This book is based on lectures originally conceived by one of the authors (Hans Joas) for a visiting professorship at the University of Chicago in 1985 and which he has held regularly since then. The first attendees, towards the end of the 1980s, were students at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, followed, for more than a decade, by students at the Free University of Berlin, along with their counterparts at various American and European universities during certain semesters. The younger of the two authors (Wolfgang Knöbl) contributed to the planning and constant improvement of these lectures at various stages of his academic career: as a student in Erlangen, as junior and assistant lecturer in Berlin and New York, and subsequently as a colleague at the University of Göttingen.
It goes without saying that the precise character of this lecture series has changed considerably over the course of time – not only because of the obvious necessity of keeping them constantly up to date, but also in response to students' needs and the imperative of clearing up points they struggled to understand; the authors' own ongoing theoretical projects have also had an important impact. We have now reached a point at which we feel confident enough in our basic approach and in the validity of our overview to sally forth from the lecture theatre and present our ideas to the reading public. We hope our survey will satisfy the needs of both students in the social sciences and those of non-specialist readers keen to understand international developments in the field of social theory since around the end of the Second World War.