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Applying social science

Applying social science: The role of social research in politics, policy and practice

David Byrne
Copyright Date: 2011
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  • Book Info
    Applying social science
    Book Description:

    In complex contemporary societies social science has become increasingly interwoven into the whole fabric of governance. At the same time there is an increasing recognition that attempts to understand the social world which seek to mimic the linear approaches of the conventional 'hard sciences' are mostly useless given the complex systems character of society in all its aspects. This book draws on a synthesis of critical realism and complexity theory to examine how social science is applied now and how it might be applied in the future in relation to social transformation in a time of crisis. A central argument is that there is no such thing as a 'pure' science of the social and that a recognition of the inevitability of application imposes obligations on social scientists wherever they work which challenge the passivity of most in the face of inequality and injustice.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-452-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book is entitledApplying Social Scienceand that is exactly what it is about. But what does this expression actually mean? A good approach to disentangling the meaning of a phrase is to look carefully at the meaning of the particular words that make it up and then see how they actually work when brought together. Two sources for establishing meaning are theOxford English Dictionary Online(OED) andWikipedia. I make no apology for using the latter, despite its own wise warnings to students about the dangers of using ‘tertiary’ sources in the presentation of work. If what...

  5. ONE The methodological foundations of applied social science
    (pp. 19-40)

    When we do research we do it in relation to the world and we have to engage with the nature of the world and how we can know it. In other words we work with what Crotty calls a theoretical perspective, although others use the term ‘meta-theory’ to mean the same thing. That theoretical perspective must include an ontology, that is a worked out understanding of what the world is. Crotty rejects the use of ontology in this way (1998, p 10) but here we are following Blaikie, who asserts that ontological assumptions constitute: ‘ways of answering the question’:


  6. TWO Constructing evidence: the development of knowledge which is to be applied
    (pp. 41-60)

    Why are social scientists interested in evidence? Because:

    we believe that the ways in which research is combined with other forms of evidence and knowledge could have important impacts on the nature, distribution, effectiveness, efficiency and quality of public services. Indeed we would go further to assert that it is reasonable to suppose that more deliberative and judicious engagement with high quality research may be sufficiently advantageous to be an important goal of public service reform. (Nutley et al, 2007, p 2)

    In other words most of us subscribe to the old progressive liberal world view that we are here...

  7. THREE Surveying the social world: assembling knowledge as a basis for action
    (pp. 61-78)

    The word ‘survey’ considered both as a noun and as a verb has its origins in the interrelationships between the natural and social uses of the natural. Its earliest usages are related to the laying out of land for agricultural purposes but it has been extended into the description of character of both the built environment as a whole and elements of that built environment.¹ One component here is the making of maps – of descriptions of the world as it is. Here let us consider that branch of the making not only of maps but also of charts of...

  8. FOUR Evaluating: determining the worth of social interventions
    (pp. 79-98)

    Evaluating is the gerund of the noun ‘evaluation’. TheOxford English Dictionarygives three meanings for that word. The second with first usage dated to the late 18th century is to do with estimating or establishing the magnitude of any general quantity, but particularly scientific and engineering quantities. The third with a first usage in the 1960s is precisely about the subject matter of this chapter: the study of methods of evaluating the impact of social interventions. The first, and now largely obsolete, meaning makes ‘evaluation’ an exact synonym of ‘valuation’ and has to do with saying what something is...

  9. FIVE Legitimating: the selective use of social science in justifying policy and practice
    (pp. 99-120)

    This chapter is about the way in which governments and other large institutional actors in post-democracies use social science for the purpose of justification. If politics is no longer about ideological distinction or even competing material interests – because, as Crouch (2000) tells us, the most major political parties endorse the business interests of dominant forces in market capitalism, so there is no competition – then claims for electoral victory have to be based on something else. One such basis is ‘character’ – a risible and much reduced version of what Max Weber understood when he wrote about charismatic authority....

  10. SIX Consulting: the role of social research in relation to new modes of governance
    (pp. 121-138)

    Arnstein (1969) proposed, explicitly as a heuristic device, the idea of a ladder of participation:

    The bottom rungs of the ladder are (1) Manipulation and (2) Therapy. These two rungs describe levels of ‘nonparticipation’ that have been contrived by some to substitute for genuine participation. Their real objective is not to enable people to participate in planning or conducting programs, but to enable powerholders to ‘educate’ or ‘cure’ the participants. Rungs 3 and 4 progress to levels of ‘tokenism’ that allow the have-nots to hear and to have a voice: (3) Informing and (4) Consultation. When they are proffered by...

  11. SEVEN Modelling: representing the world in order to understand how it works
    (pp. 139-154)

    So models are representations of the world but are necessarily simplified. Something has to be left out. Bradley and Schaefer put it like this: ‘Modeling is the process offormalizingour framework for understanding the world around us byabstractingfrom a reality that is otherwise too complex for us to understand. In fact modeling is the central intellectual method that characterizes most empirical and mathematical approaches to the social sciences’ (1998, p 23, original emphasis).

    Immediately we have to identify a problem. If we are dealing with social reality composed of complex systems can we ever model by simplifying?...

  12. EIGHT Acting
    (pp. 155-174)

    The OED defines action research in terms of objective – it is not about contemplative understanding of the social world but rather is about changing it. That is to say, it fits the specification Marx made in Thesis XI on Feuerbach – the point is not merely description but transformation. If we think of research as intimately associated with transformative action then we have to develop a radically different methodological frame of reference and a set of research approaches which fit with that frame of reference. Unlike the experimenter we are not abstracting from the world in order to establish...

  13. NINE The academy and beyond: applied social research in the real world
    (pp. 175-194)

    The Gulbenkian Commission Report on the Future of the Social Sciences,Open the social sciences(1996), reviewed the historical development of the social sciences as a component of the modern academy with the intention of seeing where they had come from as a foundation for seeing where they might be going. One crucial aspect of this review was the identification of disciplinary divisions within the social sciences as both relatively recent and to some considerable degree both contingent and artifactual. None of the social science ‘pure’ disciplines – sociology, psychology, economics, anthropology, and more fuzzily, geography – have an independent...

  14. TEN Concluding
    (pp. 195-208)

    Applied social research is political. In the light of what has gone before in this book that seems a pretty obvious statement but here I want to spell out exactly what it means. To say applied social research is political is to say:

    (1) that in complex advanced ‘post-democratic’ societies, applied social research is part of the whole political process because it:

    (a) is part of the administrative processes of governance as a whole since it provides crucial learning feedback into all governance systems in relation both to:

    (i) accounts of the actual nature and trajectories of all aspects of...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-234)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)