We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Usable Social Science

Neil J. Smelser

Publication Year: 2012

This volume is a one-of-a-kind contribution to applied social science and the product of a long collaboration between an established, interdisciplinary sociologist and a successful banking executive. Together, Neil Smelser and John Reed use a straightforward approach to presenting substantive social science knowledge and indicate its relevance and applicability to decision-making, problem-solving and policy-making. Among the areas presented are space-and-time coordinates of social life; cognition and bias; group and network effects; the role of sanctions; organizational dynamics; and macro-changes associated with economic development. Finally, the authors look at the big picture of why society at large demands and needs social-science knowledge, and how the academy actually supplies relevant knowledge.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (332.5 KB)
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (322.6 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (156.6 KB)
pp. vii-x

Bankers and sociologists seldom work together. Nor do they overlap very much in their social circles. Most of them do not seem to mind this void; some probably like it that way. As coauthors of this book, we are an exception to this principle of noncontact. In this preface, we explain both this anomaly and the circumstances of our collaboration. ...

read more

Introduction: The Problem and Our Take on It

pdf iconDownload PDF (367.3 KB)
pp. 1-12

The starting point of our thinking about usable social science is that all purposeful human action — whether the behavior of individuals, organizational action, or activities by collectivities such as social movement groups — is informed by some kind of definition of the situation in which the action takes place. ...

Part One. Arenas of Usability

read more

1. Space and Time: Constraints and Opportunities

pdf iconDownload PDF (509.2 KB)
pp. 15-52

We focus first on two omnipresent dimensions of human life: space and time. Their very pervasiveness, however, sometimes renders their precise influence elusive. It is not common to find them as chapter headings in books such as this one. Therefore, our gathering of knowledge under these headings as organizing principles for usable knowledge is unorthodox ...

read more

2. Some Dynamics of Cognition, Judgment, and Bias

pdf iconDownload PDF (489.8 KB)
pp. 53-89

In this chapter we present a view of the mind as embedded in its personal history and its contemporary — including its social — situation. Our account yields a special perspective on human nature. Not all its ingredients are new; many echo ancient philosophical traditions that still inform our worldviews. ...

read more

3. Sanctions in Organizational and Social Life

pdf iconDownload PDF (462.5 KB)
pp. 90-120

The play of sanctions — devices to influence behavior by rewarding or punishing — is pervasive in social life. We praise, cajole, withhold love, and sometimes coerce when rewarding and punishing our children. Sanctions are the cement of informal social relationships, as we see in the flow of influence and power in families, friendships, and small groups. ...

read more

4. Groups, Teams, Networks, Trust, and Social Capita

pdf iconDownload PDF (458.2 KB)
pp. 121-150

In perusing the social-science literature, we often find that a research topic — for example, individual stress — is claimed to be both important in itself and more important in social life than ever before. Reasons for this are then given. It is also sometimes claimed that the phenomenon is being studied more than ever before. ...

read more

5. How Decisions Are Made

pdf iconDownload PDF (472.8 KB)
pp. 151-184

In one respect, this chapter is at the core of our efforts because it is the point at which issues of usability of social-science knowledge arise most directly. Decisions include assessment of problems, determining what to do about them, the psychological and social processes that go into making decisions, ...

read more

6. Organizations and Organizational Change

pdf iconDownload PDF (524.9 KB)
pp. 185-228

In this chapter, we provide knowledge on the settings in which most decision-makers live: formal organizations. This knowledge ranges from general to specific, which means that it varies in its usability; some is generally orienting, some more immediately relevant to decisions and actions. ...

read more

7. Economic Development and Social Change

pdf iconDownload PDF (432.0 KB)
pp. 229-253

The fields of growth and developmental studies pose a great challenge to the idea of usable social science. It may seem odd to include a relatively difficult account, but our view is that we learn as much from difficult as we do from easy cases. In the first part of this chapter, we elucidate problems in theory and application. ...

read more

8. Methods of Research and Their Usability

pdf iconDownload PDF (483.9 KB)
pp. 254-290

Our strategy in chapters 1 to 7 was to select important areas in the social sciences — almost all interdisciplinary — and employ our best judgment in identifying findings, perspectives, and theoretical outlooks most usable for people with decision-making responsibilities in organizational contexts. ...

Part Two. The Big Picture of Usability

read more

9. Social Change, Social Problems, and Demands for Knowledge

pdf iconDownload PDF (414.5 KB)
pp. 293-314

Why, we might ask, should human history ever have produced a situation in which society might find it necessary, valuable, and desirable that groups of specialists calling themselves social scientists should specialize in the production of knowledge that might be regarded as useful? ...

read more

10. The Production of Knowledge in the Social Sciences

pdf iconDownload PDF (487.4 KB)
pp. 315-354

In the foregoing chapter, we learned that societies are continuously “demanding” in their search to define their situations, to find their way, to locate answers to specific questions, and to acquire resources to implement decisions. These forces have driven much research and intellectual development in the social sciences. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (629.9 KB)
pp. 355-410


pdf iconDownload PDF (397.6 KB)
pp. 411-424

E-ISBN-13: 9780520954144
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520273566

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2012