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The Limits of Social Science

The Limits of Social Science
Causal Explanation and Value Relevance

July 2014 | 192 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

What forms of knowledge can social science claim to produce? Does it employ causal analysis, and if so what does this entail? What role should values play in the work of social scientists? 

These are the questions addressed in this book. They are closely interrelated, and the answers offered here challenge many currently prevailing assumptions. They carry implications both for research practice, quantitative or qualitative, and for the public claims that social scientists make about the value of their work.

The arguments underpinning this challenge to conventional wisdom are laid out in detail in the first half of the book. In later chapters their implications are explored for two substantive areas of intrinsic importance: the study of social mobility and educational inequalities; and explanations for urban riots, notably those that took place in London and other English cities in the summer of 2011. 

Causation and qualitative inquiry
The problem of explanation in social science: A Weberian solution?
On the role of values in social research
From facts to value judgments? A critique of critical realism
Can social science tell us whether a society is meritocratic? A Weberian critique
We didn’t predict a riot! On the public contribution of social science

In this short book, Hammersley argues for a social science which eschews grand theorising in favour of the explanation of social phenomena... This book is not a paean to social science as it is currently practised and will be, to use Hammersley’s own word, a ‘deflationary’ read for some. If, however, you want to read something which may question your preconceptions, this book is a good place to begin.

Paul Webb, research manager, Praxis Care, Belfast
SRA Research Matters

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