Lecture 13: The Human Sciences
Social sciences and modernity/modernization
The case of cost-benefit analysis
War and social science
Ironies: Who is the real capitalist?
Relations to natural science and engineering
Audiences: making social knowledge technical
Descriptive and inferential statistics
The case of randomized clinical trials
Objectivity and the contexts of public science
1 Theories of Modernity
Victory in the Second World
War thrust the US into the
unfamiliar position of global
It offered itself as a model for the
future: democracy, prosperity,
The problem of “modernity”
became (more than ever) the
great task of social science.
The Cold War offered rival
versions of modernity.
claimed the status of science.
Both were offered to the
Modernization, an interdisciplinary
social science project, presented
liberal capitalism as the proper
outcome of historical
It believed firmly in human
Social science theorizes itself
Science was, by 1900, widely accepted as key to
Social science was part of the package,
maybe the most important part.
But what was this “social science”?
Up to the 1930s,
many thought it meant public enlightenment, as in
In the postwar, American social science clearly chose a
natural science model, which it (re)defined as
specialized, technical knowledge. That, they said, is
the kind of expertise that a complex, large-scale,
society and economy need.
How could science be so specialized?
After the war, science entered on a
period of unprecedented growth.
This was true especially of academic
Whereas private foundations had, in
the interwar years, pushed
cooperative work on social
problems, postwar government
money allowed discipline-building
as a primary goal.
(Someone’s idea of
the accelerating growth
of knowledge. The point
of inflection is always
2 Cost-Benefit Analysis: How
Planning Became Quantitative
About 1830, Auguste Comte defined a hierarchy of
science, based on its historical development.
Mathematics, the most abstract, was the first field to
become “positive” or scientific.
Sociology, the most
concrete, was the last.
Biologists have often seen their field this way, but
social scientists much more so.
Quantifying, they said, was the method of science,
which they now were applying to (basic) social
science as a basis for a practical, applied examination
of government decisions.