A decade on from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, this article examines the contributions of social scientists to the Inquiry on two key issues: the meaning of institutional racism and the police response to racial violence. These academic inputs are characterised as instrumental and reflexive forms of knowledge. While social science applied to social policy is most effective in instrumental mode, rather than reflexively, there are various factors – such as the interpretation of evidence, media debate and the role of prominent individuals – that are more significant in assessing its consequences. The impact of these factors mean that, although academic work on these issues has been influential, the outcome appears to be that institutional racism has run its course and been disowned or downgraded, while racial violence has become subsumed within the broader category of hate crime. It is argued that the relationship between academic knowledge and policy requires a better grasp of the complexities of applying social science, and that is what this article aims to make a contribution to.
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