Making the teaching of social justice matter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


In Making Social Science Matter, Bent Flyvbjerg deconstructs the dominant hierarchy that privileges the natural sciences over the social sciences by offering a third way out of the ‘science wars’ debate; one that carves out a significant place for both the natural sciences and the social sciences. As he writes, ‘where natural science is weak, social science is strong and vice versa’ (2001: 53). Social science, Flyvbjerg argues, should be recast based largely upon Aristotle’s conception of phronesis or practical wisdom mixed with a healthy dose of Foucault’s understanding of power. This reinvigorated social science trumps natural science in the understanding of social phenomena by emphasizing contexts, interpretations and an in-depth understanding of existing power relations. In short, it is ‘an intellectual activity aimed at…contributing to social and political praxis’ (2001: 4). His call for a phronetic social science is a useful antidote to the hegemonic position of formal modelling and other positivistic approaches that had come to dominate the social sciences, especially American political science. Of course, much, if not all, of social science, including the formal modelling that has dominated the American Political Science Review, claims to be ‘contributing to social and political praxis’ (2001: 4). Flyvbjerg though harkens back to Aristotle to show the necessity of an in-depth understanding of context and the ability to make political judgements within these contexts. What is not as clear is the extent to which Flyvbjerg is calling on social scientists to get involved and do politics in lieu of merely studying politics. For Aristotle, phronetics as an intellectual virtue was not gained by stepping back and contemplating reality from an objective distance, as if that was possible, but it came from getting one’s hands dirty by actively confronting the problems of the day. To what extent is Flyvbjerg urging social scientists to be social and political beings, to strive to be, in Bourdieu’s terms, virtuoso social actors?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationReal Social Science
Subtitle of host publicationApplied Phronesis
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511719912
ISBN (Print)9781107000254
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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