Complexity and practical knowledge in the social sciences

A comment on Stehr and Grundmann

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7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This paper takes issue with Stehr and Grundmann's argument in this journal that sociology's poor record of contribution to practical knowledge results from sociologists' misguided attachment to the idea that social phenomena are peculiarly complex, and so peculiarly resistant to efforts at practical knowledge formation. Stehr and Grundmann develop their thesis by contrasting sociology to economics, claiming the latter's superior methods and disciplinary cultures enable it to contribute more successfully to solving practical problems. We argue that Stehr and Grundmann's comparison of the relative success of economics and sociology as policy sciences underestimates the extent to which the complexity argument has been destructive of economics' capacity to contribute practical knowledge, and overestimates the importance of disciplinary methods and cultures in explaining the use of economics in policy making. Further, we argue that the 'complexity argument' can contribute to better policy making, by virtue of its capacity to high-light the dangers of simplistic or fundamentalist solutions to social problems with complex causes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-666
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Volume53
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

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