Reframing the Debate
Brian Caterino and Sanford F. Schram
In 2001, Bent Flyvbjerg published Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again (Flyvbjerg 2001). This book posed a unique challenge to the social sciences: to rethink the type of research they are best equipped to produce. Flyvbjerg, like others before him, called for the social sciences to reject pretensions that they could emulate the natural sciences. Given their unique subject matter, the social sciences would inevitably fail to follow the natural sciences in providing general causal explanations for why people do what they do. Instead, the social sciences were better equipped to help inform practical reason or phronesis, that is, the ability to make intelligent decisions in particular circumstances.
What is outstanding about Flyvbjerg's challenge is not the call to do social science that matters to real people in particular circumstances but the way he approached this familiar challenge by simultaneously doing two very disparate things that are rarely brought together. Flyvbjerg's book bridged theory and practice in a way that united philosophical and empirical subdivisions in the discipline. He thereby simultaneously provided a strong theoretical foundation for his vision of a politically relevant social science and illuminated his position with concrete examples from his own empirical research. He did all this in a way that demonstrated how research could engage political decision making so as to enhance democracy. Therefore, what was unique about Flyvbjerg's call for a renewed social science was the way that Flyvbjerg transgressed disciplinary boundaries to make a more compelling call for a social science that people could