Phronetic social science
Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the Aristotelian concept phronesis
Phronēsis is an Ancient Greek word for wisdom or intelligence which is a common topic of discussion in philosophy. In Aristotelian Ethics, for example in the Nicomachean Ethics it is distinguished from other words for wisdom as the virtue of practical thought, and is usually translated "practical...

, 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 Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg is the first Chair and BT Professor of Major Programme Management at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and is Founding Director of the University's BT Centre for Major Programme Management. He was previously Professor of Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark and Chair of...

 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
Science wars
The science wars were a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory which took place principally in the US in the 1990s...

. 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. Efforts to develop phronetic social science have been supported by leading social scientists like Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

 and Clifford Geertz.


  • Phronetic organization research is phronetic social science employed in the specific study of organizations and management
    Management in all business and organizational activities is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively...

  • Phronetic planning research is phronetic social science employed in the specific study of urban planning
    Urban planning
    Urban planning incorporates areas such as economics, design, ecology, sociology, geography, law, political science, and statistics to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities....

Sources and further reading

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