Can Social Science Matter?

Earlier this summer, Kenneth Prewitt asked, “Can Social Science Matter?” in order to provoke further discussion and debate. Prewitt’s essay chronicles the shifts in the balance between the autonomy and accountability of social science research, and then analyzes the heavy emphasis on accountability in the present moment of demands for transparency, replicability, oversight, and metrics that can demonstrate impact. He concludes with a series of suggestions for how social scientists might retain scholarly autonomy by augmenting the reality and perception of their public “relevance.” Here we collect a wide range of reflections that respond to, argue with, or build from Prewitt’s essay in regard to the sources of the pressures for greater accountability, the various meanings of that term, and what social scientists can do in the present context of these pressures.

In this forum, Prewitt is joined by colleagues across the social sciences and from a range of institutions within and outside the academy, who, throughout the summer, will continue to wrestle with these questions. Their responses will also be joined by voices from the Items archive, responding to similar issues in their own era and context.

Prewitt’s essay also provided the basis for an event, “Social Science Knowledge and Its Future,” hosted at Roosevelt House by both the Council and CASBS that brought Prewitt into conversation with danah boyd (principal researcher, Microsoft Research; founder, Data & Society) and Margaret Levi (Director for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University). Videos of the event will be available through the SSRC’s Digital Culture program.

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