Science and Social Science: An Introduction

By Malcolm Williams | Go to book overview

Introduction

Science and social science have been uneasy bedfellows. Investigators of the social world are divided between those who are convinced that what they do is science, those who are convinced it is not (and do not call themselves scientists) and those who are uncertain. My own position is sympathetic to the first group in that I believe that scientific social science is both possible and desirable. But that does not make me uncritical of science generally, or of social science that claims such credentials. The orientation of this book is, then, critically pro-science.

This book is an introduction to science and social science and is such in two senses:

It is an introduction to some of the key issues that divide advocates of science in social science from those who oppose it. Mainly, however, it is an introduction to science for those concerned with investigating the social world as students or professionals, as theorists or researchers. This does, however, beg the question of why such people would want to know about science?

My answer to this is twofold. First, it is because the status of social science is so contested it is important to know what science is in the first place. Only then can an informed view be taken. Historically I do not think this has been the case for most students of social science. Their experience has so often been an exposure to science and scientific method in the form of an uncomfortable mix of critical reflection on philosophical issues in science and science taken neat in the form of statistics. The two rarely connect and mixed messages and confusion ensue. Moreover, for many, the social sciences have been a haven from (in George Steiner’s words) ‘the murderous gadgetry of the age’ (Steiner 1989: 49), or at least from the machismo of mathematics and the laboratory. So many enter social science because they are critical of the social order and part of that social order is science and its emergent technology. This may, or may not, be combined with a distaste for the supposed intellectual certainties purveyed by science. In other words so many social scientists begin as ideological or intellectual rebels. Science, as understood in this way, is not an obvious destination. In this book I want to present an opposite view:

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Science and Social Science: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Where Did Science Come From? 8
  • Suggested Further Reading 27
  • 2 - Science and Its Method 28
  • Suggested Further Reading 48
  • 3 - Social Science as Science 49
  • Suggested Further Reading 69
  • 4 - Against Science 70
  • Suggested Further Reading 86
  • 5 - Against Science in Social Science 87
  • Suggested Further Reading 103
  • 6 - Science, Objectivity and Ethics 104
  • Suggested Further Reading 121
  • 7 - New Science and New Social Science 122
  • Suggested Further Reading 141
  • 8 - Conclusion: The Science of Social Science 142
  • Glossary 150
  • References 154
  • Name Index 168
  • Subject Index 172
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