Examining normative sociology and phronetic social science in the light of practical reason

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Normative sociology and phronetic social science are research programmes that aim to overcome the dead end of positivism and the obfuscating effects of cryptonormativity, promising renewed social science disciplines that engage normatively with the public. In this article I aim to deepen our understanding of social science’s (re)turn to normativity by examining how the disciplinary aims of such programmes fare against their conception of practical reason. I consider Tariq Modood’s presentation of the Bristol school of multiculturalism (BSM) as a form of normative sociology and begin from its understanding of practical reason after Michael Oakeshott, before specifying Modood’s recommendations, also with reference to other prominent versions of normative sociology. I then show that Bent Flyvbjerg’s phronetic social science, an Aristotle-inspired programme that has received widespread attention, is a particularly useful object of comparison: it bears high proximity to the BSM by being contextualist, dialogical and prising public engagement. Most importantly, it too espouses anti-rationalist arguments via the emphasis it places on the Aristotelian notion of phronesis (practical wisdom). I argue that Oakeshott and Aristotle’s insights on the character and growth of practical reason both clarify and problematize the disciplinary aims of normative sociology and phronetic social science. Thus, to develop and defend normative social science it is necessary to address a host of resulting challenges. Most centrally the following: Phronesis as an intellectual virtue based on one’s dispositions, character and experience, largely eludes disciplinary level training of the kind that social scientists and political theorists have received, exercise or provide to students.
Original languageEnglish
Article number92732
JournalCivic Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2024


  • practical reason
  • disciplinary aims
  • normative sociology
  • phronetic social science
  • phronesis
  • Tariq Modood
  • Bent Flyvbjerg
  • Aristotle
  • Michael Oakeshott


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