Social theory: the real thing

Over at the ever excellent Understanding Society blog, John Levi Martin has a post responding to Daniel Little’s earlier post on his recent book The Explanation of Social Action. It’s a pretty good summary of the argument of the whole book, a critique of versions of social science that privilege what he calls ‘third person’ accounts of explanation and causality.

Meanwhile, newly published is Real Social Science, edited by Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram, a fuller statement of what they have dubbed ‘phronetic social science’, first outlined in Flyvbjerg’s Making Social Science Matter.

This is the sort of social theory I have been enjoying reading recently, at least when I get the occasional chance to read such things – I have tried, ever so briefly, to give an account of why I think it is fun and interesting in the pieces I have been writing, nominally on ‘ethics’, for Progress in Human Geography over the last couple of years – the last one of these, might be out sometime, and gestures at a fantasy of inventing a whole new programme for investigating ‘geographies of worth’. There is something old-fashioned about this work, in a way, at least if you inhabit the academic habitus I do. This morning I read an insightful review of John McCumber’s new book on continental philosophy, which I almost bought on Saturday but didn’t in the end. It looks interesting, and tells a story centred on issues of time and temporality, which I think I might quite like. The review includes a remark towards the end about how an alternative narrative to the one McCumber (apparently) constructs might focus on how various approaches have addressed “the different ways in which an interpreting human agent tried to understand her world”. I suppose I think that still remains an interesting problem (particularly if you disregard silly catcalls about ‘humanism’) and it’s also what draws together various strands of philosophy beyond the ever renewing canon of contemporary ‘Continental’ with interesting social theory worrying away about ‘normative’ stuff.

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