“The work of the Social Science Research Council can be effective only to the degree that it is known to social scientists. Ultimately what the Council undertakes may be expected to come to the attention of most of those concerned with social research by way of books, pamphlets, journals, and word of mouth. However, such means of communication are slow and uncertain. They are especially inadequate in this period of expansion in the work of the Council made necessary by the unprecedented increase in the demand for knowledge of human relations and by the development of new techniques to meet this demand.”
So begins Social Science Research Council Items, first published by the Council in 1947. The introductory piece to the first issue, which starts with the paragraph above, also asserts “a growing conviction [within the SSRC] of an urgent need for clearer understanding of the role of the social sciences on the part of the public and even among social scientists themselves.”
Seventy years later, the words from the very first Items are still relevant. Today, improved communication is more significant than ever due to the “increase in demand for knowledge,” “the development of new techniques,” and our conviction of the “need for a clearer understanding of the role of the social sciences.” And so we relaunch Items after a brief hiatus, cognizant of both the continuity of our goals and the changes in—well, in just about everything else in the social sciences!
These changes have prompted serious discussion within the Council about what roles Items might play today. The first role follows the initial purpose of Items, as a “report of current activities” of the Council. The original Items was a space for Council committee members, staff, and others to reflect on our programs—both substantively and in terms of the mechanisms used to achieve their ends. This will be a core element of the renewed Items, allowing a much wider community to learn from what we ourselves are learning at the SSRC.
The second role of Items is a forum for “clearer understanding of the role of the social sciences on the part of the public and even among social scientists themselves.” Here, we intend to recruit thoughtful, and at times provocative, pieces on the social sciences more broadly–important advances and controversies; the relationship between the social sciences and the natural sciences and humanities; the uses and abuses of the social sciences in policymaking, the media, the private sector, advocacy, and more. These essays will provide a range of perspectives and entry points into, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, the “social science imagination.”
Items will regularly feature clusters of essays on themes of particular interest. Themes will change periodically as we call attention to new and changing dimensions of the social sciences and the broader environment that shapes our work.
So welcome (back) to Items. Our hope is that it provides a window on the work of the Council and on the social sciences. At the same time, Items is a forum that highlights the diversity of the social sciences while also addressing those issues that shape and connect us in advancing social knowledge.