Practical Knowledge: Applying the Social Sciences

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The status of the social sciences as knowledge presents two fundamental problems. The first is epistemological: in what sense is the subject of the social sciences known and knowable? The second is pragmatic: can knowledge generated by the social sciences be applied, and with what consequences?

In this book, Nico Stehr offers a major reassessment of the latter question of the utility of social science knowledge, including economics. Arguing for a reconception of the ways in which social scientific knowledge can be and is applied, this book will be of interest to a broad range of social scientists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'Steeped in the sociology of knowledge, old and new, Nico Stehr provides here a subtle treatment of the relationship between theory and practice in the social sciences.... Unlike many sociological theorists (eg Anthony Giddens), Stehr is well informed about the recent developments in social studies of science, which suggest that there is no principled difference between the type of knowledge produced by the natural and social sciences' - The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

'This is one of the most insightful contemporary treatments of the potential for a pragmatic sociology - "sociology as enlightenment." It builds explicitly on Mannheim's thoughts about a scientific politics, and draws widely on contemporary German theories of the action-praxis matrix... Stehr's vision is impressive'- Contemporary Sociology

'This thought-provoking little book is bucking a trend within social science theory. It has avoided the dead-end alley of postmodernist, poststructuralist and deconstructionist word games addressing the serious problems which constitute the crisis of social science in our time. In a era of economic cutbacks it faces the issue of the societal relevance of social science practice. In fact, the theory/practice relation is the central concern of the book...There is a practical message in this book and it is addressed primarily to the social science community. The message is one which comes from a follower of Mannheim and Weber: social scientists must begin to conceive of the practical impact of their work from the very begining, to make it part of the research itself. At the same time, the concern for social science practice as part of political and social action must not erradicate the boundaries between the social science community and the larger society. In theory, Stehr's message is clear. It is hoped that in subsequent publications he will give us the details of how this is to be accomplished in practice' - Canadian Journal of Sociology

'Nico Stehr's book is an important first step to lure academic social science out of its present deadlock and to alter the widely shared perception of its deficits. Built around a case study of Keynes' success in producing 'knowledge for practice' Stehr argues for the necessity of 'practical knowledge' as a special kind of social science knowledge that takes its context of application into account. A pragmatic social science will thus have to become enriched not only in knowing its local contingencies, but in anticipating also the contegencies of its own societal use.' - Professor Helga Nowotny, University of Vienna

'This book will obviously be of interest to many social scientists.' - International Review of the Administrative Sciences

Reassesses the utility of social science knowledge through a case study of how (indeed whether) the political, social, and economic policies pursued in Keynesian economics are related to Keynesian ideas as social science. Stehr (sociology, U. of Alberta) says the proposed application of a study or discipline must be built into the initial construction of knowledge. Acidic paper. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803986992
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications
  • Publication date: 7/20/1992
  • Pages: 208

Meet the Author

Nico Stehr is Senior Research Fellow, Sustainable Development Research Institute, University of British Columbia, Canada
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Table of Contents

Knowledge as a Capacity to Act
Social Science and Practice
The Science of Application
Economic Policy as Applied Social Science
Pragmatic Knowledge
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