[Ants and aliens. An episode in the history of entomological and sociological construction of knowledge]

Ber Wiss. 2011 Sep;34(3):242-62. doi: 10.1002/bewi.201101463.
[Article in German]


The frequent use of biological metaphors in descriptions of society is well known and has already been investigated. Even the traces of biological theory in sociology have been explored. In this field of science, studies of social insects play an important role, because ants, bees, and termites have been considered to be genuinely political animals and founders of societies. Like men, social insects exist only in collectives; thus, the entomologist's research directs him from the individual insect, its morphology and taxonomy to the analysis of insect societies. Entomologists like Wheeler or Wilson become sociologists and develop methods to deal with a society whose members are dumb, soulless, without reason, rational choice, or motives. Tools invented to describe the evolution of insect societies have been picked up by sociological founders of systems theory like Parsons or Luhmann, who were busy building a theory of a society, which for heuristic reasons is not composed of men (individuals with souls, motives, consciousness and so on) but rather of communications, media, or codes. My paper treats 1.) the genealogy of this discursive mixture of problems, methods, and focuses on 2.) the rhetorical dimension of this entomological-sociological passage. I will sketch certain 'evident' pictures of society, which function as media of a subliminal crossing of entomological and sociological premises, models, and assumptions. Both can be found in novels like Wilson's Anthill, which this paper analyzes with respect to the concepts of society implied by them, that is, concepts whose blueprints are based on models of an ant society.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / history*
  • Entomology / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Internationality / history*
  • Metaphor*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Sociology / history*
  • Systems Theory*