What are the “hard problems” in the social sciences?

Recently, Harvard University brought together leading social science scholars to briefly present on what each thought is a problem that the social sciences should pursue.  Videos of these presentations are available here.  Of special interest to CGAPers is sociologist Ann Swidler‘s call for a deeper understanding of “how societies both create and restore institutions,” including the nation, government, marriage, university, etc.  Some of Swidler’s points echo some of Francie Ostrower‘s and Paul DiMaggio‘s documented links between philanthropy and status.  For both practitioners and researchers, such points raise questions about how community and grassroots associations might use status and highlight prosocial activities to address societal issues.  Such activities might help reconfigure fields to focus attention on otherwise unrecognized problems, as Howard Lune examines in his research on HIV advocacy organizations.

Have your own thoughts about hard problems?  The general public is invited to respond with feedback and suggestions about hard problems by May 31, 2010.

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