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The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences

The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences


Part of Canto

Quentin Skinner, William Outhwaite, David Hoy, Mark Philp, Barry Barnes, Alan Ryan, Anthony Giddens, Susan James, James Boon, Stuart Clark
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  • Date Published: September 1990
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521398336
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About the Authors
  • The past quarter of a century has seen dramatic developments in social and political thought. These essays offer an indispensable introduction to some of the most influential amongst them. Quentin Skinner's Introduction traces broad transformations such as the erosion of empiricist assumptions and the undermining of the positivist ideal of the unification of the sciences by the impact of foreign traditions on English-speaking social science. The essays themselves discuss major figures such as Gadamer, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Althusser and Levi-Strauss, giving valuably lucid introductory studies of some difficult but unquestionably major thinkers of our time. Professor Skinner has been awarded the Balzan Prize Life Time Achievement Award for Political Thought, History and Theory. Full details of this award can be found at

    • Renowned author
    • Accessible to all levels in Canto imprint
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… lucid and stimulating introduction ... a vivid panorama.' John Dunn, New Society

    'All the essays are of a high quality, written by respected authorities. All are analytically sound and critically challenging.' Theory, Culture and Society

    '… the volume provides an excellent introduction to some of the most important themes in contemporary social and political theory'. Contemporary Sociology

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    Customer reviews

    20th Nov 2014 by RAMADEVI

    The book “The Return of Grand Theories in the Human Sciences” unfolds essay, which draws the map of the few of the most influential philosophical thoughts in social sciences. It presents logical chronology of the philosophical thoughts, which challenges the orthodoxy of positivism and empiricism in human sciences. It represents iconoclastic approaches of the nine modern social thinkers Hans- Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, Louis Althusser, Claude Lévi- Strauss and Fernand Braudel with a lucid and engaging introduction by Quentin Skinner. Before delving into the book an understanding of the distinction between the human sciences and social sciences will be helpful for the readers. Quentin engages and analyses through nine essays how social sciences have contributed to the human sciences. The pursuit of truth in human sciences initiated with metaphysics. Due to its inherent inadequacies it failed to yield holistic understanding of human sciences. Metaphysics came under scathing attack by positivism. Positivism as an approach assumed central position in the philosophy of human sciences. Prominence of positivism discarded ‘Marxism, psychoanalysis and all forms of utopian social philosophy’. Later on its mechanistic view of human life and denial of human agency was challenged rigorously. Revival of Marxism, reclamation of its earlier status by psychoanalysis and emergence of various approaches like structuralists, hermeneutics, deconstructionists, presented a grave threat to the positivism. Each essay attacks the fallacy of positivism in the social sciences. It highlights the lacunae and crisis in the social sciences, which obstinately accentuates the significance of description over understanding. Aim of this book is to explore and uncover the theoretical approaches that are in pursuit of not only attacking but also transforming the philosophy of social sciences Vis a Vis human science. Philosophies, which are challenging social sciences in this book, are hermeneutics, structuralism, post structuralism/modernism, deconstruction and dilemma of how to attain a just society. Multiple philosophical ideas emerged during and after the preeminence positivism in human sciences. Legion of theories presented in this book are divergent in their ideas. They seem inconsistent with each other. On a closer, scrutiny it represents a unity of ideas and collective disregard for the positivism as a central philosophy governing the conception of human sciences. The title of the book “The Return of Grand Theory” is paradoxical as various contesting philosophical thoughts in human sciences are not in support of grand theories or in their establishment on the contrary they emerged to challenge the same tradition. It attacks any broader and majestic framework of understanding human sciences. Essays suggest a strong opposition of any approach providing universal principles of human life.However, these alternative approaches are anti method or anti strategic but they also end up suggesting methods, theories and strategies to gain insight and understanding of the social phenomena.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 1990
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521398336
    • length: 224 pages
    • dimensions: 217 x 138 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.26kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of contributors
    1. Introduction: The Return of Grand Theory Quentin Skinner
    2. Hans-Georg Gadamer William Outhwaite
    3. Jacques Derrida David Hoy
    4. Michel Foucault Mark Philp
    5. Thomas Kuhn Barry Barnes
    6. John Rawls Alan Ryan
    7. Jurgen Habermas Anthony Giddens
    8. Louis Althusser Susan James
    9. Claude Levi-Strauss James Boon
    10. The Annales historians Stuart Clark
    Index of names.

  • Editor

    Quentin Skinner, University of Cambridge


    Quentin Skinner, William Outhwaite, David Hoy, Mark Philp, Barry Barnes, Alan Ryan, Anthony Giddens, Susan James, James Boon, Stuart Clark

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