Springer International Publishing AG
Social scientists are well-trained to observe and chart social trends, but less experienced at presenting scientific findings in formats that can inform social change work. In this article, I propose a new theoretical concept that provides a mechanism by which social science research can be more effectively applied for proactive policy, organizational, and program development. The approach is to use the metaphor of “desire paths” from landscape architecture to show how social scientists can identify and analyze social desire paths that appear on the social structural landscape. Social desire paths usually emerge because existing formal structures do not meet individual or group needs. Such paths are generally started at the individual level, followed by others through individual actions, and ultimately leave an (usually informal) imprint on the social structure, even though the motivations behind those actions are not usually social change. Using what we know about the sociology of interests and what we have learned from trying to apply social science findings to policy, I propose seven criteria for phenomena to be defined as social desire paths. I then apply the criteria to two case studies related to housing, and discuss social desire paths usefulness to social scientists involved in any research that captures interests, deviance, or innovation; and that also has the potential to inform formal structures such as policy, organizations, program development, and participatory democracy.
Nichols, L. (2014). Social desire paths: a new theoretical concept to increase the usability of social science research in society. Theory and Society, 43(6), 647–665.