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Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521775687
ISBN-10: 052177568X
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a book I have been waiting for for a long time. It opens up entirely new perspectives for social science by showing us that abandoning the aspiration to be like natural science is the beginning of wisdom about what we can and ought to be doing instead. It is a landmark book that deserves the widest possible reading and discussion." Robert Bellah, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at University of California, Berkeley

"[Flyvbjerg] convinces the reader that applied social sciences have a valuable destiny, and that context dependent research is worthwhile...this book provides researchers in the field of urban studies with very useful tools and guidelines for getting involved with case studies and context dependent research." CJUR

"This brilliant contextualization of social inquiry, hinging on both Aristotle and Foucault, gives new meaning to the concept of praxis. It will be of interest to everyone concerned with making democracy work." Ed Soja, School of Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is social science that matters." Pierre Bourdieu, Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and Director of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne

"In seeking to move beyond the science wars, his engaging and thoughtful book provides welcome relief from the polemical arrogence of self-serving protagonists and uncritical analysts." Current Anthropology

"Flyvbjerg, author of Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice, an innovative, fine-grained and civically-engaged study of local power in Denmark, here reflects, in accessible and pleasurable prose, on large, challenging questions: What, fundamentally, makes social science different from natural science? Why is it relatively so poor in producing cumulative and predictive theories? What kinds of knowledge should it seek and with what methods? His answers, drawing on Nietzsche, Foucault, Bourdieu and others, are worth the close attention of those predisposed to reject them out of hand." Steven Lukes, New York University

"Flyvberg clearly demonstrates that there are models more appropriate to the social sciences than those derived from molecular biology, high-energy physics, the mathematical theory of games, and other up-market, hard-fact enterprises. But Flyvberg's suggestive, well-written little book both reviews most of the apparent possibilities and establishes standards (practical and political, ethical and methodological) by which to measure their progress." Science

"Flyvbjerg offers a strong case for his main thesis and, therefore, this work deserves wide and serious attention among social scientists and social policy planners and implementers." Choice

"This book is a thoughtful antidote to the simple views that see social science as a science like any other--positivistic science. It begins with a well-grounded empirical case of the development and application of expert knowledge, then... concludes with some salient observations based on the author's own feedback and research practice." Public Administration Quarterly

Book Description

Making Social Science Matter presents an exciting new approach to social science, including theoretical argument, methodological guidelines, and examples of practical application. Why has social science failed in attempts to emulate natural science and produce normal theory? Bent Flyvbjerg argues that the strength of social science is in its rich, reflexive analysis of values and power, essential to the social and economic development of any society. Richly informed, powerfully argued, and clearly written, this book provides essential reading for all those in the social and behavioural sciences.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052177568X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521775687
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
On the back of this book is a short endorsement: "This is social science that matters." Fairly innocuous, I'm sure you'll agree. Yet it wasn't the quotation that caught my eye: rather the name of the endorser, one M. Pierre Bourdieu. As anyone familiar with his work will know, Bourdieu - currently the world's leading sociologist - does not endorse books, because (he argues) to do so is to play the 'back-slapping' and unmistakeably self-interested game of citations and counter-endorsements which makes or breaks today's academic careers. So why, then, does the ascetically-principled high priest of Sociology deign to break the habit of a lifetime for this unassuming work? The simple answer is: it really is that good. This is the first work of social theory/methodology for a long time which actually made me enthusiastic about the future of the social sciences outside the insulated groves of academia. By re-inventing the Aristotelian concept of "phronesis" - essentially a form of reasoning which is neither scientific (in the sense of following universal rules) nor technical (being something which is simply 'done' without rational reflection), but geared towards the "deliberation of values with reference to praxis" - Flyvbjerg finds a solid ground from which to start fighting back against previously devastating critiques which quite rightly ask questions such as "social science: so what?". Rather than seeking to answer this criticism by producing universal rules along the lines of the natural sciences, he argues, social science should aim to generate "power-conscious" interventions geared towards opening dialogue and generating consensus which will enable society to move forward.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition
Flyvbjerg's genius lies in his ability to tie the past to the future in exploring the relevance of social science. Flyvbjerg starts with the past by using Aristotle's concept of phronesis to connect with the historical value of social science. Social science, the science of human affairs, is uniquely situated to explore phronesis (practical knowledge and ethics). Yet, as Flyvbjerg elegantly describes, social science has fell away from the important concepts of context, experience and intuition. These concepts should be at the core of social science. For too long social science has attempted to imitate the natural sciences in developing context independent explanations and predictions. Flyvbjerg is successful in describing how a social science that no longer attempts to imitate natural science would flourish in the pursuit of phronesis.

Flyvbjerg defends the rational for doing the kind of socially relevant science that I have come to value as a PhD student in occupational science. Flyvbjerg defends my study of social issues, such as health disparities that exist in inner cities, by drawing on Nietzsche, Foucault and Bourdieu in a way that is readable and efficient. He asserts that there is a space for social science to be important, thus the term science that truly matters. By going beyond the attempts to imitate or compete with natural science, social scientists have room to claim their own territory. He essentially leaves the social scientists with a reason to continue believing in the importance of the work they do. He gives social scientists the tools to protect themselves against the attacks of the natural science.

Yet, Flyvbjerg does not merely attempt to defend the current form of social science.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Making Social Science Matter was written in Danish and translated into English, very beautifully, by Steven Sampson. It is a fine addition to sociological theory, and deserves a careful reading. It is a new addition to the venerable tradition set down by Peter Winch, Hubert Dreyfus, Harold Garfinkel, and many others, who claim that the canons of natural science do not apply to understanding human society. Various reasons are given supporting this view, but they all agree with Richard Lewontin (p. 3), who opines that "social science has set itself an impossible task when it attempts to emulate natural science and produce explanatory and predictive, that is, epistemic, theory." Among the prominent reasons are that social theory is inherently value-laden because we are both the subject and the object of study, society is the product of human consciousness, which is self-incomprehensible, and most simply, human society is far too complex to either explain or predict.

Flyvbjerg develops this theme with insight and flair, although he tries to do two other things as well, with less success. The first is to show that the concept of "power" must be central to all social theory. He fails to show this and his treatment of power is quite standard and rather restricted to left-critical and post-modern treatments. The second is to apply his theory of what social science should be to his own life-experience. Here too his treatment is quite mundane and lacking in insight. He would have done better to drop these two themes, and simply refer to the great hermeutic social thinkers, such as Aristotle, St. Thomas Acquinas, J. J. Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, Bernard Mandeville, and Compte de Montesquieu, and the other greats whose works exemplify this approach to social understanding.
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