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Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Bent Flyvbjerg

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26. Oktober 2011
Making Social Science Matter presents an exciting new approach to the social and behavioral sciences 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 sciences lies 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 opens up a new future for the social sciences. Its empowering message will make it required reading for students and academics across the social and behavioral sciences.

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'This is social science that matters.' Pierre Bourdieu

'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, University of California, Berkeley

'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

'… suggestive and well written'. Science

'As a practical guide to newcomers to the social sciences, or as a corrective to those who think that more and better 'objective' research will automatically turn social science into a clone of natural science, Bent Flyvbjerg's book is useful.' Harry Collins, The Times Higher Education Supplement

'Flyvbjerg's book re-thinks social science in a fasinating way; a way that demands a debate on how social science endeavours are supported, understood and used by society.' Environmental Politics

'Flyvbjerg's work on phronesis is valuable …'. International Planning Studies

'… this timely and challenging book'. European Journal of Communication

'Flyvbjerg's book is important and I would recommend it to all researchers of urban affairs. Making Social Science Matter is an important milestone in the discussion of how social science research might be undertaken and 'matter'. Flyvbjerg's discussion opens out for debate many of the key issues regarding research with social implications. This book is likely to remain a key reference for some time.' Urban Studies

Über das Produkt

Making Social Science Matter presents an exciting new approach to social and behavioral science, including theoretical argument, methodological guidelines, and practical examples. Bent Flyvbjerg shows why social science fails to emulate natural science. He then identifies the strength of social science in its rich, reflexive analysis of values and power.

In diesem Buch (Mehr dazu)
When the May 1996 issue of the journal Social Text appeared, an issue devoted to the understanding of "Science Wars," the editors became targets in these "wars" in ways they had not imagined. Lesen Sie die erste Seite
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Empowering Stuff 15. September 2001
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf
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. Social science, for Flyvbjerg, becomes an arena of expertise which seeks not to tell people "what to do" or "why they are doing", but rather to ask "where they are going" and "is this desirable?". As someone on the verge of 'losing his faith' in the pursuit of social science as a meangingful discipline with something to offer back to its object of study, this book has totally rejuvinated my enthusiasm and, as such, I find it hard to recommend it highly enough. Flyvbjerg is far from inscrutable - he falls back on unconvincing Habermasian talk of consensual validity when trying to explain how social research will actually make an impact, and his appropriation of Foucault and Nietzsche as methodological mentors makes me nervous - but for me this only adds to the book's charm. Consistent with the author's argument, no line of thought, not even the positivist search for 'socal rules', is rejected out of hand, but rather "thought through" in the hope of extracting the good bits and throwing out the waffle. And that is precisely how I believe this book should be read - and you definitely *should* read it - except that waffle is refreshingly thin on the ground.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Science that matters 18. September 2009
Von Abons - Veröffentlicht auf
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. Flyvbjerg attempts to correct the flailing trajectory of social science by proposing a methodology for current and future social science research. This methodology is not so much an imperative as a push towards phronesis. Flyvbjerg's proposed methodology effectively shifts the focus of this book from the philosophical past to a practical present. Flyvbjerg gives guidance to the newly empowered social scientist through defining important indicators to create a social science that matters. These important methodological considerations should be part of the decision making process for anyone considering social research.

Flyvbjerg's vision for the future culminates in what I like to think of as a call to arms. He calls on social scientists to take up problems that matter in ways that matter. Once these problems are addressed results must be effectively communicated to fellow citizens. This creates a social science relevant and important that is delivered where it matters the most, to the people. For the social scientist, this call to arms can be as rousing as Mel Gibson's William Wallace in Braveheart. For the survival of social scientists there is only one possible future, making science that matters.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Provocative, Convincing, and Important 3. August 2009
Von Irfan A. Alvi - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This is a provocative and important book, maybe even pivotal. Bent Flyvbjerg says that he's arguing for a new approach to social science, but I think his thesis is considerably more radical than that: he's effectively calling for social "science" to be abandoned and instead replaced with a sort of applied social practice analogous to medicine and civil engineering, endeavors which draw on science but necessarily go well beyond it.

Flyvbjerg begins by arguing that social science never has been, and probably never will be, explanatory and predictive in the way that the natural sciences are, especially the physical sciences. A main reason is that context and judgment are key to any kind of practical social science, yet they can't be reduced to theoretical terms. The arguments here borrow from the critique of AI presented by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus.

These limitations are fatal flaws for the project of social science modeled on natural science, so Flyvbjerg instead revisits Aristotle's classification of "intellectual virtues" and argues that, rather than aspiring for the virtues of episteme (associated with science) or techne (associated with technology), social science is better associated with phronesis, which is concerned with practical action in particular human situations, and thus deliberately and reflexively brings in context and judgment, along with considerations of values and interests. And because particularities are so important in making practical judgments and decisions, high-quality case studies are an important tool for phronetic social science.

The one element Flyvbjerg finds missing in Aristotle's conception of phronesis is explicit consideration of the issue of power, and he explores the ideas of Habermas, Nietzsche, and Foucault to help redress this. He finds Habermas' aims to be laudable, but his approach to be ultimately idealistic to the point of being infeasible. Nietzsche and Foucault turn out to be of greater value, largely because of their emphasis on contextualizing genealogical analysis.

Flyvbjerg next distills a set of methodological guidelines associated with his phronetic social science framework, and finally illustrates the framework with an interesting case study involving city planning (his specialty) in Denmark.

I greatly enjoyed this book, surely in large part because I tend to agree with Flyvbjerg's thesis and reasoning, and I guess it's not a coincidence that the philosophers he draws on are among my favorites. I also found the book to be well written and smoothly translated from the original Danish, though the chapters related to power were somewhat tough going at times.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in social science. However, at least a modest background in both social science and philosophy are probably prerequisites, since this is a fairly sophisticated book aimed more at an academic audience rather than the general reader.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Draws Oppositions where Synergies are Available 12. Mai 2011
Von Herbert Gintis - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
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.

Flyvbjerg's approach is to contrast three forms of knowledge in Aristotle: episteme (theoretical knowledge), techne (technical know-how) and phronesis, which he treats as wisdom gathered through personal life experience and emotive identification with the life-forms studied and their myriad activities. The social-science-as-natural-science folks believe that the height of social knowledge is episteme in the form of Grand Theory, whereas in fact meaningful social knowledge consists of phronesis in the form of case studies by wise and perceptive viewers.

"At present," Flyvbjerg claims, "social science is locked in a fight it cannot hope to win, because it has accepted terms that are self-defeating. We will see that in their role as phronesis, the social sciences are strongest where the natural sciences are weakest: just as the social sciences have not contributed much to explanatory and predictive theory, neither have the natural sciences contributed to the reflexive analysis and discussion of values and interests, which is the prerequisite for an enlightened political, economic, and cultural development in any society."

It should be clear that by "social science" Flyvbjerg means "sociological and anthropological theory," because his remarks simply do not apply to psychology, economics, or biology, and his treatment of power is too weak to consider his analysis as applicable to political science. Obviously areas like paleontology, neuroscience, epidemiology, and many other areas of social science are quite impervious to the Flyvbjerg critique.

Flyvbjerg is absolutely correct in his support for thickly descriptive ethnographic and historical research, and in his claim that phronetic approaches are important contributions to social science. His error is thinking that this research conflicts with more traditional approaches to explanation in sociology and anthropology. In fact, the research he supports is synergistic with analytical and empirical studies aimed at understanding human society.

Sociology and anthropology are intimately connected to paleontology and evolutionary biology simply because Homo sapiens is a species that evolved to its present position by virtue of the same biological laws that apply to all other species. Of course, there are staggeringly important human specificities, but there are many social species, and until some 30,000 years ago we were not alone in exhibiting these specificities. There is much to learn about human society by comparing and contrasting with other social species---see for instance the recent book Superorganism, by Bert Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson, or my edited collection Moral Sentiments and Material Interests.

I appreciate Aristotle and Machiavelli, but I also have learned an enormous amount about society by reading widely and deeply in animal behavior theory. I love Levi-Strauss, but I also appreciate Donald Brown, who has shown how human values are represented in hundreds of societies, and Frasier's Golden Bough, which gives insight into human religion by cataloging hundreds of religious forms around the world.

Flyvbjerg makes his case by setting up straw men and choosing only examples that support his point of view. One example of a straw man is the notion that the natural sciences can "explain and predict" while the social sciences cannot. Physics can explain phenomena only under highly controlled circumstances, certainly not in general. Physics has changed our lives so much because engineers can reproduce these controlled circumstances in the real world. Except for astronomy and atmospherics (in the age of satellit supercomputers), physics cannot explain or predict much in the way of natural events. Social theory can easily do as well as the natural sciences in situations in which carefully controlled experimentation is infeasible for one reason or another.

An example of cherry-picking examples, Flyvbjerg's examples of successes in the natural sciences are all of the thought-experiment type: Galileo on falling objects, Einstein or general relativity, and the like. Most advances even in physics are not of this type, but rather involve careful and repeated measurement linked to deductive and inductive logic.

Flyvbjerg will appeal to the armchair philosopher who is too ignorant of real advances in our understanding of society to appreciate the value of sustained empirical and theoretical research. I urge the author to give us a new book that appreciates the synergy among episteme, techne, and phronesis, for synergy there surely is.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Charting a better path 27. März 2011
Von K. Andreasen - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I am inclined, initially, to confess that as a Danish student of the social sciences, the scholarship of fellow national Flyvbjerg is something I have encountered fairly often - to the point that he becomes a textbook source beyond discussion (and possibly understanding). However, this book goes well beyond the idea of a textbook learning. It has real ambitions for the social sciences and more importantly it gives us the knowledge and the tools to see this ambition through. This is one book that has gotten me really excited about social science again.

The brilliance of this book is, first, the concise manner in which Flyvbjerg shows us the positioning of social science, that is, the 'why' of doing social scientific research. Of particular importance his chapter on Habermas and Foucault should be a textbook storytelling on the circumstances from which social science must depart. Second, Flyvbjerg makes the point that "context matters", and if we are to do relevant social science we must employ context at the center of such research.

This work should be read with some knowledge of critical theory, Bourdieu and Foucault, but it is a breath of life to any serious research on social and societal issues, and to its praise it is written in a sober and accessible style (though he does tend to quote 'at length'). It deserves attention and discussion, and should be read by all kinds of students and academics (undergraduates in social science, graduates in natural sciences who combine interests in science and society, people employed to deal with issues related to science and society at large).
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