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Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the classical Greek concept phronesis, variously translated as practical judgment, common sense, or prudence. Phronesis is the intellectual virtue used to deliberate about which social actions are good or bad for humans. Phronetic social scientists study social phenomena with a focus on values and power. Researchers ask and answer the following four value-rational questions for specific instances of social action:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Is this development desirable?
  3. Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of power?
  4. What, if anything, should we do about it?

Phronetic social science was first described by Bent Flyvbjerg in his book Making Social Science Matter. Here he presented phronetic social science as an alternative to epistemic social science, that is, social science modeled after the natural sciences. Flyvbjerg observed that despite centuries of trying the natural science model still does not work in social science: No predictive social theories have been arrived at as yet, if prediction is understood in the natural science sense. Flyvbjerg held that as long as social science would try to emulate natural science, social science would stand as loser in the Science Wars. If, however, the social sciences modeled themselves after phronesis they would be strong where the natural sciences are weak, namely in the deliberation about values and power that is essential to social and economic development in modern society. Flyvbjerg's position was further developed in the so-called Flyvbjerg Debate.

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Subfields

  • Phronetic organization research is phronetic social science employed in the specific study of organizations and management.
  • Phronetic planning research is phronetic social science employed in the specific study of urban planning

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