- Patronage at What Cost? Revisiting an Old Problem in the Social Sciences
The contributors to Mark Solovey and Hamilton Craven’s edited volume, Cold War Social Science, attempt to answer a question that has been nagging historians for at least thirty years: What happened to the American social sciences during the Cold War? Clearly, something happened: membership in professional societies, funding opportunities, and political influence all multiplied, but so did charges of military subservience, amorality, and less-than-rigorous intellectual agendas. Given the marked ties between postwar social scientists and the agencies who funded them, historians of science have turned to the experiences of anthropologists, sociologists, economists, psychologists, and modernization theorists as ideal cases to explore whether, and to what extent, historical context shapes the content of scientific ideas. While the volume’s contributors consider these traditional questions, most take the refreshing (and, in 2013, reasonable) approach of simply assuming that context is relevant. The resulting book offers a fascinating look at the myriad ways that the postwar social sciences were, as Theodore Porter puts it in the foreword, “bound up” with the “ideological and practical requirements of the Cold War” (p. ix).
Now that the Cold War has become more of a topic for historical analysis and less a lightning rod for contemporary politics, the original pejorative intent of the book’s title requires some elaboration. When first used by critics on the New Left, the phrase “Cold War social science” was meant to evoke an image of the social sciences as equal partners in the military-industrial-academic complex. Such critics had in mind incidents like the 1965 Project Camelot debacle, in which Chilean journalists uncovered Army backing for a proposed American University project on social and political change in Latin America (an incident discussed by Joy Rohde in this volume); or the revelations, in 1966, that MIT’s interdisciplinary Center for International Studies received part of its funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. In the cover’s visual interpretation of the [End Page 742] phrase, a building labeled “Social Sciences Unit,” adorned with an American flag, is cordoned off by a barbed-wire fence bearing an “Advanced Weapons Development” sign. An evil-looking red cloud swirls overhead.
Given the vagaries of scholarly publishing, it’s hard to say whether Solovey and Cravens endorsed the cover art. Solovey’s introduction suggests room for a range of more innocuous interpretations that, for the most part, pervade the book. After referring to the “specter” (p. 3) of Cold War social science as a tool of the state, he suggests some alternative meanings of the phrase, from grantsmanship to topic choice to time frame. Solovey’s even-handedness here makes his own views a bit difficult to discern. On the one hand, his admission that “Cold War social science is thus often going to be a matter of degree” (p. 18) is a sensible approach to the problem; on the other, the assembly of a 2010 conference and subsequent volume primarily focused on research with ties to the defense establishment indicates a commitment to a stronger sense of the concept.
The individual contributors, in any case, demonstrate a variety of viewpoints on the relationship between Cold War–era priorities and disciplinary knowledge production. The essays in the first section, “Knowledge Production,” explore the “conceptual, methodological, technical, and institutional supports” (p. 8) for knowledge production in the academic social sciences in the postwar years. In part two, on “Liberal Democracy,” the contributors turn their attention to how postwar social scientists understood both political order and the social, economic, and moral structures that make political order possible. The four articles in the last section, “Human Nature,” examine changing understandings of human behavior in the postwar years. While intended as gestures toward broader discussions in the history of the social sciences, these divisions (as is so often the case in edited volumes) are somewhat arbitrary. They are nevertheless useful as a clue to the volume’s primary focus on...