Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Values: There's No Such Thing as Social Sciences without Them: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Values: There's No Such Thing as Social Sciences without Them: News

Article excerpt

Disciplines must dare to 'speak truth to powerful and powerless', sociologist tells Matthew Reisz.

A leading sociologist has called for a "new public social science" based on the core values needed to address the major challenges of the 21st century.

John Brewer, the former president of the British Sociological Association, is now professor of post-conflict studies at Queen's University Belfast. In his new book, The Public Value of the Social Sciences: An Interpretative Essay, he sets out a vision encompassing teaching, research and civic engagement.

In university teaching, he told Times Higher Education, "we need to move beyond rather insular profession-oriented courses and introduce courses that have breadth rather than depth, that deal with some of the big issues, that bring together teachers from a variety of different disciplines".

Thus, courses on the Global South "cannot just rely on economists", and programmes on climate change "need environmental scientists, biologists and human geographers".

"At the back of all this is my vision for the public responsibility of social science: we're about educating global citizens for the 21st century, not just factory-like graduates with their 2:1s," Professor Brewer said. "It's about inculcating within our students a set of values, an attitude towards others, that realises the public value."

Although he is well aware that many people would like to remove all talk of "values" from the social sciences, Professor Brewer said he sees himself instead in the tradition of 18th-century Scottish moralists such as Adam Smith and David Hume - "the cohort of people who gave us social science in the first place as it grew out of moral philosophy. They did not see any incompatibility between their practice as scientists and their argument that society was based on values."

In the area of research, Professor Brewer said he believes that the "narrow impact agenda" has diverted social scientists "away from realising that the research they do by its very nature has high impact". …

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