Inquiry and Change


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The Troubled Attempt to Understand and Shape Society

Charles E. Lindblom

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How do ordinary citizens, government officials, opinion leaders, or social scientists attempt to solve social problems? How competent are we at defining the problems, seeking information, and finding answers? In this important and controversial book, a distinguished social scientist meticulously analyzes our attempt to understand society so that we can reshape it. In so doing, he largely bypasses both epistemology and contemporary highly abstract theory on knowledge and society in order to acheive a far more concrete analysis of discourse and inquiry in social problem solving.
There is a tragic discrepancy, argues Charles E. Lindblom, between our abilities to solve problems and the difficulty of the problems to be solved. We must make do with inadequate information and inconclusive analyses, for the task is less one of learning the truth than of proceeding in inquiry and decisions when the truth cannot be known. Lindblom discusses the many obstacles that prevent us from solving social problems, focusing in particular on learned incompetence. According to Lindblom, parents teach children not to think certain thoughts, and schools often engage more in indoctrination than education. Political rhetoric and commercial sales promotion feed a steady diet of misrepresentation.
Social science does help. But because it is dependent on popular thought, it shares the impairments of thought found in both political figures and ordinary citizens. It also develops its own distinctive impairments and is to a degree crippled by its narrow view of scientific method--often more interested in proving than probing.
Although social science can be improved in ways that Lindblom outlines in his book, social inquiry calls for such significant contributions from lay thought that it renders many conventional ideals of scientific problem solving inappropriate. Lindblom contends that the route to better social problem solving is not through either scientific or popular consensus or agreement, however much they are valued in the world of science and social science, but through a competition of ideas. The index of a society's competence, he states, is in its discord over ends, values, or purposes.
"As usual, Lindblom cuts through to the core of the issue: How is society to understand its central problems and challenges? With originality and courage, he takes on the social scientists and the policy analysts, and presents an inspiring picture of a self-guiding democracy that continuously deliberates over means and ends. A signal contribution."
--Robert B. Reich, Harvard University

"This book will certainly be regarded as one of the great social science contributions of our time!" . . . Lindblom largely succeeds in doing what Habermas has repeatedly stated that he wants to do, but has so far not accomplished: to forge social and political philosophy and empirical social science and to do it from the perspective of the everyday life of ordinary citizens."—Professor Rune Premfors, University of Stockholm

"An exceedingly fresh and provocative approach to solving social problems. Lindblom is truly an interdisciplinary scholar. He draws with great skill and authority from all the social sciences and their philosophical underpinnings to develop a devastating critique of the current state of inquiry into social problems. . . . He follows this with a trenchant analysis of the meager record and ability of social science to solve social problems. Lindblom ends with a solidly argued proposal for an unimpaired pluralism consisting of an ongoing, mutual adjustment of organized people in like-minded groups exercising multilateral influence on government officials. This superbly written and referenced work is highly recommended."—Choice

"[This book] makes a complex and provocative argument in a highly sophisticated way. I hope that the many interlinkages that Inquiry and Change establishes among political analysis, sociology of knowledge and the sciences, the sociological study of inequality, social theory, and philosophy of the social sciences may continue to be explored in such a knowledgeable and enlightened way."—Peter Wagner, American Journal of Sociology


"Those who are familiar with Lindblom's work will find here a masterful statement of concerns is social theory which have preoccupied him for nearly half a century and are now brought to a summative conclusion in a comprehensive vision of science and society. Those who have not as yet encountered Lindblom will find here one of the most significant social thinkers of our time."—Harry Redner, Methodus (Hong Kong)



"The pensive and lucid voice of Inquiry and Change challenges us to rethink the relationship of knowledge, power, problem solving, and citizenship. I know of no other contemporary consideration of these fundamental issues that is as novel or as deep. This is that rare book that repays multiple readings and that alters understanding of the subjects it touches."—Ira Katznelson, Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science, New School for Social Research


"In a suggestive sequel to his earlier work on mutual adjustment and the public's knowledge, Lindblom here proposes the notion of a self-guiding society. It is an open society with widespread inquiry by members at many levels, in which impairments to such inquiry are reduced, and social scientists aid but do not simply solve problems."—Duncan MacRae, Jr., William Rand Kenan, Junior Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


"As usual, Lindblom cuts through to the core issue:  How is society to understand its central problems and challenges?  With originality and courage, he takes on the social scientists and the policy analysts, and presents an inspiring picture of a self-guiding democracy that continuously deliberates over means and ends. A signal contribution."—Robert B. Reich, Harvard University




"Social Inquiry is a splendid and important piece of work. It puts into society-wide and public-oriented perspective such themes as the role of the state in causing as well as resolving conflicts, the dependence of social science on lay knowledge, and the need for thoughtful criteria for social scientists' choice of research problems."—Professor Carol H. Weiss, Harvard University


"Lindblom provides a graceful fusion of the liberal imagination and the social science tradition. It is a much needed effort to show that, for all its vacillations and limitations, social research has become the central supplement of the common wisdom in fashioning worthwhile social policy. The references alone are worth the price of admission. They substantiate Lindblom's claim that the aspiration to improve social policy is the tough thread in advancing democracy."—Irving Louis Horowitz, Hannah Arendt Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science, Rutgers University


"This is vintage Lindblom—clear-headed, skeptical of conventional thinking, and unrelenting in his determination to penetrate to the heart of things. Along the way he calmly and boldly punctures claims about scientific solutions to social problems."—Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor, George Mason University


"Charles Lindblom, a mature interdisciplinary trespasser, has opened windows in this book between the stuffy hovels of the different social sciences and has probed deeply into the structures that impair the often invisible and unplanned movement towards human betterment. This is the product of a lifetime of probing into the deeper mysteries of society, with something of an x-ray vision. The book should have a warning on the cover: This book may shake you out of complacency!"—Kenneth E. Boulding, Distinguished Professor of Economics, Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder



"Satisfying . . . disturbing, and most provocative. . . . Lindblom has cleared much of the underbrush that has grown with the professionalism of social science. Lindblom also powerfully reminds us that dialogue and mutual respect are, or should be, what we want to promote both for our own good as well as society's."—Ronald J. Terchek, Perspectives on Political Science


"Those who believe that the guiding values and standards of society have been shaped by school, church, family, and government to preserve the advantages of the elite, and that social progress depends principally upon a populist reconsideration and reformulation of those values and standards will love this book. . . . Everyone can learn much from the first 55 pages of this book. And many others will find the remainder highly effective in getting their blood racing and their adrenaline pumping."—Charles L. Schultze, Political Science Quarterly



"This book makes its points forcefully. . . . The book is a major contribution. Lindblom advances his arguments clearly, drawing on a wealth of carefully cited literature."—Burkart Holzner, Contemporary Sociology


"Remarkable. . . . A lucid analysis of the methodology of the social sciences. . . . A spirited defence of a liberal conception of democracy and of the relationship between state and society. . . . This is an excellent book that deserves to be read and discussed by all who care about the quality of debate in the public arena."—Laurent Dobuzinskis, Canadian Journal of Political Science




"Lucid and erudite . . . [Lindblom's] analysis is consistently balanced, judicious, and restrained."—Joel Doerfler, Teachers College Record


"Explores many important questions. . . . An ambitious work. . . . A book well worth reading."—Steven A. Peterson, Social Science Quarterly

"Lindblom challenges much orthodox thinking on the role of social science and the nature of its subject matter.  The challenge is serious not because it offers an alternative orthodoxy but precisely because it seeks to undermine the necessity of any orthodoxy."—Alan Hamlin, Ethics



Winner of the American Political Science Association’s 1991 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Book Award for the best book published in the United States during 1990 on government, politics, or international affairs
ISBN: 9780300056679
Publication Date: July 29, 1992
330 pages, 6 x 9
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