Emancipatory social science, in its broadest terms, seeks to generate knowledge relevant to the collective project of challenging human oppression and creating the conditions in which people can live flourishing lives. To call it a social science, rather than social criticism or philosophy, is to recognize the importance for this task of systematic scientific knowledge about how the world works. To call it emancipatory is to identify its central moral purpose—the elimination of oppression, and the creation of conditions for human flourishing. And to call it social implies a belief that emancipation depends upon the transformation of the social world, not just the inner self. To fulfil its mission, any emancipatory social science faces three basic tasks: first, to elaborate a systematic diagnosis and critique of the world as it exists; second, to envision viable alternatives; and third, to understand the obstacles, possibilities and dilemmas of transformation. In different historical moments one or another of these may be more pressing than others, but all are necessary for a comprehensive emancipatory theory.
The starting point for an emancipatory social science is not simply to show that there is suffering and inequality in the world, but to demonstrate that the explanation for these ills lies in the specific properties of existing institutions and social structures, and to identify the ways in which they systematically cause harm to people. The first task, therefore, is the diagnosis and critique of the causal processes that generate these harms.