Social Science, Ideology, and Public Policy in the United States, 1961 to the Present

Network Node: 
Fri., Oct. 17, 2014, 8:30am - Sun., Oct. 19, 2014, 5:00pm

Social Science, Ideology, and Public Policy in the United States, 1961 to the Present
Oct. 17-19 2014
York University

The York Node is please to help support this workshop in-kind.


Social scientists never stand outside values. However, their relationship to values and, more broadly, ideology, is complex, especially when they expect their academic work and related activities to influence social change (Douglas, 2009). When entering the public policy arena, social scientists must balance at least three, at times antagonistic, considerations: 1) their scientific credibility and professional authority; 2) their political and ideological commitments; and 3) a network of complex political and social forces external to science (see, e.g., Nicholson, 1997). We are proposing a three-part event that will engage the question of how social scientists navigated these considerations during the turbulent decades of the late 20th century as they became embroiled in and contributed to the major social movements of this period. Specifically, the event will include a session on methods for studying the recent past, a public lecture, and a working conference with researchers from Canada, the United States, and Europe. The goal of the working conference is an edited volume. Insights from this recent history will help us understand the contemporary status and role of ‘science in society,’ as researchers seek to improve the population’s health, wealth, and well-being (Foucault, 2008).

The overall goal is to develop historical methods and scholarship on the complex entanglements of the social sciences with social movements, ideology, and public policy over the decades of the late 20th century.

Bringing together a dozen already-identified scholars from Europe, the United States, and Canada, we will examine the role of social scientists in the wider society, as they applied their scholarly expertise to prominent issues including poverty, mental health, educational reform, urban affairs, gender issues, sexuality, race relations, crime, and economic growth. Through case studies on these topics, this workshop will illuminate broader questions about how American social science became involved in value-laden matters, ideological struggles, and associated public policy controversies over the last fifty years. The papers presented in the workshop will be pre-circulated, with at least two commentators assigned to make formal comments on each paper. There will also be time for general discussion of all papers by all participants and a final session in which comparative analyses, themes, and future plans will be mapped out. Below is a tentative workshop schedule based on commitments to date.


“The Political Movement that Dared not Speak it's own Name: The Neoliberal Thought Collective Under Erasure”
Philip Mirowski (University of Notre Dame)



The History of the Social Sciences: Recent Past, Digital Futures

This session is intended to bring together workshop participants, local graduate students, and interested scholars from the local community to discuss research methods for doing recent history. It workshop will be co-led by SSHRC-funded researchers. Alexandra Rutherford, director of the Psychology’s Feminist Voices oral history and multimedia digital archive project (, will discuss oral history interviewing (ethics, conservation, dissemination, the intersubjectivity of the interview situation). Michael Pettit, co-director of the Psyborgs digital history lab at York University, will talk about the growth of digital databases of scholarly and popular media and the challenges and historiographic implications of “big data” analysis. Claire Potter (New School), who has edited a recent book on doing recent history, will focus on the problems of meaning inherent in the field (when, and by what criteria, does a span of time cease to be "recent"?) and the need for ongoing methodological improvisation and adaptation to understand and incorporate evidence derived from quickly evolving networking technologies, social media, and communication styles.


Social Scientists and the (Un)Making of the Urban Crisis

Wade Pickren (Ithaca College), Social Scientists, Public Housing, and Urban Renewal in American Cities

Beatrice Cherrier (University of Caen), Independence, Relevance and Reluctance: The Rise of Urban Economics at MIT after the Urban Crisis, 1965-1974

Social Scientists and the Boundaries of Criminality

Jean-Baptiste Fleury (Université de Cergy), From Opportunity Theory to Capital Punishment: Economists Fighting Crime in the 1960s and 1970s

Alexandra Rutherford (York University), Feminist Social Science, Policy, and Controversy in Late 20th Century America: Redefining Rape

Institutionalizing Radical Politics

Howard Brick (University of Michigan), Peasant Studies Meets the World System: Culture, Political Economy, and New Views of Global Capitalism, 1945-1985

Mark Solovey (University of Toronto), The Institute for Policy Studies: Reconstructing Social Inquiry and Social Inquiry for Reconstruction


Cognitive Politics

Jamie Cohen-Cole (George Washington University), Psychology, Phonics, and Politics

Nora Ruck (York University), Permeating Psychological Evidence through Society: Psychologists Engage the Public in the Discussion of Gender Inequalities

Circulating Social Knowledge

Peter Hegarty (University of Surrey), Ideological Dilemmas of the Scientist-Practitioner Model: Protean Uses of Projective Tests

Tiago Mata (University of Cambridge), Strategy and Structure for Life and Business: the Popularisation of Economics c.1950-1985

Andrew Jewett (Harvard University), Neoconservatives on the Social Sciences

Final Wrap-Up and Discussion

Chair: Michael Pettit (York University)

This workshop builds on an earlier symposium organized by co-applicant Mark Solovey for the 2013 International Congress for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine As such, most of the papers already exist in draft form and the participants have already begun conversations about how their research converges.

Both Palgrave Macmillan and Pickering & Chatto, two publishers with a proven track record of producing excellent books in the history of science and U.S. history, have expressed interest in publishing the resulting volume.