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"Why social scientists should engage with natural scientists" by Philip Lowe OBE

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Presentation by Philip Lowe, Director of the Rural Economy & Land Use programme, given as part of the ACES seminar series at the University of Aberdeen: www.aces.ac.uk

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"Why social scientists should engage with natural scientists" by Philip Lowe OBE

  1. 1. Philip LoweWhy social scientists should engage with natural scientistsACES November 2010 <br />
  2. 2. Isidore Marie AugusteFrançois Xavier Comte(1798 – 1857)<br />Social Physics – later ‘Sociology’<br />Queen of the Sciences- organised the lower sciences<br />
  3. 3. Social scientists steering technical change in the mid/late 19th century<br /><ul><li>Social engineers of the Victorian era</li></li></ul><li>20th century – disciplinary specialization/ interdisciplinary reaction<br />The need for articulation of the disciplines<br />Interdisciplinarity: periodic engagement/disengagement of the disciplines<br />Different prompts for interdisciplinary collaboration:<br />Educational; Academic; External/Societal <br />Cycle of practical application and academic abstraction<br />
  4. 4. “periods of marching and periods of weaving. For a time, the different academic professions march forward separately but in parallel, each in its own special way; then, for a time, they join hands and work together on the general problems arising in the areas where their techniques overlap”.<br />
  5. 5. (Dis)engaging the Applied Social Sciences<br />The changing relationship of social sciences towards technical R&D:<br /><ul><li>1950s-1970s – Era of technological optimism
  6. 6. 1970s-1990s – Era of technological criticism/detachment
  7. 7. 2000s – Upfront engagement</li></li></ul><li>(Dis)engaging the Applied Social Sciences<br />The changing relationship of social sciences towards technical R&D:<br /><ul><li>1950s-1970s – Era of technological optimism</li></ul>Involvement in technological developments, focussed on barriers to diffusion of innovations.<br />
  8. 8.
  9. 9. (Dis)engaging the Applied Social Sciences<br />The changing relationship of social sciences towards technical R&D:<br /><ul><li>1970s-1990s – Era of technological criticism/ detachment</li></ul>Social scientists reject ‘end of pipe’ role and address growing concerns over social and environmental impacts of new technologies.<br />
  10. 10. (Dis)engaging the Applied Social Sciences<br />The changing relationship of social sciences towards technical R&D:<br /><ul><li>2000s – Upfront re-engagement?</li></ul>Interdisciplinary research bringing critical social analysis into steering the design of socio-technical change for sustainable development<br />
  11. 11. Climate Change: New imperative for interdisciplinarity<br />
  12. 12. Engaging the sciences<br />Technological solutions on their own will not suffice<br />A need for new technologies to go with grain of social change and social innovation which creatively exploits technological opportunities<br />Innovation as combined socio-technical process<br />
  13. 13. Engaging the sciences<br /><ul><li>If social scientists don’t construct the social, natural scientists will do it for them Example of ecology</li></li></ul><li>Ecologists’ Construing of People<br />
  14. 14. How can ecologists best take into account the social/human dimensions of their work?<br />
  15. 15. The Relu (Rural Economy and Land Use) programme<br />
  16. 16. New Ways of Doing Science<br />Claims for interdisciplinary research are that it can help:<br /><ul><li>Avoid partial framings of questions and complex problems
  17. 17. Introduce new framings of research problems
  18. 18. Contextualise technological opportunities and environmental constraints
  19. 19. Provide holistic solutions
  20. 20. Improve accountability by opening up framing of problems and resource allocation decisions</li></li></ul><li>The Relu programme<br />What use social sciences in interdisciplinary projects:<br />
  21. 21. Ecologists and social scientists in Relu<br />Ecologists collaborating with social scientists by activity (%)<br />
  22. 22. ?<br />Ecologists in Relu: How to choose a social science partner<br />Economists have much in <br />common with ecologists – <br />they are quantitative, and develop predictive models<br />Landscape ecologist<br />Working with qualitative social scientists is much more exciting and challenging<br />Ecological modeller<br />
  23. 23. ?<br />Ecologists in Relu: How to choose a social science partner<br />Ecology’s hypothetic-deductive approach is quite alien to many social scientists<br />Applied ecologist<br />As a field scientist, I believe that useful science can be done without recourse solely to hypothesis-testing<br />Community ecologist<br />
  24. 24. ?<br />Ecologists in Relu: How to choose a social science partner<br />Conservation ecologist<br />Links are easiest to the more reductionist social scientists<br />than the more holistic ones<br />Ecologists and social scientists<br />both have to understand systems that cannot be confined to simple equations or hypotheses, and may not be amenable to experiment<br />Spatial ecologist<br />
  25. 25. Unity of the social and environmental sciences in intervention mode<br />Site of discovery<br />Field<br />Laboratory<br />Field<br />Knowledge generated<br />Natural observation, leading to induction<br />Results of controlled experiment, leading to deduction<br />Observation and experiment through intervention, leading to innovation<br />Epistemological assumption<br />All seeing , but detached and neutral observer<br />All powerful experimenter, ensuring completely controlled and replicable conditions<br />Researchers learn through field interventions<br />Examples<br />Classical environmental and social sciences<br />Physical and biological sciences<br />Action research, engineering, medicine, applied social and environmental sciences<br />Mode of science <br />Observational <br />Experimentation<br />Intervention<br />
  26. 26. Science in an unstable environment<br />

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