In her response to Kenneth Prewitt’s piece "Can Social Science Matter?,” Lisa Anderson traces the historical relationship of social science to the modern state. As the state’s role in promoting the well-being of citizens becomes increasingly challenged, to what, or to whom, social science is now accountable similarly grows ambiguous, even as calls for its accountability grow.
Thomas Schwandt takes up Kenneth Prewitt’s framework of narratives, metrics, and use for addressing accountability issues for the social sciences. Schwandt argues that accountability needs to be imagined within a “dialogical space” that joins social scientists with policymakers, funders, and the public in an exchange about the values and purposes of research, rather than a one-way flow of communication from knowledge producer to user.
A new essay by Richard Arum and Eleanor Blair, and responses from Lisa Anderson and Thomas Schwandt to Kenneth Prewitt’s inaugural Items essay, engage in different ways with the social responsibility of higher education. Here, we republish a 1993 essay from our archives by then-president David Featherman about role of higher education as it was being debated in the early post–Cold War era. There are more than a few echoes of today’s debates in Featherman’s account, which engages with questions of internationalization, scholarly collaboration, and student learning in a globalized context.
Kenneth Prewitt, former SSRC president, traces the history of the debates on the accountability of American social science to those who fund and use it. As demands for accountability are currently on the rise, and as expectations for its demonstration grow, Prewitt outlines key dimensions of a strategy for maintaining the autonomy of social science research and using the insights of social science to better understand its own impact.