Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Readers' list of innovative social science writing

Image: graph of relationships among the social sciences, Eigenfactor.org

To the readers of UnderstandingSociety,

I am writing directly to you to ask your thoughts about innovative work in the social sciences today. What books or new areas of inquiry in the social sciences are you particularly excited about right now?

The context --

One of the goals I have in this blog is to take note of interesting new developments in the social sciences and philosophy.  It seems to me very consistently that the social sciences still have a lot of important work to do in establishing goals, methods, and theories for understanding the social world, and creative and innovative contributions to new issues as well as old are very exciting.

In recent months I've written about books that I probably wouldn't have run across without the advantage of many conversations with some very good sociologists and political scientists on a regular basis, and this is a real source of intellectual growth.  I think of Pickett and Wilkinson's theorizing about economic inequalities and social harms, Neil Gross's sociological biography of Richard Rorty, Andreas Glaeser's account of the cultural conditions of the collapse of the Stasi in East Germany, McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal's analysis of political polarization, and John Levi Martin's new thinking about social explanations as good examples, and there are many others.

    

I've also enjoyed going back to classic texts from the social sciences of the 1960s for a second look. People like Erving Goffman, Chalmers Johnson, G. William Skinner, Steven Lukes, and Karl Popper have come in for a second look over the past several years on UnderstandingSociety. In each case I feel that I've come to see some features of their work that seem particularly pertinent today, fifty years after their primary research, that somehow didn't emerge in my first reading years ago.  (I was definitely not a fan of Popper's in the 1970s.)

   

The invitation --

What books or new pieces of research in the social sciences and philosophy are you particularly excited about? What are some areas of research that you think are shedding significant new light on how we understand the social world?

If enough readers are willing to make a suggestion or two, it would be very interesting to compile a list of topics and books that are making a difference in the social sciences -- a kind of "crowd-sourcing" approach to mapping out the areas of innovation that are making a difference in how we think about the social world.

If you are willing, please post a few suggestions of books in the social sciences that have you excited in the comments section. You can also make your recommendations on the UnderstandingSociety Facebook page or tweet me at @dlittle30.

I have created a page in the sidebar, Readers' Recommendations, as a way of organizing these recommendations.