Joseph Heath – 2020 Killam Research Fellow

How to criticize society

University of Toronto

My project is aimed at improving the practice of critical social science. Everyone may be a critic, but not everyone is equally good at the task. I intend to study what we have learned, over the past century, about how to make social criticism effective at achieving social change.

Many scholars in the humanities and social sciences see themselves, not as neutral observers collecting and interpreting data, but rather as morally engaged critics of society, seeking to use their scholarship to improve the human condition. Others have questioned the legitimacy of this critical enterprise. Does the introduction of these moral or political concerns not risk tainting the research? And if researchers are bringing critical perspectives to their work, how are these judgments to be evaluated? In the course of Joseph Heath’s fellowship, he will create a handbook of best critical practices for social scientists, emphasizing a need for social critics to be transparent concerning their own evaluative standards. In an attempt to bring clarity to a foundational issue in modern scholarship, his work seeks to improve the quality of critical inquiry and to make an important contribution to public discourse.

photo credit: University of Toronto


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