policy-makers use of social science knowledge: symbolic or instrumental?

Knorr, Karin D. (July 1976) policy-makers use of social science knowledge: symbolic or instrumental? Former Series > Forschungsberichte / Research Memoranda 103


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abstract (introduction): the concept of legitimation recently gained some popularity in connection with the attempt to theoretically locate the symptoms of post industrialism or late capitalism (e.g. schaar 1969; luhmann 1969; offe 1972; habermas 1973). in the literature on the utilization of social science knowledge the concept has long been known to stand for the position that decision makers mainly seek research results to back up convictions they already held and decisions they have alreadytaken. the second position equally popular defines utilization in terms of the meaning it has in natural and technological sciences; it expects political decisions to be replaced by scientifically derived objective necessities (schelsky 1965). both positions seem equally extreme in their interpretation of the utilization process; and both positions are equally speculative in sofar as there are hardly any data available to constitute the ground for one or the other thesis. the present paper seeks to examine both assumptions by drawing from 70 face-to-face interviews done in 1974 with medium level decision makers in austrian federal and municipal government agencies (all located in vienna) who were directly involved with contract research. since there are no lists of the universe of government officials funding social science projects the study cannot claim to be representative for the population; however, extensive search processes on the part of the project teams suggest that the persons identified constitute a more or less complete set of government contractors in the city of vienna, where more than 50 percent of austrian social science government contract research is financed. the study included only government officials who had (during the last few years) financed at least one project finished at the time of the interviewing in a social science discipline. the distribution of projects over disciplines is as follows: sociology (51 percent), economics (24 percent), educational sciences (13,5 percent), urban and regional planning (4,5 percent), political sciences (4,5 percent) and others (2,5 percent). the frequency of projects classified as sociological reflects the predominance of social research and opinion surveys in government contract research. this predominance should be kept in mind when reading the analysis that follows. the present paper relies on both, responses to open ended questions recorded on tape and answers given to standardized closed ended phrasings. furthermore, responses from government officials are in a few cases supplemented by data stemming from a survey of 628 austrian social scientists done in 1973/1974 which included a set of questions equivalent to those that had been asked to the decision makers. both surveys had been done as part of one larger study; hence, for the two populations certain parts of the questionnaires have been constructed to match each other. the same definition of "social science" which centers around the disciplines mentioned above (including psychology, contemporary history and business administration) was used in both cases. the population of social scientists analyzed for the present purpose excludes those researchers who had not done a contract research project during the last few years.;

Item Type: IHS Series
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2014 10:34
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2016 14:07
URI: https://irihs.ihs.ac.at/id/eprint/103

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