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Brief History

Theory of Science

Gothenburg University was the first university in Sweden to create a professorship in Theory of Science (Sw., vetenskapsteori). It was in 1963 when Håkan Törnebohm got a personal chair at the Department of Philosophy. The University College of the City of Gothenburg had gained university status roughly ten years before, and theory of science was to stimulate conceptual and methodological reflection across disciplinary boundaries. It should be noted that the term “vetenskap”, like its counterpart “Wissenschaft” in German is broader than the English notion of “science”, whence “vetenskapsteori” is understood to include meta-theoretical reflection and analysis regarding both sciences and humanities.

Törnebohm studied philosophy for Gunnar Aspelin when the latter was professor of philosophy in Gothenburg (1936-49), and as a young student he also attended Ernst Cassirer’s lectures in the main building of University College in Vasaparken. Aspelin understood philosophy to be the study of the preconditions and working methods of science (in the broad sense). Consequently intimate contact with the history of ideas and science was emphasized. After a major term paper on Hobbe’s philosophy, advanced studies in the natural sciences at Uppsala, a time at the University of Southern California and participation in Hans Reichenbach’s seminar at neighbouring UCLA, Törnebohm completed a remarkable doctoral dissertation that provides a logical analysis of Einstein’s theory of relativity (presented in Lund 1952, for Aspelin). Thereafter he got his habilitation and taught in Gothenburg, and then spent six years as the head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Khartoum in Sudan (a state that had just gained independence). In 1963 he was called back to his hometown Gothenburg with a personal chair.

As leader of a lively interdisciplinary seminar he soon emphasized the new discipline’s orientation towards empirical studies of research (as a process) and science (as fields of knowledge). In the beginning (until Umeå University also got a chair in theory of science – 1970) the discipline lacked an undergraduate curriculum of its own. One entered studies at the graduate level and could work towards a Licentiate or Doctoral degree. The accent was on research, together with a service function vis a vis other disciplines. Apart from physics and theory of confirmation the focus was on what at that time was called “science of science”, plus critique of positivism and logical empiricism, an endeavor that involved inquiry into paradigms in various fields, and opened for studies in continental European schools of philosophy of science and learning like hermeneutics and critical theory. Altogether it meant a turn away from analytical philosophy, a move that triggered academic tensions. The Swedish philosophical elite’s denunciation of Gerard Radnitzky’s thesis, Continental Schools of Metascience (1968) signaled an open conflict. The conflict engendered both a theoretical clash and practical disagreement regarding the direction the new discipline was taking and the possibility of its independent existence outside the dominant philosophical school of thought in this country. The conflict intensified when some philosophers in 1970 tried to have Radnitzky removed from the senior research fellowship he got after his doctorate. Törnebohm for his part did not want to restrict his field to logical analysis or as a subdivision under philosophy. The alternative was total separation from the mother discipline. Consequently theory of science became an independent division in 1970 and was finally accorded the status of a university department in its own right in 1978.

When the chair was made permanent and after Aant Elzinga was installed as the next professor (1986-2002) interplay was further developed with what internationally in the wake of Thomas Kuhn’s works became known as science and technology studies (STS – sometimes also spelled out as Science, Technology and Society). The present professor responsible for the discipline is Margareta Hallberg who continues to facilitate the combination of epistemology and empiricial studies. The fruits of empirical case and fields studies involving both conceptual analysis and meta-theoretical investigations may be seen in the many doctoral dissertations completed over the past four decades. In 2001 the two disciplines theory of science and history of ideas and science were administratively joined in a single department that in turn was dissolved in January 2009. In the new configuration that has emerged the theory of science and research now resides administratively together with philosophy and linguistics.


General Linguistics at Gothenburg University started in 1967 as a sub-department of the English Department on the initiative of Prof. Alvar Ellegård, who was inspired by Chomsky's theories of language and who invited visiting lecturers, such as Paul Kiparsky and James McCawley. Around that time, two intellectually active and diligent young men, Östen Dahl and Jens Allwood, met in the coffee room in the Slavic Department and discussed general linguistic topics. As a result, after a period in the Slavic department, in 1972, the newly born General Linguistics Department had a few rooms of its own on Erik Dahlbergsgatan 11 and gave courses to hundreds of students in cooperation with Sture Allén and the 'Språkdata' Department. Östen Dahl headed the young Linguistics department.

The same year, Östen Dahl, Jens Allwood and Lars-Gunnar Andersson wrote the worldwide celebrated textbook called Logic in Linguistics which has been translated into many languages and is reprinted to this day.

In 1986, GU's General Linguistics got its first Professor, Jens Allwood. In the period between 1985 and 1995 the Linguistics Department developed as an inspiring and exciting forum for interdisciplinary study of language and communication. Many students were attracted by the broad menu of exciting courses offered by the department such as semantics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics, morphology, pedagogy of language, phonetics, many ways of doing syntax, child language acquisition, Montague semantics, logic and philosophy of language, etc. Research projects on anthropological linguistics, dialogue analysis, corpus linguistics, aphasia, child language, etc. engaged many new and future scholars, such as Sven Strömqvist, Richard Hirsch, Elisabeth Ahlsén, Sören Sjöström, Anders Eriksson, Joakim Nivre, Mats Dahllöf, Åsa Abelin etc. Insightful and delightful summer schools were organized on topics, such as psycholinguistics, language pedagogy and artificial intelligence.
During one of these linguistic summer courses (artificial intelligence in Mullsjö, 1982) the idea of a special program on computational linguistics was born. In fact, the first educational program in Computational Linguistics in Sweden was started in 1984 as a result of cooperation between the GU's department of Linguistics, dept. of Computer Science and Språkdata. In 1994, Computational Linguistics got its first Professor, Robin Cooper.
Elisabeth Alhsen developed a successful branch of research and education in speech and language disorders and in 1997 she became the first Swedish Professor in Neurolinguistics. In 2006 she published a textbook on neurolinguistics, which is already used worldwide.

Between 1967 and 2007 General Linguistics at GU produced about 30 PhDs, published more than 400 articles, developed at least 100 courses, finished more than 100 research projects, held weekly seminars, hosted international conferences on diverse linguistic topics, developed language and communication teaching and research material used worldwide, including the most influential online Journal on Intercultural Communication.

Page Manager: Monica Havström|Last update: 9/7/2012

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