Over the next months, Items will publish essays based on research presented at a spring workshop on the theme “Democratic Participation: A Broken Promise?” cosponsored by the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program’s Participation group and the German-based Democratic Anxieties. Claudia Landwehr, co-organizer of Democratic Anxieties, describes the fraught efforts of democracy to deal with “disturbances”—deep tensions that put at risk agreement on democratic procedures and the norms of reciprocity that undergird it. Landwehr argues for practices of “meta-deliberation” to draw publics into discussion about the norms through which reciprocity and procedural consensus are produced.
Reflecting on the recent US electoral campaign and its aftermath as the most recent and powerful evidence for the existence of a “post-truth” age, Duncan Watts and David Rothschild argue that we have entered a legitimacy crisis—“whom and what to trust,” as they put it—in relation to knowledge claims and the institutions that validate them. The authors discuss why information technologies have exacerbated the problem, and offer some suggestions for compensating for and perhaps restoring lost legitimacy.
Why has climate change been so difficult to address through democratic institutions and processes? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program established a working group to engage this question. Robert O. Keohane and Nancy L. Rosenblum, cochairs of the working group, provide a sense of the issues that have animated its work thus far: mobilization for climate change, the politics of mitigation strategies, and the often neglected role of emotion in democratic participation.
William G. O’Neill, director of the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, reflects on what a Donald Trump presidency may mean for the United Nations’ core objectives of international peace and security, economic development, and human rights. Based on candidate Trump’s public pronouncements and President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments thus far, O’Neill envisions a dramatically different engagement, or perhaps a disengagement, with the UN’s mission and work.
Delia Wendel, a fellow of the SSRC’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship program, demonstrates how spatial and social research strategies can be combined through her work in post-genocide Rwanda. Wendel’s contribution engages issues raised in our "Interdisciplinarity Now" theme through a critical analysis of Rwanda’s villagization policy as part of its peacebuilding efforts after a devastating civil war. Wendel’s work speaks directly to the concerns of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and its blog Kujenga Amani.
In a new contribution to the “What Is Inequality?” series, Julia Lynch asks, “What happens when politicians, policymakers, and even researchers begin to frame the problem of social inequality in health terms?” Through extensive research on health policy debates in Europe, Lynch finds that the otherwise laudable emphasis on the social determinants of health inequality can have counterproductive effects. She particularly focuses on the tendency for health inequality issues to become dominated by health professionals, and to the construal of the issue as so complicated that it draws attention away from economic policy instruments that might more systematically reduce inequalities, including health inequalities.
Reflecting on his recent book, Globalizing Knowledge, Michael Kennedy examines the affinities and interconnections between interdisciplinarity and efforts by scholars and institutions to shape global knowledge cultures. The ability to participate in cross-contextual research and debates, and to engage broader publics across boundaries, requires an interdisciplinary sensibility that can enhance scholarly reflexivity and innovation.
In the latest response to “Can Social Science Matter?,” Ron Haskins argues that social science should tackle heightened demands for accountability by not overpromising on impact while also trumpeting existing work that simultaneously deepens social understanding and contributes to addressing public problems. Haskins highlights two relatively recent and influential approaches that have demonstrated the capacity to bridge the purposes of “basic” and “applied” research—the mining of large scale administrative data and the use of randomized controlled trials to test the effectiveness of a range of social programs.
In his response to Kenneth Prewitt’s “Can Social Science Matter?” Michael Feuer discusses rationales for accountability systems for social science and problems of implementing them, especially through the use of (sometimes dubious) metrics in a highly-politicized climate for science funding. Improved accountability for science requires, according to Feuer, a scientific approach to the study of accountability.
Wolfgang Rohe’s response to Prewitt’s “Can Social Science Matter?” affirms that the current moment for social science research is one in which society demands less autonomy and more accountability for knowledge production. Rohe concurs with Prewitt’s account of how this shift happened, and adds that the sheer scale of the research enterprise, and genuine concerns with research quality, are further components of new pressures on scholarship. Rohe concludes that social scientists must both maintain (and improve upon) the process for peer judgments of quality while using their tools as social scientists to develop criteria for evaluating the broader social influence and use of their research.