Discussion papers

CPM-99-56 - 30 November 1999

Relevance, Realism and Rigour: A Third Way for Social and Economic Research

Scott Moss


This paper lays down a challenge to adopt a third way for social and economic research. This third way rejects economics as bad science and intellectually dishonest. It also rejects approaches to management research that retreat into the notion that there is no objective reality. The first is too remote from reality to be useful in the development of social policy and the second is too introspective to support a social analysis that is relevant to policy.

The third way – as in contemporary politics – recognises that social institutions are a product of individual behaviour and action. In order to live and work together, people develop norms of behaviour, common beliefs, notions of responsibility, right and duty. The problem for social scientists is to develop ways of developing the concept of the third way as a useful approach to policy analysis.

The paper makes four key points that are backed by evidence from the relevant literatures:

Economics as developed over the past century is not useful for the analysis and support of formal policy; it should simply be ignored by serious social scientists

Social scientists developing and using qualitative research methods, particularly in management research, have rejected any kind of formal modelling because they identify such modelling with economics

While qualitative social research, particularly in the management disciplines, can be too introverted – some would say self-indulgent – to be relevant for general support of social policies, the detailed understanding of social processes developed by researchers working in that area can usefully inform the development of social models and a good science of management and social policy

Methods developed by social simulation modellers in particular are well able to reflect the detailed evidence of qualitative social and management research and, moreover, to do so in a way that captures the evolution and development of social institutions in a manner that is entirely consistent with the third way.