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The Scientific Study of Society

Max Steuer
Kluwer (January 2003)

This book, with a foreword by Ken Binmore, shows how the five core social sciences, each in their own way, go about exploring social issues. The five social sciences are: anthropology, economics, political science, social psychology and sociology.

Governments have a tendency to act through hunch, guess work and political bias. As an alternative to poorly informed action, this book argues that much more use should be made of social science in public policy. 

To illustrate the kind of knowledge these disciplines produce, The Scientific Study of Society examines the journal literature of the past ten years on the topics of crime, money, the family, migration, housing and religion. Not everything which claims to be social science, or goes under that label, is in fact scientific. The book shows, by means of examples, how to distinguish social science from social prophecy, social poetry, and downright nonsense. While economics is reasonably well established in public policy, the other social sciences are under used. Often too much use is made of lawyers as all-purpose experts, and this can have unfortunate consequences.

Max Steuer is an economist with wide ranging interests in the social sciences. While at the London School of Economics and Political Science, he has lectured in the Economics Department, the Sociology Department, the Cities Programme, which he initiated, and the Philosophy Department. He has actively promoted graduate training at both master's and the PhD level. Steuer was dean of the Graduate School, and an academic governor of the School. Among his publications are The Impact of Foreign Direct Investment on the United Kingdom, Mathematical Sociology and Miracles and Alien Abduction. Steuer wrote the film script for the feature film The Committee, directed by Peter Sykes. He plays bass guitar with the Irving Street Band, and holds world records in hot-air ballooning.


For more information, contact Jessica Winterstein on 020 7955 7060 or email j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk| 

For more information on the publishers, visit http://www.wkap.nl/journal/| 

Notes to editors: 

The book will be launched at the Social Science Meetings in Washington DC in January 2003. There will also be a public lecture and launch at LSE, chaired by Professor Anthony Giddens, on 17 February 2003. For details of the lecture, click here|

Comments on the publication

'This great book by Max Steuer uniquely approaches a variety of important questions, including crime, housing, money, migration, religion and the family, from the viewpoint of all the five major social sciences. It is dense with fascinating facts and viewpoints. It is a must read for every practitioner and user of social science, as it is a much needed counterweight to the overspecialization of almost all social science.'

George A. Akerlof, Goldman Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkleley
2001 Nobel Prize in Economics

'Steuer describes, defends, and celebrates the social sciences in this provocative book. He talks straight, expresses himself clearly, and captures the aspirations of all of us who 'do' social science.'

Kenneth A. Shepsle, George Markham Professor of Government, Center for Basic Research in the Social Sciences, Harvard University

'With remarkable succinctness Steuer clarifies for both insiders and outsiders the domains of the five main social sciences by describing their current contributions to our understanding of a half-dozen core concepts. Steuer dares to ask tough questions. Even more daringly, he gives some tough answers.'

William J. McGuire, Professor of Psychology, Yale University

'One of the consequences of Max Steuer's brilliant idea to compare the study of particular topics across the social sciences is to reveal differing academic and scientific standards. The book is a challenge to sceptics who either deny the existence of social science, or bend the term to cover unscientific speculation. Steuer's landmark book will be required reading for those who wish to debate these issues.'

Peter Abell, Eric Sosnow Professor of Management, London School of Economics and Political Science and director, LSE Interdisciplinary Institute of Management

'Knowing what the social sciences are, and what they are not, is problematic these days because of the arrival of a variety of impostors that have sprung up in departments of literature and media studies as well as within the social sciences themselves. Rather than enter into a rhetorical debate about the validity of these competing intellectual enterprises, Max Steuer has adopted an approach that is refreshingly empirical and common-sensical. Anyone who wants to know what social scientists do and why it is interesting and important should read this book. The reader will come away with a good appreciation of the unglamorous but honest work of gathering and analyzing data, making and testing hypotheses, theorizing and synthesizing, that represent the best of social science. This empirical study of good practice in the social sciences will empower the reader to see, without much difficulty, the difference between the scientific study of society and its rhetorical and ideological alternatives.'

Douglas Gale, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, New York University