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Reimagining the Social Sciences: Knowledge, Epistemic Change, and the Study of Democracy


This book addresses two questions about knowledge in the social sciences. The first is the question of progress: Has knowledge increased over time? That is, have advances in knowledge about the social world been made? The second is the related question of cumulation: Inasmuch as advances in knowledge have been made, is the growth of knowledge cumulative in nature? That is, have all gains been made by building on and adding to prior knowledge or through the total replacement of past knowledge, and have gains been made only in a steady, incremental fashion or also through episodic revolutions that lead to big leaps in the growth of knowledge?

This book seeks to move this discussion forward by tackling some key problems in the way the questions of progress and cumulation have been addressed in the context of the social sciences. First, it presents a philosophically-grounded and comprehensive framework suited to an evaluation of social science research. Then, it offers an extensive reconstruction of research on democratization from roughly 1789 until the 2010s, and assesses this field of study in light of the proposed framework. The book’s conclusions offer support for some well-known claims about knowledge in the social sciences and raises doubts about other well-known contentions, some of which are strongly advocated and influential. They also add considerable nuance to the way the question of progress has been discussed and provide a new perspective on the question of cumulation.

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