restricted access 9. Social Sciences and Social Problems: The Next Century (1995)
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191 Those with memory inform me that Vannevar Bush was not fond of the social sciences. To quote a historian of science writing on the fortieth anniversary of his famous report to President Truman, “[Bush] disrespected the social sciences intellectually and regarded them for the most part as just so much political propaganda masquerading as science” (Kevles 1990, xiii). In light of this, I am especially honored to be present, as a social scientist, at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of that report. I suppose a moral is to be found in the advice that French parents give their impatient children: “Avec de la patience, on arrive a tout.” I proceed with my task by three steps: • To look toward the next century, with an eye to identifying the lines of social change and the ranges of social problems we can expect. • To sketch an inherited and persistent view of the application of social science knowledge to problems; this view derives from a presumed analogy between engineering on the one hand, and the social sciences 9 Social Sciences and Social Problems the next century (1995) From 1995: Vannevar Bush II: Science for the 21st Century, 117–32. Research Triangle Park, BC: Sigma Xi, Scientific Society, 1995. 192 l a t e r e x p l o r a t i o n s on the other and is based on utilitarian, instrumental assumptions. I will find this view to be wanting. • To revise that view radically, in light of our understanding of social problems and of how social science knowledge bears on them. This revision will, I hope, yield a more realistic account. social change and social problems: a look ahead It has been something of an American tradition to regard social problems as social pathologies. The list is familiar: crime and violence, alcoholism, divorce, drugs, poverty and homelessness, prostitution, mental illness, school dropout, chronic welfare dependency. One tradition has treated these as the collective results of individual maladjustments or moral failings —the “nuts, sluts, and perverts” approach, if you will—while other traditions have treated them more as products of the social system, or, more specifically, that system associated with industrial capitalism. In looking toward the future, I regard the systemic approach as the more fruitful, though it is also apparent that we will continue to live with social problems that derive from the psychological frailties of humanity in general. What, then, are the likely directions of future social change, and what are the kinds of social problems that are likely to accompany them? To gain initial insight into this question, we must turn to the economy and its continuing internationalization. The acceleration of three world trends seems inevitable. The first is the continuing drive toward economic productivity, growth, national wealth, and international competitiveness —the modern equivalents of the “idea of progress.” While some may rue this, we are hard-pressed to find any national actors who do not want it—the developed countries to protect their position, the new arrivals to secure theirs, and the undeveloped to break from their economic entrapment . The second is an immediate corollary of the economic drive, namely a pressure to improve technology and its applications in all spheres—agricultural , industrial, and service—with special emphasis on information technology. The third is the continued acceleration of the movement of s o c i a l s c i e n c e s a n d s o c i a l p r o b l e m s 193 the economy toward greater internationalization, along whatever dimension one wishes to specify—production, trade, credit and finance, and migration of populations. Closely related to these changes are a number of others that will reach, irreversibly, into the next century. I will simply list them to set the stage for identifying the major social problems that appear on the horizon: • Technologically based economic growth, as it has for centuries, continues to produce greater social differentiation and complexity—a greater division of labor, both domestic and international; more specialized occupational roles; more bureaucracy and more complex organizations required to manage that complexity. • A concomitant of the drive toward technology and social complexity is the greater premium that states and their constituent institutions will place on the application of knowledge. This impulse will extend to the application of knowledge to deal with social problems. • Internationalization will be evident in the cultural arena as well—the accelerating diffusion of science and technology, the growth...


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