Chapter

Social Science as Public Communication

in Courting the Abyss

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780226662749
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226662756 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226662756.003.0006
Social Science as Public Communication

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This chapter focuses on the professional culture of social science with its stories of self-justification and norms of decorum. “Positivism” is one of the words used only by its detractors, but it is a serviceable name for the dominant narrative of social science since the late nineteenth century. The ideology of the professional social scientist came to occupy and transform the ideals of civility, reasoned discussion, self-control, and public space that had been central in the liberal Enlightenment. One key site for this work of sublimation is in the colorless style of social scientific writing. The norm of moral noninvolvement has a stylistic expression; objectivity can mean both a stance of impartiality and unopinionated (adjective-free) prose. The ideals found in positivist social science ground the ideal of clear and unencumbered communication that is implicit, though under-theorized, in democratic political theory. Imperatives about style encode assumptions and aspirations about human nature and the political order.

Keywords: social science; self-justification; human nature; democratic political theory

Chapter.  15122 words. 

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