Making Social Science Matter
Georgios Papanagnou, ed., Social Science and Policy Challenges: Democracy, Values, and Capacities, Paris: UNESCO Publishing, pp. 25-56
33 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2013
Date Written: October 1, 2012
If we want to empower and re-enchant social scientific research, we need to do three things. First, we must drop all pretence, however indirect, at emulating the success of the natural sciences in producing cumulative and predictive theory, for their approach simply does not work in any of the social sciences. (For the full argument see Flyvbjerg, 2001.) Second, we must address problems that matter to groups in the local, national and global communities in which we live, and we must do it in ways that matter; we must focus on issues of context, values and power, as advocated by great social scientists from Aristotle and Machiavelli to Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Finally, we must effectively and dialogically communicate the results of our research to our fellow citizens, the ‘public’, and carefully listen to their feedback. If we do this – focus on specific values and interests in the context of particular power relations – we may successfully transform social scientific research into an activity performed in public for publics, sometimes to clarify, sometimes to intervene, sometimes to generate new perspectives, and always to serve as eyes and ears in ongoing efforts to understand the present and to deliberate about the future. We may, in short, arrive at social research that matters.
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