fourcade on the twofold truth of the social sciences

In early May, SASE published a set of “think notes” from a recent conference on neoliberalism organized by MaxPo. There are fantastic contributions by a range of scholars, from Stephanie Mudge discussing the problem of progressive parties and progressive experts in the neoliberal era to Donald MacKenzie’s recognition of the “mundane political economy of finance” through the LIBOR scandal. The bit that most caught my eye came from Marion Fourcade’s reflections on Schumpeter and Bourdieu, and the “twofold truths” of labor, capital, and the social sciences. In her conclusion, Fourcade argues that social scientists have to grapple with the fact that capital itself sets many of the terms under which social science research is conducted, that “we are never fully outside of the orbit of capital.” In the current moment, Fourcade argues, this twofold truth takes on new forms:

But the current period is remarkable in another way, in that it is capital that increasingly concentrates the means of intellectual production by way of the big-data economy. It is capital that calls the shots on the shape of data collection, on the use of data, on what is and what isn’t to be known. And it is often capital, too, that shares in or reaps the symbolic rewards, from Microsoft Research to Apple University to Intel Labs. For those of us who cooperate – and the numbers grow every year – the benefits are handsome. That next grant from Google, that PNAS paper, that TED talk may be ours. For the others the threat is one of obsolescence and exclusion from the real intellectual action. So social scientists face their own badfaith problems, too: our historical position as social critics sits quite uncomfortably with our involvement in an academic game whose corporate-controlled institutions we depend upon.

Check out the whole essay, and the whole collection of “think notes”, here.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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