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Where Lesser Angels Might Have Feared to Tread: The Social Science Research Council and Transmitted Deprivation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


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Journal publication date2009
JournalContemporary British History
Number of pages21
Original languageEnglish


The histories of the relationship between government policy and the direction of social science research, and of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), have begun to attract attention in recent years. In this work, the SSRC's research programme on transmitted deprivation (1974–82) has generally had a minor role. Most often, it has been argued that it was the disappointment of Sir Keith Joseph with the research programme that fuelled his contempt for social science and his attempt, as Secretary of State for Education and Science, to abolish the Research Council. However, while the programme has recently been investigated in relation to other themes, the significance of the SSRC's involvement has neither been fully drawn out, nor integrated with the broader secondary literature on the history of social science research. The argument of this paper is that there is very little hard evidence that it was Joseph's dissatisfaction with the research programme that led to his attack on the SSRC. More interesting is the way the episode provides insights into the SSRC and the outlook of a generation of social scientists. The Research Council took the programme on for political reasons, it remained embarrassed about its ideological origins and it faced difficulties in promoting multidisciplinary research. Thus, this study shows the problems that can emerge when social scientists engage in research commissioned by their political masters.