Unlike physics, chemistry and biology, which took on their modern forms in the nineteenth century, the social sciences coalesced only during the twentieth. The tale of their consolidation, rise and subsequent slide is often narrated as a clash of ideologies: scientific versus humanistic. In 'Working Knowledge', historian Joel Issac reveals how institutional circumstances shaped the field. Isaac's elegant study shows how debates over method spring from efforts to embed new types of inquiry in the classroom. --David Kaiser, Nature, Thursday 5th July 2012
Joel Isaac's Working Knowledge is intellectual history at its best. Isaac's subject is the development of several of the human sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, history of science) at Harvard University between 1920 and 1960. But as Isaac makes clear, this is more than a story of disciplinary expansion; as the social sciences took root at America's most prestigious university, so did a distinctive view of the epistemological underpinnings of social-scientific inquiry. Given both the centrality of Harvard in the twentieth-century academic world and the importance of many of the figures at the center of this shift--James Bryant Conant, Thomas Kuhn, Talcott Parsons, W. V. Quine, and B. F. Skinner, among others--Working Knowledge is a local study of broad implication and interest. ----Robert Westbrook, Bookforum (06/01/2012)
Isaac explores how influential thinkers in the mid-twentieth century understood the relations among science, knowledge, and the empirical study of human affairs. He places special emphasis on the practical, local manifestations of their complex theoretical ideas, particularly the institutional milieu of Harvard University.