Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method

By Sanford F. Schram; Brian Caterino | Go to book overview

6
Social Science in Society

Theodore Schatzki

The observation is a familiar one: out of the desires to count as science and to garner the prestige and support enjoyed by science, social inquiry has long sought to emulate the latter's methods, aims, and theories. It has not, however, come close to matching the predictive, explanatory, and control successes of the natural sciences. For decades, investigators and commentators have divided on how to explain or react to this failure. Standard responses include the claim that the social sciences are at a less mature stage on the road to objectivity and truth and the thesis that differences in the subject matters of the social and natural disciplines underlie a fundamental cleavage in their character, methods, and aims. Concerned with the intellectual and public standing of the social sciences in the wake of the “science wars” and the Sokal affair, Bent Flyvbjerg (2001) defends a more consequential reaction: these disciplines should cease understanding themselves primarily as a form of general knowledge and, instead, think of themselves as working toward the realization of the good society. Although this self-conception does not proscribe the pursuit of general or theoretical knowledge, in prioritizing successful praxis it frees social investigators to try out diverse methods and epistemologies. Even more important, in orienting social investigation toward the realization of the good society, it promises to save this division of knowledge from the self-inflicted obliteration threatening it from its failed attempt to equal the natural sciences. Flyvbjerg labels this understanding of social inquiry “phronetic social science.”

Defending and fostering phronetic social science requires argumentation on several fronts. A credible explanation for the failures of scientistic social inquiry must be provided. A persuasive account of phronetic inves-

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