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Obituary of Hermann Schwengel (1949 – 2014)

Hermann Schwengel was born in 1949 in the rural area Rahden-Wehe near Minden in North Rhine-Westphalia. From 1971 on, he studied Philosophy, Politics and Education in Konstanz, Marburg and Zurich. In 1979 he received a Doctor of Philosophy for his work on the structural revision of Marxist social theory. In 1979 Schwengel followed his doctorate supervisor Dietmar Kamper to work as his assistant at  Freie Universität in Berlin. He spent two years at City University in New York writing his habilitation dissertation about the dispersing US-American and European paths of Modernization, followed by a research stay at Lancaster University as a Humboldt Fellow. From 1990 to 1993, Schwengel worked at Freie Universität before he eventually took up the professorship for Sociology at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität as successor to  Heinrich Popitz in 1994.

Prof. Schwengel was able to integrate  his philosophical orientation in disputes of grand theory as well as his interest in historical sociology and in cultural sociology into Freiburg’s Institute for Sociology. His views on  political sociology, which centered on  the future of modern societies, greatly contributed to the Institute and  also managed to advance the view of a sociology consisting of global linkages. This became the center of his research and teaching. Schwengel’s objectives were outlined in his programmatic work “Globalization with a European Face” and led to the founding of the interdisciplinary Master program Social Sciences (Global Studies Programme) a few years later. This program with cooperation partners in India, South Africa, Argentina and Bangkok started in 2002 and quickly developed into an award-winning and successful program, contributing significantly to the international visibility of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität.

Schwengel’s sphere of influence was not just limited to the University of Freiburg. The founding and operation of the Global Studies Programme required regular trips to Africa, Asia and Latin America, an undertaking that Schwengel was more than willing to make. In addition to his contributions to the Global Studies Programme, he was a lecturer at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges, a member of the commission for fundamental values of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, a consultant for the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and a member of editorial boards for numerous journals.

A highlight of Schwengel’s career at the Institute for Sociology was the organization of the trinational congress ‘A borderless Society’, which took place in Freiburg in 1998 and brought together German, Austrian and Swiss associations for Sociology. Apart from the leadership at the Institute, he was very active in academic affairs at the University of Freiburg. He served as a member of the senate from 1997 to 1999, as the founding dean of the restructured Philosophical Faculty from 2002 until 2006 and the Vice-Rector for research from 2009 to 2012.

He became severely ill shortly after his retirement in emeritus status at the end of September and passed away on December 7th. The Institute for Sociology, the Philosophical Faculty and Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg has lost a renowned and committed personality, an inspiring academic teacher and a highly esteemed colleague. Hermann Schwengel was both an innovator in his field and an academic professional capable of  implementing ideas. His intellectual acumen and his  optimistic spirit will be truly missed. We at the Institute, will do our utmost to  honor his memory. Our deepest sympathy and condolences go out to his family.

Ulrich Bröckling