A central concern of much of recent philosophies of social science is the reopening of the question of the social context of knowledge: the indeterminacy of scientific knowledge can be related to its social context in the emergence of new links between democracy and knowledge. Feminist epistemology, discussed in the previous chapter, challenges many of the presuppositions of social science as a pure cognitive system, as does the sociology of interventionism of Touraine. These approaches point to a deepening of the idea of a critical hermeneutics beyond Habermas and Apel’s reconstructive approach, which failed to see the links between natural and social science, a relationship which now lies at the centre of recent philosophies of science. The conceptualization of social science that is now emerging is one that is pointing in the direction of new links between the natural and social sciences. In this context of central importance are constructivism and complexity (the latter will be considered in the next chapter).
Among the issues that constructivism raises is the question of the extent to which social science offers knowledge of socially constructed realities. In what ways can social science construct public discourse? To what extent is science as a cognitive system part of the social production of knowledge? Can the institutional structure of science be radicalized by democracy? It is on these issues that constructivism and realism diverge, though not to an irreconcilable extent.
Constructivists maintain that social reality is not something outside the discourse of science but is partly constituted by science.