How to Think about Social Problems: American Pragmatism and the Idea of Planning

How to Think about Social Problems: American Pragmatism and the Idea of Planning

How to Think about Social Problems: American Pragmatism and the Idea of Planning

How to Think about Social Problems: American Pragmatism and the Idea of Planning

Synopsis

This thoughtful study has a two-fold purpose. The first is to examine the close relationship between the philosophy of American pragmatism and the idea of planning, and the second is to explore how to approach or think about recalcitrant social problems. Contemporary society's primary response to the issue of social problems is to turn to professional expertise. No sooner is a problem identified than a profession emerges to claim it. But intractable social problems, such as poverty or racism, show the limits of professional social inquiry. Is it the method of inquiry that is at fault, or does the failure lie in a simplistic and narrow view of reason? In exploring these questions, the author turns to the pragmatic philosophy of Charles Pierce and John Dewey to develop a coherent approach to such problems. She concludes that the lasting and meaningful changes needed to address the major problems we face today call for the cultivation of a culture of democratic planning that values inclusive communities, social and environmental justice, and public, practical knowledge.

Excerpt

I pursue two arguments in this book: how to approach or think about recalcitrant social problems, and the close relationship between the philosophy of American pragmatism and the idea of planning. Professional expertise is contemporary society's primary response to the issue of how to think about social problems. No sooner do we identify a problem than a profession emerges to claim it. But recalcitrant problems, such as poverty or racism, show the limits of professional social inquiry. Is it the method of inquiry, which in the planning and policy professions I take to be the rational model of planning or analysis, that is at fault? Is it rationality itself that fails us in the face of such obstinate problems? Or does the failure lie in a simplistic and narrow view of reason? Is the problem the mismatch between the situations we experience in all their complexity, vagueness, uncertainty, and turbulence, and the narrow disciplinarian approaches we hold in academia and the professions?

In my exploration of these issues, I turn to the pragmatic philosophy of Charles Peirce and John Dewey to develop a coherent framework to approach such problems. Pragmatic philosophy, I argue, unfolds a hermeneutic circle of experienced world, inquiry, democratic process, and community that is the key to addressing intractable social problems. These problems will not yield to a new paradigm or to social revolutions. New conceptualizations of problems, if left in the hands of professional expertise, will become other tools for social manipulation. Social revolutions, if they ignore the requirements of inquiry and democratic process, will see their efforts turn into fascist nightmares. The lasting and meaningful changes needed to address the major problems we face in the world today call for the cultivation of a culture of democratic planning that values inclusive communities, social and environmental justice, and public, practical knowledge. This is precisely the heritage of pragmatic philosophy.

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