Front Page Titles (by Subject) I: Social Science Methodology - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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I: Social Science Methodology - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Social Science Methodology
The following set of summaries deal with the theoretical and practical meaning of social science methodology for our lives. This is a field of lively debate and shifting paradigms, involving ideological, moral, and political commitments as well as dispassionate, wertfrei analysis.
Can there in fact be a unified social science method subtle enough to study and describe the variety and individuality of human action? In different ways, this is a key question posed in the summaries of Bell's, Gusfield's, Krieger's, Geertz's, and Hekman's articles. Bell is dubious whether any social science methodology in vogue since World War II can reductively explain all human behavior. Geertz sees an exciting plethora of new approaches that create “blurred genres” and that reject older mechanistic models in a “hermeneutic” pursuit of the meaning social action has for individuals. Hekman would second Geertz's enthusiasm for a social science methodology seeking understanding of human social action in terms of the social actors themselves, and goes on to claim that Alfred Schutz's social phenomenology is an especially subtle method to employ for such a purpose.
Professor Leonard Krieger is less sanguine in his expectations and concentrates on showing how historicism has taken a paradoxical and unsuspected revenge among historians and social scientists. The mysterious ways in which social scientists inadvertently succumb to historism suggest the related point raised in the late Jacob Bronowski's article, “The Logic of the Mind,” The American Scholar 35(Spring 1966):233–242. (Self—reference the manner in which any “system” necessarily and paradoxically includes reference to itself) is a feature of human language and mind. Most propositions and so-called fundamental axioms seem, in Bronowski's analysis, to be variants of what the Greeks called the Cretan paradox, that is the contradiction, through self-reference, implied by the statement of Epimenides the Cretan that all Cretans are liars. “This creates an endless regress, an infinite hall of mirrors of self-reflection.”
Perhaps most disturbing among the following summaries are those of Gusfield and Newton. Exposing the crisis of confidence in the field of sociology, Professor Gusfield traces the ideological and political functions served by sociological theory. The danger continues to be at that sociological theory may be used to reflect the political ideologies of certain power groups. A similar analysis is given by Professor Peter Newton in his reassessment of the current meaning of C. Wright Mills's The Sociological Imagination. A narrow methodology in the social sciences (Mills's “abstracted empiricism”) can easily serve the interests of government ideology and divert social scientist from a critical analysis of unjust social structure.
Such moral and political implications reinforce the crucial importance to achieve the tools of an adequate, humane, and unprejudiced methodology.
Social Science Paradigms
“The Social Sciences since the Second World War,” Part Two. Mortimer Adler, Ed., The Great Ideas Today, 1980(Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1980), pp. 184–232.
With the social sciences turning to smaller and more manageable research problems, we need to reconsider whether unified social science is still possible. Four contemporary paradigms attempt to offer holistic explanations: (1) Sociobiology; (2) Macro-economics; (3) Neo-Marxism; and (4) Structuralism.
Whether any of these paradigms can be used to reductively explain all human behavior remains doubtful.
Sociology, Theory, & the Welfare State
“‘Buddy, Can You Paradigm?’ The Crisis of Theory in the Welfare State.” Pacific Sociological Review 22(January 1979):3–22.
In his 1978 presidential address to the Pacific Sociological Association, Prof. Joseph Gusfield discusses two basic questions: sociology's contribution to the development of social policy in the United States as well as the crisis of confidence currently afflicting the field. That crisis, he feels, jeopardizes the foundations of our society's welfare state ideology, a paradigm promoted by sociologists in the first half of the twentieth century.
Sociological theory has in the past served three functions in American society. First of all, its role has been intellectual, enabling us to turn what William James called “the buzzing, blooming confusion” of raw reality and sensation into an ordered and consistent pattern. Secondly, sociological theory has been political or ideological by reflecting current political ideals and, to a large extent molding the ways in which Americans conceptualize their society. Thirdly, it has served an institutional function by providing entrée into the field for aspiring professionals and by furnishing them with a quasi-official identity label (Weberian, Parsonian, Marxist, etc.). Such labels become important when grants, jobs, and publishing outlets are sought from those who hold similar views.
Another aspect of sociological theory's institutional impact has been the rapid expansion of the “troubled persons” or “human resources” industries, which range from alcohol treatment to educational guidance. These new “service” areas also reflect a new public approach to private woes which has become the hall-mark of the modern welfare state. Sociological research largely laid the ground-work for these new concerns.
The practical contributions of academic theory have recently been undermined, however, as pragmatic users come to find sociological scholarship too hesitant to legitimize action and too demanding of technical knowledge. Even more fundamentally, disenchantment has grown with the basic paradigm of science as a model upon which to build the discipline. A split now divides those who still seek to discover the vital laws of human action and those for whom such a goal is either fruitless or even vicious.
Three intellectual movements of our day have rendered the tasks of theorizing less feasible than in the past. The emergence of structuralist and linguistic concerns have played the most significant role, along with the philosophical critiques of natural science. Chomsky, Levi-Strauss, Polanyi, Witgenstein, and Kuhn have made us sensitive to the presuppositions of a supposedly presuppositionless science. They have also laid the foundations for a view of human action which is less deterministic, more situational, and more freely creative than that provided by the paradigm of a generalizing social science.
The two other intellectual currents have also undermined sociology's institutional mission to American society. The renaissance of Marxism has weakened the influence of Parsonian functionalism with its basic acceptance of the American system. Nonetheless, the new Marxism itself suffers from the corrosion of current disputes over method, language, and philosophical assumptions.
Finally, quantitative empirical research once seemed destined to develop an effective human “technology” complete with maps and recipes for action. However, the more refined the techniques have become, the less they seem to say. The depictions of pathways and analyses of variance have demonstrated the interplay of variables, but they have frequently ended in the view that everything is relevant and that everything causes everything else.
These developments have brought about a tendency toward paralysis in contemporary sociology a real “failure of nerve.” To overcome this state of affairs, Prof. Gusfield urges sociologists to face up to their limits and recognize their opportunities. Sociology can still perform a valuable service by undercutting the “enslavement through science” by which many of our institutions and their personnel accumulate power simply through the aura of “scientific” expertise.
Durkheim, Ideology, and Method
“Durkheims's Concept of Ideology.” Sociological Review 28(February 1980):129–139.
French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) never provided a systematic analysis of the concept of ideology, but he uses the term and proposes a certain understanding of it. Durkheim's most revealing use of the word may be found in The Rules of Sociological Method and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. In The Rules, Durkheim deals with ideology in the context of laying the foundations of sociology as a science of social facts.
Before any field of knowledge constitutes itself as a science, Durkheim declared, men have already developed certain ideas or preconceptions about it. At the time a new phenomenon becomes the subject of science, those preconceptions, like Baconian idols, tend to struggle for primacy with objectively observed facts. If the preconceptions happen to win the struggle, then, “instead of a science concerned with realities, we produce no more than an ideological analysis.”
Obscurantist preconceptions which comprise an ideology are particularly active in sociology, because social things are a product of human activity and thus appear as the application of certain ideas. Comte's notion of sustained progress throughout history and Spencer's idea of cooperation represent two examples of influential preconceptions in sociology. In The Rules, Durkheim views the formation of ideological preconceptions as “the natural bent of the human mind.” This tendency toward spontaneous illusion requires that sociologists must submit to rigorous discipline.
In The Forms (a later work), Durkheim's concept of ideology seems to have undergone considerable alteration. Treating religion as an ideology, a system of preconceptions concerning the nature of the world he characterizes religious preconceptions as “collective representations which express collective realities.” On this view, religion cannot be a tissue of illusions. Instead, it becomes the members' collective expression of their society.
As such, religious notions play a vital role in social life, one which will be replaced by science only in its more speculative functions. The reaffirmation of collective sentiments remains the perennial function of religion. In contrast to his views in The Rules, Durkheim does not consider the origins of these preconceptions as innate in human nature. Instead, they arise and are conditioned within society.
Is it possible to reconcile these apparently divergent theories? The disparity between them may not be so great as first imagined. While The Rules, explained ideology as a natural bent in the minds of individuals, The Forms seems to show ideology developing from a natural bent in the mind of society considered as an individual subject. This occasions a blurring of the distinction between the two conceptions.
Logically, the view in The Forms expands (and does not contradict) the theory found in The Rules. The Rules already recognized that preconceptions play a necessary intellectual role as a prelude to science. Now, Durkheim adds to the role the complementary social function of expressing collective sentiments. Science, therefore, cannot refuse ideology's right to exist, however, it might take over ideology's intellectual functions.
Polanyi, Hierarchy & Reductionism
“Polanyi's Notion of Hierarchy.” Religious Studies 16(March 1980):97–102.
Michael Polanyi is associated with the view that, through “tacit knowledge” of lower levels of reality, we can come to know something of higher levels—even, possibly, of God, the highest level of all. In Prof. Olding's view, Polanyi's argument for such a hierarchy of being is confused and illicitly mixes ontological and methodological claims.
Against the reductionists Polanyi has argued that biology is not reducible to biochemistry. While reductionists assert that growth and heredity are determined by the sequence of DNA molecules, Polanyi holds that what allows DNA to do its work is not its chemistry but the order of bases along the DNA chain. Since the laws of physics and chemistry hold universally, they would be entirely unaffected by the particular linear sequence that characterizes the triplet code. Any order is possible physico-chemically; therefore physics and chemistry cannot specify which order will in fact succeed in functioning as a DNA code.
Prof. Olding finds this argument fallacious. The laws of nature allow for any linera sequence only when a set of initial conditions is not specified. Once these have been identified, the order of molecules is no longer arranged randomly.
The notion of hierarchy in Polanyi's conception of nature stems from his view that the DNA molecule functions both as a blueprint and as an engineer which somehow constructs the living organism. Polanyi has likened organisms to machines and has argued that, even dealing with ordinary machines such as clocks, we cannot give a reductive account of mechanical activity. This is because a machine “works under two distinct principles. The higher one is the principle of the machine's design, and this ‘harnesses' the lower one, which consists in the physical-chemical processes on which the machine relies.”
At most, this is a misleading metaphor. Polanyi himself admits that “this harness is not unbreakable; the structure of the machine, and thus its working, can break down. But this,” he says, “will not affect the forces of inanimate nature on which the operation of the machine relied.” If one thinks of the machine in this way, then its structure clearly does not harness its matter as a rider harnesses a horse. There is no question here of higher and lower “principles” and, therefore, no threat to the reductionist position.
To assert the existence of different levels of principles is to invite a criticism dubbed the “two-worlds argument” by John Passmore. The argument states that once two ontological levels and two distinct kinds of being are distinguished, then there is no way that they can interact once two ontological levels and two distinct kinds of beings are distinguished, then there is no way that they can interact once again without contradiction. Polanyi, seemingly aware of this objection asserts that lower order principles are “open” to the higher or that higher powers may “emerge” from the lower. Such statements merely reduce to the notion that the matter of machines has both the character of X and non-X. Entitles and hierarchies, claims Olding, must exist on one ontological level.
Historicism: Individuality or Pattern?
“Historicism's Revenge.” Annals of Scholarship 1(Spring 1980):15–30.
“We are all historicists now either expressly or figuratively.”
Historicism is a “Philosophy of history that dissolves all reality into the stream of historic becoming.” By this definition, “it is hard to think of anyone save Arnold Toynbee who is not a historicist.” Most historians now agree that history has to adapt itself to the changing cultural attitudes of the age. The historicist view has dissolved the “older certainties which stabilized reality outside of history…and which used to anchor the historical point of view.” Historicism, “which used to have such a bad press because of its relativistic implications and which gave historicism such an evil reputation because of its imperialistic implications” has taken a double revenge.
This “double revenge” consists in the two kinds of attempt by later historicists to overcome the earlier historicists' radical undermining of the “older certainties.” These de facto later historicists (such as Marxists) have either affirmed temporal structures from outside history to give some stability to history or “they have obscurely constructed forms or relationships or institutions from within history itself to provide a stability which history can get from no other source.” Paradoxically, both forms of historicism—the philosophical and the historiographical—have weakened “the coherence that gave some stability to history.” They did sophilosophical and the historiographical—have weakened “the coherence that by denying the validity or the applicability of the constant values which other thinkers had drawn from outside history to give a firm foundation to the general meaning or connection that they discerned in the particulars of the historical process itself.
We find two kinds of responses to historicism: one group (e.g. Croce, Collingwood, Mannheim, and Meinecke) accepts its relativistic implications and looks outside of history for stability; a second group responds by refusing relativism and looks within history for general patterns and stable structures that run counter to historical relativism.
Some members of the first group seek the connections that bridge the “irreducible individuality of historical phenomena in the constancy of logic, sociology, or political theory.” Other members of this first camp (Dilhey, Simmel, Troeltsch, and Max Weber) strove to overcome the “disenchantment” of historicism and “saw in history an embodiment of values whose overarching validity lay rooted in a transcendent realm outside of history. All the diverse members of this first camp—whether idealists, positivists, the Neo-Marxist Frankfurt school, or structuralists—view history as individualizing and heterogeneous; they depend upon stable realm outside of history for their source of coherent pattern in history.
Even Karl Popper, an outspoken enemy of historicism in his The Poverty of Historicism,” belongs to this first camp of historicists. Popper, like all positivists, has assumed the applicability of the scientific method (in the form of “covering-law model”) to history. Popper thereby affirms the “extra-historical legacy of historicism.” Popper himself has muddied the waters of what historicism is by defining it in terms of necessary developmental laws.
The second kind of response to historicism takes seriously the dissolving effect of individualizing reality both inside and outside of history and seeks to construct the coherence of history from the very individualities history. Three subtypes of response occur among those who would construct the stable patterns of history out of its individual components.
Historicism has, on the one hand, stressed the unique, individualist, and particular aspects of history, but, on the other hand, has left a vacuum as to the coherent patterns and connection among these historical particulars. It has thus stressed the sense of variety, individuality, and multiplicity in history. But paradoxically its “vacuum” or lack of connecting principles has evoked the revenge of compelling “the western mind to find rest in some kind of coherent and rational pattern.”
Social Science: Game, Drama, and Text
“Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought.” The American Scholar 49(Spring 1980):165–179.
Contemporary social theory is undergoing a sea change and refiguration in its aims, methods, and favorite metaphors for studying and describing social phenomena. This more subjective approach prefers to know the meaning of social experience for the social actors rather than mere measurement and “causes” of “behavior”. It also challenges the central assumptions of mainstream, older social science by denying the strict separation of theory and data and the claim to a detached, objective, and morally neutral stance. Rejecting positivist and mechanistic models of social theory (laws-and-instances) the new breed of social scientists seek explanations by connecting action to sense rather than behavior to its determinants.
This new interpretative (or “hermeneutic”) explanation in the social sciences “trains its attention on what institutions, actions, images, customs…mean to those whose institutions, actions, customs and so on they are.” It systematically unpacks the personal conceptual world of meaning in which prisoners, Calvinists, or paranoids live. To achieve this interpretation, it casts its social theory “in terms more familiar to gamesters and aestheticians than to plumbers or engineers. Society is “less and less represented as an elaborate machine…than as a serious game, a sidewalk drama, or a behavioral text.” These three new social science analogies or metaphors—game, drama, and text—can, in turn, benefit from dialogue with the humanities.
America's most celebrated sociologist today, Erving Goffman, applies the first analogy—game imagery—to a wide variety of social activities: “Etiquette, diplomacy, crime, finance, advertising, law, seduction….” To conceive of social behavior as games (involving strategies, players, moves, signals, information, and outcomes) goes back to Wittgenstein's view of the forms of life as “language games,” Huizina's ludic view of culture in Homo Ludens, and the new strategics of von Neumann's and Morgenstern's Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. “Life is just a bowl of strategies.” For example, the activities of a psychiatric hospital resemble a game where the patient must dissemble his true self and where the staff holds most of the trump cards. The game analogy may not commend itself to humanists who prefer to think of people not as obeying rules and playing for advantage but as acting freely to realize their potential. Still, game analogies help social theory transcend its outmoded mechanistic analogies. Gregory Bateson's interpretation of schizophrenia as rule confusion or Geertz's interpretation of market processes as complicated information contests help us understand our social reality.
The drama analogy offers us the metaphor of life activities conceived of as social dramas. Two approaches appear in the social drama analogy: (1) the “ritual theory” stresses the affinities of theater and religion—"drama as communion, the temple as stage,” and (2) the “symbolic action theory” stresses the affinities of theater and rhetoric—"drama as persuasion, the platform as stage.” Social drama—whether as liturgy or ideology—has the virtue of showing the common patterns behind diverse social behaviors. But this virtue of uncovering formal similarities can divert attention from different content and make “vividly disparate matters look drably homogeneous.”
Finally, the text analogy encourage us to “read” social action as discourse. To see social institutions as reading and translating texts stresses the multiple “contexts” in which social processes are embedded.
The shift among social scientists from physical process analogies to symbolic form ones has redirected attention from the manipulation of human behavior to the “anatomization” and understanding of thought. “The rising interest of sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and even now and then a rogue economist in the analysis of symbol systems poses…the question of the relationship of such systems to what goes on in the world.”
Alfred Schutz and Phenomenology
“Phenomenology, Ordinary Language, and the Methodology of the Social Sciences.” The Western Political Quarterly 33(September 1980).
In the wake of recent critiques of positivism as an inadequate philosophy, what perspective provides us with a coherent methodology for the social sciences?
Professor Hekman compares phenomenology and ordinary language analysis and judges phenomenology superior. Both phenomenology and ordinary language analysis agree in denying the positivist dichotomy between subjective and objective meaning and “insist that the starting-point of social scientific analysis must be the understanding of social action in the terms of the social actors themselves.” Both rival approaches thus take for the subject matter of the social sciences the shared “intersubjective” concepts of the individual social actors. Accordingly, both approaches satisfy the first of Professor Heck's four criteria of a coherent social science methodology: (1) it must define the “subject matter.” However ordinary language analysis fails to satisfy the remaining three criteria for a sound social science methodology: (2) it must explain how the subject matter or concepts of social living are formed and constituted intersubjectively (that is, how the “facts” of social sciences become “facts”; (3) it must provide the social scientist with precisely defined conceptual tools and procedures to discuss the social “facts” and concepts; and (4) it must define the limits of social scientific activity.
Although both phenomenologists and ordinary language philosophers begin their analysis of social life with the actors' concepts, for ordinary language analysis this starting point and general “perspective” is also the conclusion of its analyses. Phenomenology, by contrast, probes deeper into its analyses of social scientific reality and satisfies all four criteria of a detailed and coherent “methodology.” The relative merits of the two rival approaches are seen by comparing the social phenomenology of Alfred Schutz (1899–1959) as elaborated in his book, The Phenomenology of The Social World, with Peter Winch's and A.R. Louch's versions of ordinary language analysis. Schutz's analysis is shown to be superior in unraveling Max Weber's concept of socially “meaningful action” and “subjective meaning.” Unlike ordinary language philosophers, Schutz examines and analyzes the very “constituting process” by which social actors create their subjective word views, meanings, and concepts. Schutz also surpasses ordinary language analysis by exploring “the process of social scientific theorizing, examining the nature of social scientific concepts and the relationship between the social world and the world of the social scientific theorist.”
What is Schutz's solution to the difficulty of how the many subjectively constituted or “private” social word views of individual actors can become intersubjectively known and meaningful to other social actors and to the social scientist? Schutz developed Weber's notion of “ideal types” or explanations of intersubjective meaning that conform to these postulates: (1) The “ideal types” offer an explanation of the action which is understandable to the social actor; (2) the postulate of subjective interpretation specifies that the “ideal types” refer to the action as a result of “subjective meaning constitution;” and (3) the postulate of rationality requires that the “ideal types” conform to the logical rules of scientific method.
Schutz's social phenomenology offers a systematic approach to exploring the realm of social meaning and consciousness—an exploration which Wittgenstein's ordinary language analysis shuns.
Phenomenology offers a fruitful methodological tool for the social sciences concern with its subject matter of meaningful human action. It shows “that the individual's constitution of meaning takes place in an intersubjective context” and it provides the social scientist access to this “private” or “subjective” realm. By contrast, the “ordinary language philosophers' assumption that this realm is private and hence inaccessible…precludes their formulation of a comprehensive methodology for the social sciences.”
Moral Honesty in Social Science
“Who Among Us Still Hopes To Learn about the Nature of Man?” Review Essay of C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press, 1959. University Publishing (Winter 1981):13–14.
“Who among us still hopes to learn more about the nature of man from academic psychology, about the nature of society from sociology, about individual-and-society from social'psychology?”
Professor Newton, a psychologist, poses this question in his assessment of the ongoing social and political relevance of C. Wright Mill's The Sociological Imagination (1959). Some 20 years after its publication, Mills's book still disturbs us as a critique of the moral, intellectual, and political deformations of social science methodology. Mills exposed the political commitments lurking beneath the ritualistic methodology of “abstracted empiricism.” Abandoning the intellectual breath of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, all of whom radically sought to comprehend and critique overall social structure, the new social scientists—careerist academics—adopted an uncommitted, socially disengaged methodology of measurement and quantification which was morally myopic and politically evasive. These conventional academics' problem was to trivialize their researches with a valuefree narrow empiricism that was deliberately evasive of the social and political power. “The academic technician clings fiercely to atomizing methods be cause he senses instinctively that his political anonymity and economic comfort depends upon them.”
Mills also dissected the post World War II alliance of the abstracted empiricists in the social sciences with government power and funding. Conservative methodology of a “pluralism of causes” (rather than a general social analysis) fits well with a political quietism or politics of piecemeal reform (rather than social structural transformation). Government funding controls costly social science research and projects. “The social scientist learns to tailor his project (and his ideas) to be successful in the competition for dollars. It could be said that Washington determines not only the content of social science, but even its membership.”
Mills's critique of the then new blinkered empiricism and methodology, which evaded the root problems of society and social science, is today all the more relevant:
“Lives are in disarray, society disintegrates, and all who can see, see that history is going to kill us…families huddle before television sets…Marriages dissolve, reform, endure in soporific quietude, die in anomie. The bureaucracies in which all of us work, if we are allowed to work, exploit and abuse staff as well as clients.”