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Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again (my reading notes)

Flyvbjerg Making Social Science MatterI have long admired Professor Bent Flyvbjerg for being an economic geographer who speaks methodologically and conceptually to many other disciplines. As someone who has been trained both in political science and human geography (with a concentration in economic geography), and who works in public administration/public management/public policy as well as comparative politics and international relations, the kind of interdisciplinary writing and thinking that Flyvbjerg is capable of doing is quite admirable and something I aspire to replicate in my own work. Having read (and used with my students and research assistants) his “5 misunderstandings regarding case studies” piece, I was very excited to read “Making Social Science Matter”. I am definitely not disappointed.

Bent Flyvbjerg uses the first 5 chapters do discuss empiricism, methodological debates, epistemology.

Chapters 7 and 8 delve into rationality and power, Aristotle, Foucault and Habermas. This analysis is important because conflict and power are at the core of what we understand as “the political” (see my paper on the politics of bottled water, Pacheco-Vega 2019, Langdon Winner on whether artifacts have politics, Winner 1980, Mark Warren on “what is political”, Warren 1999).

As an Ostrom scholar who often hears from non-Ostromians about “how Lin forgot to discuss power in her work on institutional analysis” (TL:DR; she didn’t), I often find discussions of power and Foucault rather enlightening. Flyvbjerg does excellent job of bringing them together.

Flyvbjerg basically says “let’s do social science that matters”, something I can definitely agree with. A word of caution: this is NOT a book for undergraduates and I wouldn’t even assign it in first or second year of graduate school. This is a book for advanced graduate students with some experience already doing research and for experienced scholars.

Disclosure: As with most of my books, I purchased this book with my own money and I have no financial (or other) obligations to anyone for writing about it. I just like this book and that’s why I am writing about it.

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