Mirowski on Backhouse and Fontaine, eds., The History of the Social Sciences since 1945

19 November 2010 at 10:26 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

I enjoyed Philip Mirowski’s first book, though I find his more recent stuff increasingly tendentious and repetitive. Still, a Mirowski review of Backhouse and Fontaine, eds., The History of the Social Sciences since 1945 (Cambridge, 2010) is worth a read. Interesting bit on organizational structure:

The historical generalization overlooked by the editors is that “interdisciplinary” social science units shoehorned into postwar university structures almost uniformly failed, whereas those founded as freestanding think tanks, from RAND to American Enterprise Institute to Cato and the Manhattan Institute, all persevered and succeeded. This is true even for the odd case of Carnegie GSIA, which became the model for other business schools across the nation, but only upon dispensing with the original interdisciplinary structures initially promoted by Herbert Simon (himself then exiled to a Department of Psychology). The lesson may be that the postwar American research university could not sustain true interdisciplinarity in social science inquiry, but that military and corporate sponsors of the think tanks could manage it, but only by yoking it to a format that enforced unquestioned responsiveness to the whims of the funders.

A familiar point of course to students of entrepreneurship and innovation, and yet another reason to suspect that innovation in higher education is more likely to come from outsiders (e.g., the notorious for-profit institutions) than incumbents.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education, Innovation, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Theory of the Firm.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. FC  |  20 November 2010 at 2:10 am

    That “responsiveness”, to the limited extent it exists, is better called exchange of money for services. Contrariwise, the typical university department is almost totally removed from the desires of the students and taxpayers who fund it.

  • 2. Rafe  |  20 November 2010 at 4:43 pm

    He appeared to be onto something about thirty years ago when he identified the physics fixation at the heart of mainstream economics which explained why the Austrians were on the outer.

    However he mocks the Austrians, and Popper, and classical liberalism. So if you know a bit about those three things, then he comes over as a classical case of the pretence of learning, shallow and boring. His bubble will soon burst.

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