Annual General Meeting 2012
Academy members gathered on 5th July for the Annual General Meeting, which was preceded by a talk from Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby AcSS OBE. The results of elections to Council were announced and new Academicians welcomed.
On this page:
- Talk from Peter Taylor Gooby OBE AcSS
- The AGM
- Photos of new Academicians
Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby OBE AcSS (left) gave a talk immediately before the Academy's Annual General Meeting on 5th July 2012 entitled ‘The State of Social Science: only itself to blame?'
Professor Taylor-Gooby said that both society and government relied on social science a great deal, and that people who criticised it for what they saw as its failure to predict events had misunderstood the nature of the knowledge it could produce.
Speaking to an audience of 50 at the Academy's London offices, he pointed out “one central puzzle – social science, as we are all aware, comes in for a great deal of public criticism these days from all sorts of directions, and to some extent feels itself beleaguered.
“At the same time it’s clear to anybody who looks at how our society functions – at the economy, public life, media, processes of government and popular discourse – that social science has an enormous influence on public life and it’s very much in demand.
“It’s an interesting puzzle: why on earth do people criticise something they use in their everyday lives such a lot of the time?”
Professor Taylor-Gooby, who was recently given an OBE for his services to social science, talked about the question the Queen raised during a visit to the LSE when she asked why none of the academics had predicted the credit crunch. Professor Taylor-Gooby also mentioned two Guardian opinion columns by Aditya Chakrabortty this year criticising social science for not offering an alternative to failed economic policies.
The criticism was “in effect saying ‘you social scientists can’t really tell us anything helpful about the really big issues that we face’, and there’s always the threat that lies behind that – ‘why is the government putting money into supporting your activities if you are not really much use to us?’”
Professor Taylor-Gooby, Professor of Social Policy at Kent, pointed out that in fact political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, policy experts and psychologists were researching such issues, and the government and private sector employed many social scientists.
Social scientists’ work featured heavily in the media – he had carried out an online search of articles in UK broadsheet newspapers using the term “research” in April. More than two-thirds of these reported social science research.
“If you use media discussion as a basis for understanding of how people think about the role the social science you will find considerable attention paid to social science findings.”
More than half of the government’s Foresight projects, major long-term analyses of important issues such as migration, wellbeing, addictions, trust, land-use and identity had “very substantial social science input”.
“Government needs to use social science. You could also suggest that our society uses social science a very great deal and relies to a considerable extent on social science.”
He pointed out that undergraduate applications this year across all subjects had fallen by about 5.5% (April figures). Some social science subjects had done relatively well with real increases in recruitment or a decline of less than 5.5%: law, accountancy, geography, economics, business studies and anthropology. This was not so much a moving away from social science but a shift within it.
“You could construct the argument that there is quite a lot of public demand. Even in a climate where people have to pay substantial fees and incur substantial debts to undertake their education there’s a clear demand for major social science disciplines.”
He analysed recent debates about responses to climate change and to the economic crisis and argued that the social sciences deal with issues of conflict and crisis which trouble our society and to which there is no easy answer. People such as the Queen and Chakrabortty expect social science to explain what is happening, predict what will happen and set out a way of dealing with the problem.
“But it’s extremely difficult to do that, so social science ends up in the position of a scapegoat - it deals with those areas of our society that are problematic and cause us unease, but very often there are issues which it’s difficult to produce an answer that’s satisfactory to those outside the social science community.
'Social science deals with areas where the world outside needs answers but by the nature of the case it cannot provide the sort of simple, definitive, directive answers that are wanted because the knowledge it produces isn’t like that.”
“Social science deals with areas of unease, difficulty and concern and conflict and is defiled in the eyes of the world because it can’t solve those problems – it carries the burden of those problems, but fails to remove them. That’s the real reason why people don’t love social science.”
Download the slides from the presentation here (pdf).
A lively discussion then took place and continued over afternoon cream tea. Point raised included the fact that arguments from the natural sciences are currently privileged in public debate and especially in government.
The AGM followed, with reports on progress from the members of the Executive Committee.
Professor Cary Cooper summarized the achievements and activities of the previous year, noting that the Academy now had 44 learned societies in membership, including the first European-based organisation. Between them, the member learned societies reach out to over 86,000 social scientists. In addition, more than 800 of the top social scientists are now recognised as Academicians. Through activities including the CEO and Chief Officers of Learned Societies Group, the Academy draws upon expertise and encourages dialogue. The Making the Case fo the Social Sciences series draws Westminster and Whitehall attention to the vital work of social scientists, and other collaborative events such as the high level seminar on High Speed Rail, chaired by Louise Ellman MP, keep social science firmly in the politicians' eye. The Myths and Realities series of public lectures, held in conjunction with the British Library continues to take social science knowledge to the wider public. Within the Academy membership events have included meetings about the future of Higher Education and of the social sciences. The relaunched journal was making a name as a truly interdisciplinary vehicle for turning social science lenses onto current issues. Professor Cooper thanked the Academy's staff for their innovative ideas and hard work in keeping the Academy running on a tight budget.
Professor Mike Danson (left), retiring Honorary Treasurer, indicated the improvements in the Academy's financial situation through increased membership, the journal and continuing careful control of expenditure.
Stephen Anderson (left), the Executive Director, noted apologies, including from the President who had been unable to attend. He thanked John Urry and Mike Danson for their kind, gentle and courteous support during their time on the Executive Committee. He then spoke in more detail about past activity and plans for the future, noting the rising profile with goverment as the Academy became a trusted partner in various activities. The Academy had been asked to set up a committee to suggest social scientists for Public Honours.
He wished to thank David Canter (right), editor of Contemporary Social Science, for his work in developing the journal.
Professor Tony Crook (left) spoke about the work of the Academy's Campaign for Social Science, noting the success of its first year especially in terms of fundraising, influencing and the bringing together of social scientists around the UK at the various Campaign roadshows. Media stars are needed to be the face of social science. Strong support from universities was increasingly evident.
Professor Peter Fearon (left), the Honorary Secretary, noted that Helen Lawton Smith, Mike Danson and John Urry were all retiring from Council, and thanked them for their important contributions over the past years. He declared that Jane Millar, John Brewer and Adam Tickell had all been elected by the College of Learned Societies. He then talked about the work of his Governance Working Party, which was aiming to streamline the governance of the Academy. Academicians and Learned Societies would be invited to comment soon, with the aim of an EGM to agree the proposed changes in late 2012, early 2013. The AGM agreed formally to adopt the Directors' Report and Accounts for 2011.