Pursuing Truth, Exercising Power
The conditions that shaped the rise and expansion of American social science are rapidly changing, and with them, the terms of its relationship with power and policy. As globalization has diminished the role of the state as the locus of public policy in favor of NGOs, multinational corporations and other private entities, it has raised important questions about the future of the social sciences and their universalist pretensions.
As dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson has a unique vantage point on the intersection of social sciences, particularly political science, and public-policy formation and implementation. How do, or should, the research and findings of the academy affect foreign or domestic policy today? Why are politicians often quick to dismiss professors as irrelevant, their undertakings purely "academic", while scholars often shrink from engagement as agents of social or political change? There is a tension at work here, and it reveals a deeper compromise that arose as the modern social sciences were born in the nursery of late nineteenth century American liberalism: social scientists would dedicate themselves to the pursuit of objective, empirically verifiable truth, while relinquishing the exercise of power to governments and their agents. Anderson argues that this compromise helped underwrite the expansion of American influence in the twentieth century, and that it needs serious reexamination at the dawn of the twenty-first.