Thursday, October 28, 2010

PL 71/10: Effective truth

Filed under: 1bib — plinius @ 12:29 pm

In 2001, Bent Flyvbjerg published a challenging book about the role of social science.

The strength of Flyvbjerg’s book is his discussion with social thinkers about the practical use and political impact of social studies. In Oslo, we have chosen this book as a suitable shared text for a new qualification program – described below.

Geertz on Flyvbjerg

I was encouraged to see that the eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz – I am a friend of his books – has written a friendly review of Flyvbjerg. I quote:

“The science wars,” Geertz says, have made it clear that using the term “science” to cover everything from string theory to psychoanalysis is not a happy idea. …

Bent Flyvbjerg …  argues that the quests for general, abstract, situationally unconditioned theory; for precise predictability; and for universally applicable, “objectivist” method are misplaced in research designed to discover why it is that human beings think, feel, and act as they do. To discover how we learn, how we relate to one another, how we understand what happens to us, demands something more, or something other, than the size-up-and-solve mentality of the soi-disant “hard sciences.”

  • His own work has been intensely practical, a matter of advising Danish politicians and civil servants about urban planning schemes and evaluating those schemes against the background of democratic ideals.
  • “I wanted Aalborg to be to my study what Florence was to Machiavelli…
  • I wanted to write what Machiavelli calls the verita effettuale, effective truth, of democracy in Aalborg.”
  • Flyvbjerg wishes … to construct a “phronetic social science,” one focused less on “theories, analysis, and universals” and more on “context, practice, experience, common sense, intuition, and practical wisdom.”
  • It is…as phronesis and techne [“know-how”] that the social sciences can provide a counterweight to…relativism and nihilism.


Flyvbjerg marshals and connects the work of the Dreyfuses on human learning as the staged attainment of cognitive skill and expertise; Giddens’s view that a “double hermeneutic” (self-reflexive interpretation) is characteristic of the human sciences, as opposed to the single, “view from nowhere” hermeneutic of the natural ones; Bourdieu’s critique of structuralism as detached, schematic, and neglectful of context; and, most importantly, the power-knowledge critique of value neutrality advanced by Foucault.

He completes this synthesis with a description of his own experiences in trying to reconcile the needs of motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, moped cowboys, and bus-riders so as to free his Danish Florence from “the car is king” mentality of the local Chamber of Commerce, a description offered as a concrete, “narrativized” example of an engaged and realistic “critical case study” carried out along phronetic lines.

The program

Last autumn Oslo University College started a five year further qualification program for librarians who had completed a Master’s Degree.

The program offers qualified librarians a work oriented alternative to the traditional thesis based doctorate.  Candidates continue working full time, but their employers accept that half the time should be devoted to development projects supervised by senior staff from OUC.

The actual projects should be

  • useful to the employees
  • challenging to the candidates
  • extensively documented
  • and include both individual and collective components

After two and a half years of project work – combined with two and a half years of “ordinary” work – candidates may apply for formal certification as “1.bibliotekar” – a formal status that is equivalent to a doctorate.

Four persons were accepted for the program last year:

  • one from Buskerud County Library
  • one from the National Library
  • one from Oslo University College Library
  • one from Vestfold University College Library

I am involved

  • as a project advisor to two of the candidates
  • as co-editor of a forthcoming multimedia publication called Lære.Verk (“Learning.Work”) – which will include contributions from all the candidates as well as the two editors (Helge and Tord Høivik)


  • Flyvbjerg, Bent (2001). Making Social Science Matter. Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001. 214 pp. $54.95, £37.50. ISBN 0-521-77268-0. Paper, $19.95, £13.95. ISBN 0-521-77568-X.




Using this text is also subject to the general HyperGeertz-Copyright-regulations based on Austrian copyright-law (2001), which – in short – allow a personal, nonprofit & educational (all must apply) use of material stored in data bases, including a restricted redistribution of such material, if this is also for nonprofit purposes and restricted to the scientific community (both must apply), and if full and accurate attribution to the author, original source and date of publication, web location(s) or originating list(s) is given (“fair-use-restriction”). Any other use transgressing this restriction is subject to a direct agreement between a subsequent user and the holder of the original copyright(s) as indicated by the source(s).

HyperGeertz@WorldCatalogue cannot be held responsible for any neglection of these regulations and will impose such a responsibility on any unlawful user.

Each copy of any part of a  transmission of a HyperGeertz-Text must therefore contain this same copyright notice as it appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission, including any specific copyright notice as  indicated above by the original copyright holder and/ or the previous online source(s)


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