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Cult of the IrrelevantThe Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security$
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Michael Desch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691181219

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691181219.001.0001

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How War Opened the Door to the Ivory Tower during the First World War and Peace Closed It Again

How War Opened the Door to the Ivory Tower during the First World War and Peace Closed It Again

(p.20) 2 How War Opened the Door to the Ivory Tower during the First World War and Peace Closed It Again
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This chapter illustrates the results of the intersection of disciplinary and international security dynamics through exploring the relationship between social science and policymaking in war- and peacetime. The former suppresses disciplinary inclinations to favor internal disciplinary agendas that lead social scientists to eschew policy relevance. However, during peacetime, social science disciplinary dynamics led them to disengage with practical policy issues. This was the direct result of the effort to make the discipline more scientific, as the distinction between “basic” and “applied” research had become one of the most important ways of distinguishing whether a scholar was doing science or not. Of course, many social scientists remained eager to find a way to square the circle between professionalization and practical relevance. To do so, they reassured themselves with the notion that the results of pure research will just trickle down and inform concrete policy decisions without their directly engaging with policy issues.

Keywords:   social science, policymaking, social scientists, policy relevance, basic research, applied research, professionalization, policy decisions, policy issues

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