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.
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.
Motivated by concerns over the problems and tensions of the present, Herbert Gans makes the case for the study of the future—that is, how individuals and institutions imagine and construct future lives and worlds. Understanding future constructions, and their differences across the boundaries of class, gender, race, generation, religion, and other social markers, provides a window into conflicts of the present and new possibilities for engaging them.
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.
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.
In her response to “Can Social Science Matter?,” danah boyd encourages deeper reflection among social scientists in order to address heightened expectations for the accountability of research. She argues that accountability is not simply about the quality or impact of answers to research questions, but is instead inherently tied to the choice of questions that social scientists seek to address. Asking the right questions, boyd contends, “requires being deeply embedded within the social world that we seek to understand.”
The relaunch of Items generates reflection. It arrives at a time of anxiety and intolerance, demagoguery and fear. How, we might ask, should heightened uncertainty shape and orient our craft?
When scholars collaborate across disciplines, what shapes their perceptions of that experience? Drawing from their recent research on a range of interdisciplinary networks, Lamont, Boix-Mansilla and Sato find that cognitive and intellectual payoffs tell only part of the story. Emotional and social dimensions to collaboration intertwine with the cognitive in complex ways, while the research environment established by funders creates a frame within which participants experience a sense of achievement across disciplinary divides.
Colleagues from the SSRC’s Measure of America program discuss how research on human well-being can shape policies to enhance it. Using the program’s in-depth research in Sonoma County, California, as a case study, the authors show how their findings of surprising disparities can effect change through local partnerships and strategies to communicate results in ways that resonate with a wide range of community members.