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Knowledge production and social inquiry
Editors: Jane Wills and Robert W. Lake

This book makes the case for a pragmatist approach to the practice of social inquiry and knowledge production. Through diverse examples from multiple disciplines, contributors explore the power of pragmatism to inform a practice of inquiry that is democratic, community-centred, problem-oriented and experimental. Drawing from both classical and neo-pragmatist perspectives, the book advances a pragmatist sensibility in which truth and knowledge are contingent rather than universal, made rather than found, provisional rather than dogmatic, subject to continuous experimentation rather than ultimate proof and verified in their application in action rather than in the accuracy of their representation of an antecedent reality. The power of pragmatism offers a path forward for mobilizing the practice of inquiry in social research, exploring the implications of pragmatism for the process of knowledge production.

Liam Harney and Jane Wills

This chapter reflects upon the lessons learned through an experiment in pragmatic social research conducted in east London in the UK in 2015. The project drew upon the pragmatism of the Chicago School of Sociologists and the work of Ernest Burgess, Robert Park and G.H. Mead as well as the earlier work of William James and John Dewey. The E14 expedition tried to test whether, and if so, how, university researchers could work with a range of citizens to address public problems in a genuinely open way, listening to the full range of opinion and ideas. The project exposed the extent to which academic social scientists are often deaf to political opinions that are believed to be misguided, confused and/or incorrect. It also exposed the role played by the social infrastructure of pre-existing relationships, trust, shared interests and identity in underpinning and enabling effective collective action. The chapter advocates paying greater academic and political attention to the things that make public action and problem-solving possible, including being open to different ideas and beliefs, and nurturing the social relationships that enable democratic behaviour and practice.

in The power of pragmatism
Abstract only
The power of pragmatism
Jane Wills and Robert W. Lake

This chapter provides a thorough introduction to an edited book that comprises fifteen chapters exploring the power of pragmatism in relation to social research and the production of knowledge. The chapter outlines the historical development of the pragmatist tradition and its core ideas before exploring its application to social research, past and present. We make a strong case for pragmatic social research, outline its key components and highlight its implications for research practice and outcomes. In the penultimate section, we address some of the long-standing concerns about pragmatism in order to provide critical context to the chapters in the rest of the book. The final section introduces the structure of the book and summarises the substantive chapters that follow.

in The power of pragmatism