This is a book about the self-understanding of social science from the perspective of the end of the twentieth century. It offers both undergraduate and postgraduate students in the social sciences an overview of the principal philosophical debates on the methodology of the social sciences, beginning with the positivist dispute, and at the same time tries to say something about social science as an institution in modern society. It is impossible to do justice to the full range of issues that this involves in a book of this size, which has in fact been written as an introduction to a larger and more ambitious work. I hope, however, that this book will not only be an accurate and concise overview of the most important debates, but will also provide a contemporary perspective, and that it will therefore make an original contribution to debates on the social construction of knowledge and its public utility.
I have suggested that the contemporary perspective relates to the question of the public role of social science. The relationship of social science as a professional culture to the public culture of debate on society is one of the central issues facing social science today. Since the creation of permanent structures of knowledge that accompanied the rise of the modern state, the principal challenge for social science was its professional institutionalization in the university system. This goal has now been achieved and, indeed, many of the problems facing social science today relate to the fragmentation of knowledge that has arisen as a result of its being made professional and academic. The challenge facing the social sciences in the twenty-first century is therefore quite different: it is a question of the public legitimation of science. If social science is unable to meet this challenge, it will enter a crisis as far-reaching as