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Public Understanding/Engagement of Social Science

Convened by Professor Steve Fuller

Open to all registered PhD students; background reading will be required for participation at each session. Ideally, students should have completed core research methods training or equivalent.


1. Public Understandings of Social Science
Thursday 1st March 2012, 14.00 - 17.00, IAS Seminar room, Millburn House

This workshop is led by Professor Steve Fuller and Dr Sarah Chan, a lawyer who is Deputy Director for the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester. Dr Chan has been in the forefront of mediating new self-understandings of the human condition made possible by recent developments in the biomedical sciences. Readings will be sent in advanced to those registered.

The public face of the ‘social scientist’ is all too often that of the data gatherer. At best, social scientists are valued more for the sophistication of their methods than the penetration of their theories. Policymakers are not the only ones to take advantage of the situation. Bio-imperialists like the ‘sociobiologist’ E.O. Wilson and the ‘evolutionary psychologist’ Steven Pinker also appropriate social science data without acknowledging their theoretical (and sometimes even methodological) assumptions. But social scientists are themselves often to blame as they refuse to speak clearly to contemporary policy issues on which their knowledge might bear. Part of this may be to do with their own uncertainty about how to position themselves in terms of what are often fast-moving and politically sensitive issues. Yet, at the same time, social scientists can and have managed to represent their insights in ways that enhance and sometimes transform public debate and policy. How is this to be achieved more generally, and are the right institutional arrangements in place to make it happen?