ON-Lion Letter
For its centennial anniversary, the Russell Sage Foundation (RSF) in New York City published Social Science for What?:  Philanthropy and the Social Question in a World Turned Rightside Up, by historian Alice O'Connor.  In the book, O'Connor overviews a century's worth of philanthropic social science, exploring its successes and failures over the years, and asking how philanthropies might continue to promote social change.

In late June, the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., sponsored a panel on the book and the questions it raises about the role of social science in philanthropy.

The progressive RSF helped create the idea that philanthropy could practice social science.  It set out to generate knowledge aimed at "social betterment" on the basis of rational, scientific inquiry.

Yet "rational" and "scientific" did not yet mean "value-free," and researchers for the then-new foundation "were willing to ask probing questions and to be explicit about the values and principles and the more directive reform purposes that motivated their research," O'Connor points out in Social Science for What?

O'Connor, a history professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, then goes on to describe how those early philanthropic intentions faded into the "value-neutral" social-science approaches of the 1930s and beyond, which left them ultimately unable to fend off the rise of values-laden modern
conservatism.  Liberal foundations have yet to adopt, she argues.

The Bradley Center panel featured O'Connor, the William E. Simon Foundation's James PieresonGeorgetown University's James Allen Smith, and Hudson Institute adjunct fellow Joel Schwartz.  The Center's William Schambra moderated the discussion, a full transcript of which is available online.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports the Bradley Center.
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