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The History of the Social Sciences since 1945

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Roger Backhouse and Philippe Fontaine
Cambridge University Press (July 2010)

This compact volume covers the main developments in the social sciences since the Second World War. Chapters on economics, human geography, political science, psychology, social anthropology, and sociology will interest anyone wanting short, accessible histories of those disciplines, all written by experts in the relevant field; they will also make it easy for readers to make comparisons between disciplines.

A final chapter proposes a blueprint for a history of the social sciences as a whole. Whereas most of the existing literature considers the social sciences in isolation from one other, this volume shows that they have much in common; for example, they have responded to common problems using overlapping methods, and cross-disciplinary activities have been widespread.

  • Roger Backhouse and Philippe Fontaine are both research associates at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS) at LSE.

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Reviews

'The History of the Social Sciences since 1945 maps the conceptual, social, and institutional contexts of economics, political science, sociology, social anthropology, psychology, and human geography. These important fields have shaped contemporary discourse about the human self, in both individual and collective registers, and deeply influenced policy and practice in the modern world. Individual chapters on separate disciplines, written by respected scholars, take us through the intricacies and the editors' conclusion teases out subtle connections between different fields, sketching a big-picture perspective. The volume is a welcome contribution to the scant historiography, and provides fascinating reading for academic specialists, disciplinary practitioners, or the interested layperson.'
James H. Capshew, Indiana University, and Editor (2006–09) of History of Psychology

'As in all histories of the social sciences, questions of field definitions, paradigms, and boundaries are well addressed here. But the authors take us well beyond these to probe essential issues such as the relative influence across the six disciplines they cover of social scientists' war service, the postwar expansion of higher education, strong pressures toward Americanization, government and foundation patronage, experiments in interdisciplinarity, quantification, hermeneutics, postmodernism, and the cultural turn. They look as well at influences of ideologically charged developments such as the Cold War, decolonization, feminism, the Vietnam War, and the rise of conservative governments - and social science supporting them - in the Anglophone world. The book expertly registers the dazzling multiplicity of local and general factors shaping the construction of social knowledge over the past half century.'
Mary O. Furner, University of California, Santa Barbara

'In this pathbreaking book a team of historians of the social sciences examines the experiences of their disciplines, seen together since World War II. They find many similarities and but also many differences. In a thoughtful and stimulating conclusion, the editors, Backhouse and Fontaine, draw the stories together, identify common themes, and perhaps most importantly, point out the payoff that may come from this eclectic and integrated approach to the histories. Historians and social scientists more generally will find this a valuable and provocative volume.'
Craufurd D. Goodwin, Duke University

'These analytically ambitious essays demonstrate the common direction of the several social scientific disciplines in the second half of the 20th century while taking careful and sophisticated account of the technical particulars of each discipline.'
David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley

'Backhouse and Fontaine's collection is the first fruit of an important initiative to comprehend the postwar social sciences as key participants in a new era of social welfare and democratic capitalism. Particularly welcome is their ambition to look beyond the boundaries of discipline and to conceive as a whole what so often is portrayed in fragments.'
Theodore M. Porter, University of California, Los Angeles

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The History of the Social Sciences since 1945