We and our fellows regularly comment on research results and research practices at universities as well as societal challenges from a public point of view via our blog.
The value of Science Watch
Social Science Works discusses and researches academic research, education and practices. Many imperative questions need to be asked:
What kinds of social research is conducted and educated at universities? What are its ontological, epistemological and ethical assumptions? What kind of knowledge do the involved scholars hope to acquire? What is the significance and relevance of this research and knowledge, also from a societal perspective? What kind of education is offered to students, what are its underlying assumptions and what are its possible shortcomings? How are scholars disciplined within disciplines and paradigms and how do paradigms survive, also when serious doubts have been developed about their tenability or relevance? What are the characteristics of successful contributions or interventions of social and political science and philosophy in the public discourse and the public decision-making processes?
In the last 15 years, within the social and political sciences more and more doubts have developed on the prevailing search for objective, causal regularities and universal theories. This highly expensive but largely fruitless search is almost universally imposed on academic scholars. The social sciences persist in imitating the natural sciences at the cost of public relevance. According to a growing number of critics, social and political scholars should instead develop empirically-grounded normative arguments aimed at improving the deliberations in the public sphere about the futures of our societies (see our position paper: The Academic Background of Social Science Works)
We strive to bring together what erroneously has become more and more separated: social and political philosophy on the one hand, and social and political science on the other hand. This has often led to philosophies without empirical support and empirical relevance and to sciences ignorant of fundamental social and political questions and issues, as well as ignorant of their own assumptions. Related to this, we advocate more problem-driven and less theory or method-driven research as has become common in social and political science and philosophy. Consequently, we search for what Charles Lindblom and David Cohen (1979) called “Usable Knowledge”.
Social Science Works thus takes the severe criticism that has developed within political science and sociology on the current research and education practices serious. Critics consider these practices to be based on untenable assumptions on what a social and political science could and should be. The results are disciplines that are scholastic, over-professionalized, hyper-fragmented, and overly oriented towards methods or theories. As a consequence, they are mostly irrelevant for all those wrestling with concrete societal problems.
Social scholars should help to counter the ‘impairment’ (Lindblom 1990) of which everybody and every culture is a victim, an impairment that blinds for alternative views, ideas, values, goals and definitions of “problems”. By questioning accepted ideas and views and by suggesting alternatives social scholars contribute to a competition of ideas. By furthering civil society in this way they could be a vital liberating and humanizing force, also giving counterweight to unguided processes of rationalization.
In addition, Social Science Works takes the proliferation of policies in more and more spheres of life serious that are informed or justified by research. Because of this last development much more social and political relevant research is needed than modern political science and sociology is able and willing to provide.
University based scholars hardly ever do research on their own scholarly activities. Considering the widespread uneasiness about the ways the social sciences have developed, and the seemingly impossibility to change the course the social sciences have taken, this kind of research nevertheless seems to be more and more required. Since disciplines are seldom in the best position to critically evaluate their own discipline, the needed research can be more productively conducted by an institute not dependent on the approval of peers and the funding of peer group dominated academic foundations.