Tianna Paschel’s contribution to the "Reading Racial Conflict" series takes an international perspective. Her essay examines the roots and persistence of racial inequalities globally through the legacies of colonialism and impact of transnational capitalism. Paschel engages these questions of global justice through the lens of Walter Rodney and his extraordinarily influential book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Paschel argues for the continued relevance of this classic work to understanding today’s global economy and its winners and losers.
history of social science
A major SSRC project of the past decade, Producing Knowledge on World Regions, has taken an in-depth look at the configuration of regional studies and internationalization in higher education. One component of the project focused specifically on the Middle East, and here program director Seteney Shami and Cynthia Miller-Idriss draw attention to key transformations and continuities in Middle East studies and how they relate to both regional dynamics and American perceptions and policies.
J. Phillip Thompson’s contribution to the "Reading Racial Conflict" series reflects on the concept of the two proletariats developed by W. E. B. Du Bois in his Black Reconstruction. Du Bois’s notion of a working class bifurcated along racial lines, Thompson argues, is critical for understandings of American capitalism and democracy. Thompson sees movements for racial justice as central to addressing inequalities, no less so than those directly claiming to represent the working class, which have historically tended to exclude black workers.
Based in part on research in the SSRC’s archives, Jeremy Adelman and Margarita Fajardo chronicle an important moment in both the history of social science and the political economy of Latin America—the Council’s Joint Committee on Latin American Studies' work on the roots of bureaucratic authoritarianism. Through the 1970s, an interdisciplinary network of scholars from across the Americas interrogated the political and economic dimensions of military rule in Latin America. At the same time, insights from Latin American social science both informed the democratic transitions to come and reshaped research agendas in US scholarship.
In a new response to Kenneth Prewitt’s "Can Social Science Matter?," Cora Marrett traces the relationship between the autonomy and accountability of research through the history of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Marrett, who has served several times in leadership roles at the NSF, puts current pressures for accountability in the historical context of increasing public support for research. While an emphasis on “pure” science was more pronounced in NSF’s early days, expectations for accountability that research would serve “the national interest” were also part of NSF’s origins. Marrett recommends that attention be paid to the multiple meanings and uses of accountability deployed by both scientists and government actors over time.
How Interdisciplinarity Works: Field Theory and the Study of Interactions between History and Sociologyby George Steinmetz
George Steinmetz takes a critical look at how interdisciplinary fields emerge and evolve. Drawing from a larger work-in-progress on how history and sociology have intersected in Europe and the United States, he provides a case study of the meeting of these fields in France before and after World War II. Steinmetz argues interdisciplinary projects tend to be born out of subfields within different disciplines and that successful ones are developed organically among peers rather than engineered from above.
This 1971 archival piece by David Landes and Charles Tilly engages with some of the same issues our “Interdisciplinarity Now” series tackles, especially the history-sociology connection explored in the essay by Steinmetz. The authors report on the results of a survey of historians, which was part of a broader study of social and behavioral scientists undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, and the SSRC. Landes and Tilly discuss the obstacles to and the scholarly possibilities for historical research conducted in a social science framework, and make recommendations on how that collaboration would benefit the broader field of history, as well as social science disciplines.
In his contribution to the "What Is Inequality?" series, Pedro Ramos Pinto provides a critical history of both scholarly and public attention to inequality. Ramos Pinto examines the development of GDP as a mode of comparing inequality across nation-states as well as recent efforts at documenting changes in income distribution within countries. He concludes with a paradox: a principal focus on the income levels of individuals risks oversimplifying and misunderstanding inequality, but at the same time provides a concise and potent rallying cry for egalitarian movements that contest it.
Peter Taylor reflects on the directions in which social science has moved in the twenty years since the issuing of the Gulbenkian Commission’s report, Open the Social Sciences. While a strong case was made for interdisciplinarity in that report, Taylor, a member of the commission, highlights a different trend: the development of “corporate” social science. While not opposed to interdisciplinary work, this form of social science, argues Taylor, has established a well-resourced world of institutions and processes for the validation and dissemination of social knowledge parallel to universities and shapes social science in ways that serve private agendas rather than public goals or critical perspectives.
David Engerman examines the historical origins and development of “area studies” in the United States as a key example of an interdisciplinary project. He argues that current debates on interdisciplinarity, focusing principally on research output and collaboration, obscure the central role of pedagogy in the development of area studies and the continued relevance of interdisciplinary approaches for teaching and training in today’s academy.