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The Relevance of Deweyan Inquiry to Teaching Social Science Research Methods

26 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2009 Last revised: 26 Oct 2010

Shane J. Ralston

Pennsylvania State University - Hazleton


In this paper, my goal is to persuade social scientists, and particularly political scientists, that Dewey’s firm commitment to empiricism in the social sciences provides some valuable clues for how to more effectively teach social science research methods. First, I present a fairly orthodox way of teaching social science research methods. Then, attention is drawn to a collection of instances in which commentators have mistaken Dewey’s endorsement of intelligent inquiry in the social sciences for a defense of scientism. I demonstrate that upon closer examination of Dewey’s own writings, empiricism, not scientism, emerges as the central feature of pragmatic social inquiry. Sharing this feature of Deweyan inquiry in the classroom can enhance our students’ understanding and appreciation of the limits and possibilities of doing social science research. Several specific suggestions for teaching research methods emerge from a close reading of Dewey’s works on social and scientific inquiry, Patricia Shields’s essay “Pragmatism as a Philosophy of Science” and James Scott Johnston’s recent book Deweyan Inquiry.

Keywords: John Dewey, research, social science, pedagogy

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Ralston, Shane J., The Relevance of Deweyan Inquiry to Teaching Social Science Research Methods. APSA 2010 Teaching & Learning Conference Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Shane J. Ralston (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University - Hazleton ( email )

University Park
State College, PA 16802
United States

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