Tension Points: Learning to Make Social Science Matter

Critical Policy Studies, Forthcoming

27 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2016

See all articles by Bent Flyvbjerg

Bent Flyvbjerg

University of Oxford - Said Business School

Todd Landman

University of Essex

Sanford Schram

Bryn Mawr College

Date Written: 2016


The phronetic approach to social science as developed in Making Social Science Matter (Flyvbjerg 2001), Making Political Science Matter (Schram and Caterino 2006) and Real Social Science (Flyvbjerg, Landman and Schram 2012) argues for the application of practical wisdom in social science research that emerges from the development of applied expert knowledge. The collection of case studies in Real Social Science revealed a remarkable set of ‘tension points’ across different research projects that are crucial in bringing impact and change that flows from the research itself. From mega-projects to airport expansion, these tension points show extraordinary yet persistent contradictions (e.g. skewed cost-benefit analysis for megaprojects or ‘sustainable aviation’ in the UK) in policy making and practice that are elucidated through the phronetic approach. Conceived as ‘fault lines’, tension points can be ‘broken’ through sustained research that identifies them, problematizes them, and develops new and better practices. This article develops the idea of tension points further, illustrates them with cases studies from Real Social Science and other examples from policy research, and then applies the idea to London 2012, which we see as a global tension point between massive public and private inward investment, false promises, and a biased focus of Olympic ‘legacy.’

Keywords: Future of social science, phronesis, phronetic social science, tension points, contestable knowledge, megaprojects, Olympic Games, London 2012

Suggested Citation

Flyvbjerg, Bent and Landman, Todd and Schram, Sanford, Tension Points: Learning to Make Social Science Matter (2016). Critical Policy Studies, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2721321

Bent Flyvbjerg

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

Todd Landman

University of Essex ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ, CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
441206872129 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.essex.ac.uk/government

Sanford Schram (Contact Author)

Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
United States

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