch Kommunismus [Neither Capitalism nor Communism], Stuttgart 19623.

[4] Ludwik Fleck, Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache. Einführung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollektiv, Basel 1935.

[5] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: UCP, 1962.

[6] Kuhn, Structure, p. 76f.; see also Werner Abelshauser, “Von der Industriellen Revolution zur Neuen Wirtschaft. Der Paradigmenwechsel im wirtschaftlichen Weltbild der Gegenwart,” in Wege der Gesellschaftsgeschichte, Eds. Jürgen Osterhammel, Dieter Langewiesche, Paul Nolte (Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Special issue 22), Göttingen, Vandenhoeck, 2006, pp. 201-218.

[7] Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution. Autobiography of Western Man (1938, 1969), Providence, NJ, Oxford: Berg, 1993. See also the “prequel” of this work: Die europäischen Revolutionen, Volkscharaktere und Staatenbildung, Jena 1931.