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  • Cited by 5
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
November 2020
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Book description

The social sciences underwent rapid development in postwar America. Problems once framed in social terms gradually became redefined as individual with regards to scope and remedy, with economics and psychology winning influence over the other social sciences. By the 1970s, both economics and psychology had spread their intellectual remits wide: psychology's concepts suffused everyday language, while economists entered a myriad of policy debates. Psychology and economics contributed to, and benefited from, a conception of society that was increasingly skeptical of social explanations and interventions. Sociology, in particular, lost intellectual and policy ground to its peers, even regarding 'social problems' that the discipline long considered its settled domain. The book's ten chapters explore this shift, each refracted through a single 'problem': the family, crime, urban concerns, education, discrimination, poverty, addiction, war, and mental health, examining the effects an increasingly individualized lens has had on the way we see these problems.


'Fontaine and Pooley describe their exceptional book as a comparative history of the study of social problems in postwar America. They are too modest. They and their collaborators give us a remarkably adept study of the interconnected social sciences and how multidisciplinary work flourished and shaped today's understanding of America's difficult challenges with mental health, crime, education, poverty and so much more.'

E. Roy Weintraub - Duke University and Distinguished Fellow, History of Economic Society

'Social science was riding high in the wake of the Second World War. Here is a new history, organized around practical anxieties and ambitions rather than academic ones. Its chapters present an emerging class of social experts such as sociologists engaging with economists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, sometimes as allies and sometimes with swords drawn, defending rival visions of how to alter behaviors and make things better. The book provides a fascinating and sobering historical analysis of engaged social inquiry.'

Ted Porter - UCLA

'Neither social problems nor society itself are self-evident. They are products of framing, policy approaches, and public debates in particular historical contexts. Shaping these processes has been a major theme contribution of academic social science. Focusing on the important context of the postwar US, Society on the Edge illuminates the disciplinary and interdisciplinary histories that shaped the relationship between scientific research and public understanding of social problems.'

Craig Calhoun - Arizona State University

‘Society on the Edge will be of considerable value to a wide range of scholars. These include social scientists whose own research, teaching, and other professional activities can benefit from a deeper understanding of the longer history and recent past of social problem analysis.’

Mark Solovey Source: HOPE

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  • 2 - Family
    pp 68-105


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