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SMART social science? Examining the nature and role of social scientific expertise in institutional design

Morgan C Tait, University of Waterloo

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08472-210231

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Abstract

Daniel Bromley argues against Oran Young’s FIT model as a basis for environmental governance, on the grounds that humans cannot manage nature and that attempts to do so are based on a scientistic, modernist conceit. At issue is the role of natural and social scientists in adjudicating questions about what we ought to do to close governance gaps and address unsustainable behaviors. If Bromley is right, then the lessons of the American pragmatist tradition recommend against attempts to “fit” social institutions to the natural world. The first objective of this paper is to argue that Bromley’s view is not in keeping with the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce and John Dewey, which actually places a high value on natural and social scientific modes of inquiry in the service of social ends. I argue that Young’s proposal is in fact a development of the pragmatist idea that social institutions must be fit in the sense of fitness, i.e., resilient and able to navigate uncertainty. Social institutions must also evolve to accommodate the emerging values of the agents who operate within them. The second objective of this paper is to examine the role of social science expertise in the design of social policies. Governance institutions typically rely on the testimony of natural scientists, at least in part, to understand the natural systems they operate within. However, natural systems are also social systems, so it seems pertinent to ask whether there is a role for social systems experts to play in helping to design environmental governance institutions. I argue that social scientists can make a unique contribution as experts on social institutions, and as such, are necessary to bring about a transformation of the unsustainable institutions that are preventing us from achieving stated sustainable development goals.

Key words

American pragmatism; environmental governance; institutional fit; philosophy of science; philosophy of social science; science and policy; sustainable development goals

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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