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Usable Social Science$
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Neil J. Smelser and Bob Adamson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780520273566

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520273566.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 20 September 2021

Social Change, Social Problems, and Demands for Knowledge

Social Change, Social Problems, and Demands for Knowledge

(p.292) (p.293) 9 Social Change, Social Problems, and Demands for Knowledge
Usable Social Science

Neil J. Smelser

John S. Reed

University of California Press

This chapter is the first of two on the “bigger picture” of the general relations between social-science knowledge and the larger society. It deals with the sources of societal demands for such knowledge. A number of longer-term cultural changes—including religious, philosophical, and scientific changes—that made it possible for social objectification and institutionalized inquiry to become established. It also deals with the many “revolutions” over the past 250 years that increased social complexity and social instability, along with demands for understanding these phenomena. These kinds of change have continued to produce increasing numbers of “social problems” demanding societal attention and understanding. The authors introduce an account of the dynamics by which social problems are produced, recognized, and attacked, an account that differs from received positivistic approaches. Finally, they explore the implications of the proposition that social-science knowledge is forever “chasing” and trying to “catch up with” social problems, and how this process shapes the development of that knowledge.

Keywords:   cultural change, history of the social sciences, social change, social complexity, social knowledge, social problems, social revolutions

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