Social Science for Public Knowledge

Craig Calhoun in Transformations of the Public Sphere:

Cc Public engagement was a strong feature of the social sciences from their birth. Could one imagine Hobbes, Locke or the Scottish moralists as mere academics? Weber, Durkheim, and the great Chicago School sociologists had university jobs but both public concerns and public audiences. Social scientists today contribute to public understanding of issues from social inequality to transformations of the family. They also inform public policy on problems from educational reform to economic productivity. But since World War II, dramatic growth in universities and research institutions not only created opportunities for social scientists, it contained much of their communication inside the academy. An ideology that opposed academic professionalism to public engagement and a prestige hierarchy that favored allegedly pure science over applied added to the tendency.[1]

Today there are widespread calls for more public social science. Academics have recognized the problems that come from being too much cut off from public discussion. But two questions arise. First, what is the relationship between effective participation in public discourse and the maintenance of more or less autonomous academic fields with their own standards of judgment and intellectual agendas? Second, what is the relationship between “public intellectual” work, informing broad discussions among citizens, and “policy intellectual” work informing business or government decision makers?

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