Review essay: High-heeled red imitation-crocodile boots: The future of the social sciences

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 36 (3):367-378 (2006)
Abstract
The two works under review attempt to describe the outlines of a post-positivist social science of the future. Against objectivist approaches, these books emphasize the importance of hermeneutics and the cultural turn to the social sciences. Social sciences must recognize collective understandings and human agency. However, while affirming the importance of an interpretivist approach, both of these works also suggest that objective institutional reality must be recognized by social scientists today. Meaningful human agency and objective structure must be encompassed by the social sciences. To this end, critical realism, originally promoted by Roy Bhaskar, figures prominently in both these books precisely because it is a theory which seems to be able to account for both agency and structure simultaneously. In fact, as both these books sometimes demonstrate, the dualistic approach represented by critical realism is flawed. By contrast, the hermeneutic approach advocated by Keith Topper and by some of the contributors to Steinmetz’s collection provides an adequate explanation of institutional social reality in and of itself. Consequently, these books can be interpreted as pointing toward a hermeneutic social science of the future. Key Words: positivism • realism • hermeneutics • structure and agency.
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