November, 2021

A Review of Society on the Edge

Social Science and Public Policy in the Postwar United States
  • Erwin Dekker

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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Once upon a time, somewhere between 1910 and 1960, American sociology textbooks were organized around social problems: crime, mental disorders, poverty, family, sometimes war or the ghetto. The volume edited by Philippe Fontaine and Jefferson D. Pooley Society at the Edge harks back to this tradition, by exploring the fate of nine social problems in the postwar period at the intersection of social science and public policy. It gives the contributions a coherence that is often missing in edited volumes. With one exception the chapters all follow the same pattern by tracing how the perception of the social problem at hand changed over time, and how proposed solutions and policies were influenced by developments in the social sciences. This setup secures a refreshing look at postwar social science because it forces all of the contributors to discuss how problems were perceived across disciplines and how these disciplines gained or lost grip on these problems in the policy arena.