In This Review

The Flight From Reality in the Human Sciences
The Flight From Reality in the Human Sciences
By Ian Shapiro
Princeton University Press, 2005, 232 pp

In these probing essays, the Yale political theorist Shapiro offers a disturbing portrait of contemporary social science. Shapiro contends that developments in intellectual style and methodological fashion have pushed scholars into insular, specialized, and "abstracted communities" that have little to say about the real world. He takes aim at both quantitative social science, which draws its inspiration from economics, and interpretive endeavors that draw their inspiration from literary criticism and linguistic philosophy. At the deepest level, he is also engaging debates about how scholars should devise causal explanations about politics and society. The flight from reality, Shapiro argues, comes at a cost: academics lose their ability to engage in useful political and social criticism, and young scholars, who "dread being thought insufficiently scientific," focus more on methodological technique than on tackling big questions. Shapiro calls for academics to reconnect the academic enterprise to the real world by returning to problem-driven social inquiry -- an urging that scholars of international relations and other fields should indeed ponder.