The social sciences in the English-speaking world have been through some dramatic changes in the last twenty years in their understanding of their own nature and methods. I shall call this area the philosophy of social science, though it includes the work, not just of philosophers but of very many sociologists and a smaller number of representatives of the other social science disciplines. In describing realism, hermeneutics and critical theory as ‘new’ philosophies of social science I do not mean to deny that these three movements have a much longer history. Realist philosophies of science are as old as science itself, though their conscious application to the social sciences dates from the early 1970s. Hermeneutic theory is at least 150 years old, and its application to history and the social sciences is not much more recent, while ‘critical theory’ was developed in the 1920s. All three however experienced a kind of take-off in the 1970s, moving into the space vacated by the previously dominant conception of social science.
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