Philippe Fontaine and Jefferson D. Pooley, Society on the Edge: Social Science and Public Policy in the Postwar United States Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. 280. ISBN 978-1-1084-8713-9. £74.99 (hardback). ISBN 978-1-1087-3219-2. £26.99 (paperback)

Theo Di Castri
2023 British Journal for the History of Science  
Society on the Edge offers historians of social science and public policy a valuable 'bird's-eye view' of research into 'social problems' in the US since 1945 (p. 57). The volume features nine chapters written by historians of US social science, each focusing on a different area of research on 'social problems': Savina Balasubramanian and Charles Camic contribute a chapter on the family, Andrew Jewett on education, Alice O'Connor on poverty, Leah N. Gordon on discrimination, George C. Galster
more » ... 'the Black ghetto', Jean-Baptiste Fleury on crime, Nancy Campbell on addiction, Andrew Scull on mental illness and Joy Rohde on war. These chapters are introduced by a thought-provoking chapter by the volume's editors, Phillippe Fontaine and Jefferson D. Pooley. Each chapter addresses three central themes. First, they chart how the very 'problem status' of different social problems has changed over the course of the twentieth century and the role that social scientists have played in this process. Second, they map the shifting jurisdictions of the different social-science disciplines that have laid claimsometimes in collaboration, sometimes in competitionto different social problems since 1945. Third, they explore the changing fates of the different explanations and solutions that have emerged from this jurisdictional jockeying and from federal politics, policy making and public debate. Within the kaleidoscopic landscape of the political, cultural, economic and disciplinary transformations documented by the volume's contributors, the role of social scientists in defining social problems emerges as a co-productive one. Fontaine and Pooley argue convincingly that we should see social scientists as neither the prime drivers nor the passive bystanders of political change, but rather as participants in a process of 'mutual shaping that enmeshes social scientists in the politics of American social problems' (p. 57). The subsequent chapters illustrate the multiple ways this co-productive process has played out in each of the social-problem areas covered. The volume paints a vivid picture of the shifting fates of different social-scientific disciplines as their authority over certain social problems waxed and waned during the course of the twentieth century. Fontaine and Pooley advise against us seeing this process of as one of simple succession. Instead, they frame it as the result of a 'lopsided resonance' between certain facets of an always plural academic sphere and the always shifting tides of politics and public attitudes (p. 57). Certain forms of disciplinary expertise become
doi:10.1017/s0007087422000589 fatcat:qoz5arkqabg3hdqiqvz6m575gi