Revolutionary Pedagogies: Cultural Politics, Instituting Education, and the Discourse of Theory

By Peter Pericles Trifonas | Go to book overview

THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

A Political Economy of Practice

John Willinsky

The social sciences, no less than literary study or nuclear physics, can often seem divided between those who do research and those who do theory. Those who do empirical research in the social sciences typically imagine that they study real people to answer real questions for real people, while those who do theory are likely to think themselves alone in understanding the reason why researchers believe that. There are, of course, many ways of casting the divide between theory and practice, and yet more than a few of us in the social sciences, having worked both sides of the divide, now realize that the best way may be simply to stop casting it as a division. After all, it is easy enough to establish that theory is itself an effective form of practice and that practice is theory-riddled to its very core.

In an effort to do something more than demonstrate analytical finesse in dissolving conceptual boundaries, however, I take up the theory of practice here with an eye to pursuing the particular politics of theory that can be said to prevail in social science research. I do so as part of a project that would improve the public value of this research, as if the various forms of inquiry had something more to teach and learn, extending beyond the professional interests of social scientists. The revolutionary pedagogy at issue here is not about teaching. It is about learning. It is about the social sciences learning how to turn their accumulating knowledge into a public resource. It is thus about the ends of education, insofar as it is about how this knowledge can better serve the determination of people's lives.

For such purposes, I treat the social sciences as practicing a political economy through which they garner public and private support by deploying a variety of techniques for generating information about social structures and human dynamics. Insofar as the social sciences develop sophisticated techniques for generating and warranting forms of information, they represent an information technology,

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