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In Defence of Social Science

U.K. 2015 – A Review of the 2015 CfSS Report 'The Business of People: The Significance of Social Science over the Next Decade'

Natali Valdez

In 1954, C. Dollard wrote an article in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology titled ‘In the Defense of Social Science’. In 1967, W. Grundy wrote another article in the journal of Social Studies with the same title. A report from the New York Times used the same title in 1985 to highlight how neglected the social sciences are in the American education system (Maeroff 1985). Most recently, in 2012 B. Maguth also draws on the same title to write an article examining the need to incorporate social sciences in STEM education. The list goes on and on; defending the social sciences across the spectrum of education has a long history in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Making a case for why the social sciences are vital and deserve recognition through funding is, unfortunately, not a novel campaign.

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Stephanie A. Limoncelli

The increasing internationalisation of social science curricula in undergraduate education along with the growth of service-learning has provided new opportunities to join the two. This article offers a reflection and discussion of service-learning with placements in international nongovernmental organisations (INGOs), drawing from its application in an undergraduate globalisation course in the United States. I argue that service-learning can be a useful pedagogical approach for helping students to think actively about themselves in relation to other people, other places and as part of broader global and transnational processes.

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A Secular Alchemy of Social Science

The Denial of Jewish Messianism in Freud and Durkheim

Philip Wexler

This essay presents a reading of the work of two central figures of modern social theory that locates their work within not simply mainstream Jewish thought, but a particular Hasidic tradition. Further, I argue that lying behind this, in a repressed form, is an even older tradition of Jewish alchemy. I make no claim to have evidence that either Freud or Durkheim were directly influenced by Hasidism or alchemy, but I examine the parallels between the structure of their thoughts and those of the two traditions. Both Freud and Durkheim display a social psychology that is analytically similar to the dualism of Hasidism's Tanya and the general transformational models of alchemy. This formal model is in opposition to the messianic tradition in Jewish thought and analyzes Freud and Durkheim as anti messianic social psychologists. Hasidism offers a template for modern theories of social psychology, social interaction and the relation between the social and the individual, that is, collective identity. This essay also considers more generally how modern social theory might make sense of contemporary social phenomena by opening itself to the messianic and mystical traditions in Jewish thought. I suggest that the social and structural transformation associated with the information or network society requires new analytic tools that allow us to explain social energy differently to the way Freud and Durkheim have guided social theory. Contemporary analyses of individualization, social movements and sacralization as forms of and reactions to alienation are inadequate. Instead, I ask whether we should not 'restore a messianic, truly utopian "lost unity", which the alchemical, secular gnosis of modern social science displaced, and so renew social theory?'

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Jobst Conrad

The article provides a general overview of social sciences perspectives to analyze and theorize climate research, climate discourse, and climate policy. First, referring to the basic paradigm of sociology, it points out the feasible scope and necessary methodology of environmental sociology as a social science concerning the analysis of physical nature. Second, it illustrates this epistemological conception by few examples, summarizing main results of corresponding climate-related social science investigations dealing with the development dynamics of climate research, the role of scientific (climate impact) assessments in politics, varying features and changes of climate discourses, climate policy formation, and knowledge diffusion from climate science. The receptivity of climate discourse and climate policy to the results of problem-oriented climate research is strongly shaped and limited by its multifarious character as well as by their own (internal) logics. The article shows that social sciences contribute their specific (conceptual) competences to problem-oriented research by addressing climate change and corresponding adaptation and mitigation strategies.

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Davydd J. Greenwood and Morten Levin

The core argument is that social science must re-examine its mission and praxis in order to be a significant player in future higher education. This article reviews the results and prospects arising from a four-year international project. Originating in Greenwood and Levin's concern about the social sciences, the project, funded by the Ford Foundation, was organised as an action research network of social scientists. Meeting several times over four years, the assembled group of scholars shifted focus from the future of the social sciences to broader questions of the future of higher education as a whole and the possible role of the social sciences. Four issues emerged as vital future challenges:

• Collective denial among academics that knowledge production (research and teaching) is a collaborative effort and that individual academics depend on and are responsible for contributing to the health of the academic collectivity.

• Academic freedom, conceived as an individual right is under siege and will have to be reconstructed to include both individual rights and collective and institutional responsibilities and rights in higher education.

• An appreciation of the multiplicity of teaching, research and organisational factors that interact to constitute healthy universities is lacking in most quarters.

• Technologies of accountability now drive the development of higher education towards a focus on an artificially narrow metrics of knowledge-generation and away from inquiry into what constitutes relevant and sustainable knowledge-generation practices.

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Emory Morrison, Elizabeth Rudd and Maresi Nerad

In this article, we analyse findings of the largest, most comprehensive survey of the career paths of social science PhD graduates to date, Social Science PhDs - Five+Years Out (SS5). SS5 surveyed more than 3,000 graduates of U.S. PhD programmes in six social science fields six to ten years after earning their PhD. The survey collected data on family, career and graduate school experiences. Like previous studies in Australia, the U.K., the U.S.A. and Germany, SS5 found that graduates several years after completing their education had mostly positive labour market experiences, but only after undergoing a transitional period of insecurity and uncertainty. Most SS5 doctoral students wanted to become professors, despite the difficult academic job market and the existence of a non-academic market for PhD labour. Many respondents' career pathways included a delayed move into a faculty tenure-track position, but exceptionally few moved from a faculty tenure-track position into another labour market sector. Respondents reported that their PhD programmes had not trained them well in several skills important for academic and non-academic jobs. Men's and women's career paths were remarkably similar, but, we argue, women 'subsidised' gender equality in careers by paying higher personal costs than men. We conclude with recommendations.

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Rogers Goodman

This article looks at current university reforms in Japan through two slightly different social science prisms: how social science methodologies and theories can help us understand those reforms better and how social science teaching in universities will be affected by the current reform processes.

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Jo Lindsay

Contemporary undergraduate courses in research methods are challenging to teach because of the wide scope of the subject matter, limited student contact hours and the complexity of supervising research projects undertaken by novices. Focus group assignments within class offer an interesting and enjoyable way for students to develop and apply research skills and reflect on the process of being both a researcher and a research participant in social science disciplines. Using focus groups enables deep learning, formative assessment and the development of reflexive research skills. This article discusses the use of focus group assignments as a key assessment tool in a Sociological research methods course taught at Monash University, Australia. The use of focus groups as a teaching tool is further assessed through analysing the reflections and evaluations given by students participating in the course.

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Ryan Gunderson

Environmental social scientists should analyze ideologies that reproduce ecologically unsustainable societies through the method of ideology critique. Ideology refers to ideas and practices that conceal contradictions through the legitimation and/or reification of the social order. Ideology critique is a method that allows the researcher to unmask systemic contradictions concealed by ideology. While the primary purpose of this project is to revisit and revise conceptual and methodological tools for the environmental social sciences, I provide examples of ideologies that may aid in the reproduction of the “treadmill of production” or the expansionistic production cycle that accelerates resource use and pollution.

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Vincent Pons

Elections and political campaigns make for a fascinating research playground. They correspond to Marcel Mauss’s definition of fait social total, a social phenomenon that involves all individuals and reveals something about them all. They take place frequently and nearly everywhere in the world, providing an ideal vantage point for comparing societies across time and space. They are documented with an increasing amount of data, starting with disaggregated electoral results. These features alone would suffice to explain the central importance of elections in the social sciences, from history and political science to economics and psychology. But a recent evolution makes the study of elections and campaigns perhaps even more appealing today: in almost no other fields are the recommendations of social scientists followed so closely and so rapidly. The first milestone in this trend was a study conducted during the November 1998 general elections in New Haven by two Yale political scientists, Alan Gerber and Donald Green, which compared the effects of door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, and mailings.2 This article launched a large experimental literature investigating which campaign techniques could most effectively increase voter turnout or sway undecided voters. Candidates were quick to apply the most recent findings to their own campaigns, even hiring some of their authors as strategy advisers