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Welsh History Review


Vol. 20, nos. 1-4 2000-01

'All advance from barbarism to civilisation is the development of social science' : Wales and the promotion of social science /

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In the 1860s, a serious attempt was made to bring Wales into the
mainstream of mid-nineteenth century social science, which was an
influential social and political factor in developed Western societies. With
its roots in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and drawing renewed
impetus from Comtean positivism in the nineteenth century, it was an
aspect of the intellectual movement that promised human and social
imrovement through the collection of scientific knowledge and its
objective analysis by knowledge-bearing elites. The capitalist trans-
formation of the economy with its far-reaching social consequences, and
the heightening of class tensions and conflicts, together with the move-
ment towards greater political representation reinforcing the impact of
macro-historical change, underlined the need for new ways of thinking
about society. As new ideas evolved about the role of the state in civil
society, governments sought new relationships with the governed. These
changes provided the contextual framework for the development of
nineteenth-century social science and helped to establish its authority
based on the contemporary view that only empirical analysis could
provide scientific solutions to 'social problems'. It was premised on the
positivist conception that society developed in law-like ways and that
social behaviour and public policy could be made to conform to rational
social laws. 1
1 For the development of social science generally, see D. Rueschmeyer and
T. Skocpol (eds.), States, Social Knowledge and the Origins of Modern Social Policies
(Princeton, 1996); N. Genov (ed.), National Traditions in Sociology, 1834-1914
(London, 1968), esp. pp.31-52; R. Soffer, 'Why do disciplines fail? The strange case
of British sociology', English History Review, 97, CCCLXXXV (1982), 767-801,
esp.768-81; L. Goldman, 'Exceptionalism and Internationalism: The Origins of
American Social Science Reconsidered', Journal of Historical Sociology, 11, no. 1
(1998), 1-36; idem, 'The Social Science Association, 1857-1886: A Context for
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