New Approaches to Social Science Research Discussion Group

NEW APPROACHES TO SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH  (And Their Implications for Doctoral Study in the Applied Social Sciences) Discussion group led by Larry Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, DUSP.  Sponsored by MIT CoLab and URBAN.  Substantial challenges have been raised over the past decade to traditional models and strategies of applied social research.   These challenges go by many names including Phronesis (from Aristotle) and Participatory Action Research (PAR). Were we to take them seriously, our entire approach to doctoral study -- particularly the research methods we require students to learn -- would probably be overturned.   Join the discussion, but read Bent Flyvbjerg's books (outlined below) before February 20th.  They are available in paperback.  

WHEN: February 20, 2013, March 6, 2013, and March 20, 2013 from 12:00-2:00 p.m.  Lunch will be provided. 

RSVP: Space is limited.  Please RSVP to Jasmine Bellitti at <> or 617.253.3216.

SESSION 1: FEBRUARY 20th:  Discussion of Bent Flyvbjerg's Making Social Science Matter:  Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again, Cambridge University Press, 2001

Making Social Science Matter presents a new approach to social science, including theoretical argument, methodological guidelines, and examples of practical application. Why has social science failed in attempts to emulate natural science and produce normal theory?  Flyvbjerg argues that the strength of social science is in its rich, reflexive analysis of values and power, essential to the social and economic development of any society.

SESSION 2: MARCH 6th:  Discussion of Real Social Science:  Applied Phronesis edited by Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landmann and Sanford Schram, Cambridge University Press, 2012

"Built on Flyvbjerg's commitment to social science that "matters", Flyvbjerg, Landman, and Schram's volume enriches the field with theoretical and methodological arguments and case studies extending and contending with each other in diverse locales and levels of social intervention. Anyone interested in socially-transformative social science will gain from it." Davydd J. Greenwood, Cornell University

"A splendid collection that demonstrates the possibilities of a social science praxis that is contextual, reflexive, normatively engaged and yet also well-theorized and powerfully illuminating. A bracing step toward social understanding that is not straight-jacketed by the nomothetic cannons of laboratory science." James C. Scott, Yale University

"This book and this mission are of utmost importance and urgency. Phronesis, only phronesis, can save social science. We have no other hope." Nassim N Taleb, NYU-Poly, author of The Black Swan

"What an important book! Bent Flyvbjerg and his collaborators have taken a decisive step forward in developing social scientific enquiries informed by an Aristotelian concept of phronesis .Their case studies disclose how much has remained invisible to other modes of enquiry." Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame, Indiana

"A landmark book in phronetic social science, expanding creatively on Flyvbjerg's innovative ideas through further theoretical elaboration and, most important, exemplary and insightful empirical applications. Eight case studies concretize phronetic practice and open new paths for moving beyond static social scientism." Edward Soja, UCLA

SESSION 3: March 20th:  Participatory Action Research, Phronesis and Their Implications for Doctoral Study in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Invited Guest:  Professor John Forester, Department of City and Regional Planning,  Cornell University
Discussion of Davydd Greenwood and Morten Levin, Introduction to Action Research:  Social Research and Social Change, 2nd edition, Sage, 2006