Contesting the Terrain
Flyvbjerg on Facts, Values, Knowledge, and Power
Bent Flyvbjerg's Making Social Science Matter (2001) and some of the reviews and discussion that it has engendered make it clear how difficult it is to envision a new social science. While there is much to admire in this book, it also replays debates and identifies “solutions” that are too familiar and too tainted with failure to offer much hope for a systematic reorientation of the social sciences in general or of political science in particular.
Flyvbjerg's desire to break with the specter of “the unity of science” that has haunted efforts to validate scientific knowledge production for centuries is laudable, but it is remarkably unhelpful to burden that effort with a sterile opposition between the “natural sciences” and the “social sciences,” harking back to the methodenstreiten that tortured Max Weber (1949) into the flawed artifice of the fact/value dichotomy. Flyvbjerg's narrow conception of natural science reinforces the mistaken idea that there is one “scientific method” shared by all the natural sciences, an idea that has been roundly rejected by philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science, as well as by natural scientists themselves (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Latour 1987; Knorr-Cetina 1981; Lynch 1985; Pickering 1992). And it supports the equally problematic notion that the subject under investigation renders a mode of inquiry “scientific” regardless of the questions asked, the methods of analysis deployed, or the nature of the research findings.
That a faulty opposition, pitting the natural sciences against the social sciences, only serves to shore up methodolatry becomes painfully clear in the exchange between David Laitin (2003) and Bent Flyvbjerg (2004a) in