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Introductory Session: Making Sense of the Social World

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1 Introductory Session: Making Sense of the Social World
Philosophies of Social Science Research Introductory Session: Making Sense of the Social World Week 1 Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2 What is this course about?
“What are we doing when we attempt to study human social life in a systematic way?” (Benton and Craib 2001). “If even in science there is no a way of judging a theory [but] by assessing the number, faith and vocal energy of its supporters, then this must be even more so in the social sciences: truth lies in power” (Lakatos 1974). Wednesday, January 07, 2015 2

3 Outline of today’s session
What is ‘social’ about ‘social research’? Ontology, epistemology, methodology Positivism and its critics Explanation and Understanding Holism and Atomism The Hollis Matrix Wednesday, January 07, 2015 3

4 1: What’s ’social’ about ’social research’?
Wednesday, January 07, 2015

5 1: What’s ’social’ about ’social research’?
1. What is knowledge? How do we know what we claim to know? How can we justify what we claim to know to others? What features of the world make our knowledge of it possible, but also potentially fallible? How do we explain how knowledge is produced? How do we explain erroneous beliefs and how do we know that they are erroneous? Wednesday, January 07, 2015

6 1: What’s ’social’ about ’social research’? (contd.)
2. What is science? “A continuation of common sense” (Kuhn) “A messy human activity”, “battleground of research programmes” (Feyerabend) Science itself is a social activity Objectivity vs opinion Method vs chaos Knowledge vs belief Theory vs assumptions What counts as scientific evidence? Can observation be objective? Can it be independent of theory? Is science=research? Wednesday, January 07, 2015

7 1: What’s ’social’ about ’social research’? (contd.)
3. What is ‘social’ about ‘social science’? (discussion) Competing paradigms have different answers about the nature of social science and the purposes and approaches of social science research. Wednesday, January 07, 2015

8 2. Ontology, Epistemology, Methodology
what is - that which exists. For social scientists, ontology refers to the nature of social reality (eg) what social units are out there and how they interact (that of which we might acquire knowledge): Epistemology: the theory of knowledge - how do we know what we know? What is knowledge (eg is it justified true belief)? What we can know with certainty about the world? What are the conditions for knowledge? Are the senses, or the capacity for reason, the origins of true knowledge? What is truth? Methodology: Principles underlying research design, not the practice of research. Investigates assumptions underlying: (i) The relationship between the social scientist and the reality seek to observe; (ii) The relationship between different knowledge disciplines; (iii) Nature and scope of social science research (causal→interpretive→descriptive→normative) Wednesday, January 07, 2015

9 From Hay (2002) What’s out there to know? What can we know about it? How can we go about acquiring that knowledge? (Hay: 2002: 64). Wednesday, January 07, 2015

10 3. Positivism and its critics
Early positivism David Hume, John Stuart Mill - rationalism August Comte ( ): ‘social physics’, laws of society Emile Durkheim ( ): science as social control, ‘social facts’: external, observable, objective reality Neopositivism (Vienna School, Ernst Mach, L Wittgenstein): emphasis on formal methods. Logical positivism. Shift away from positivism: Toulmin, Kuhn, Lakatos Wednesday, January 07, 2015

11 3. Positivism and its critics
Structuralism (Talcott Parsons); Understanding (Weber); Analysing hidden structures; social science needs to change society (Marx); Critical realism - ‘third way’? Interpretativists critique positivism because it focuses only on observables, misses non-observables (e.g. ‘a criminal’s motives’, ‘beliefs’, ‘social integration’, ‘centralization’, ‘discrimination’). Some of these are internal to us as subjects (e.g. ‘religious belief’, ‘motivation to work’, ‘language’, ‘love’...). Rigid approach unsuited to the nature of social reality (?) -> Continuing ontological, epistemological, methodological split within the social sciences Wednesday, January 07, 2015

12 4. Explanation and Understanding
Wednesday, January 07, 2015

13 Explanation Explanation: Search for explanation seeking [Why-necessary?] and [Why-possible?] questions by identifying causal stories or patterns of regularity. Not relevant what is in the minds of social actors. Natural and social-science explanations have a similar form: Explanans → Explanadum The view: from the outside. The aim: to explain from without. Wednesday, January 07, 2015

14 Understanding Interpretation (or Understanding): Norms, social roles, self- and other-understandings define people and give their lives meaning. Social reality is rule-governed and meaningful. Concepts of purpose, value, meaning are necessary to understand the meaning of the social world. These concepts are not applicable to natural phenomena so making sense of natural and social phenomena are distinct enterprises. Social researcher is a constitutive part of the social world she studies. The view: from the inside. The aim: to understand from within. Wednesday, January 07, 2015

15 5. Holism and Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015

16 Holism …focus on social groups and their interactions. A ‘top down’ approach. People do what is expected of bearers of their social roles; the ‘parts’ of society behave as the ‘whole of society’ requires. eg Marx’s Preface to The Critique of Political Economy, which emphasizes power and the role of the forces of production over individual-level action: “The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determine their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (Marx 1859). The View: from the top-down Wednesday, January 07, 2015

17 eg: rational choice theory
atomism: ….focus on desires, motivations, beliefs, behaviour of individual agents which arise without regard to any specific features of social interactions (Fay 1996). Individuals are sovereign entities, not puppets of social forces. Social facts and norms are mere products of individual action. eg: rational choice theory ‘There are no societies, only individuals who interact with one another ’ (Elster 1989). The view: from the ‘bottom-up’ Wednesday, January 07, 2015

18 6. The Hollis Matrix ‘A suggestive device for setting problems of structure and action’ (1994: 20). Wednesday, January 07, 2015 18

19 The Hollis Matrix Systems 'Games’ Agents Actors Explanation
Understanding Systems 'Games’ Holism Agents Actors Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 19

20 The Hollis Matrix: Explanation
Understanding Function-alism Holism RationalChoice Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 20

21 The Hollis Matrix: Understanding
Explanation Understanding Social rules Holism Hermen-eutics Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 21

22 The Hollis Matrix: Atomism
Explanation Understanding Holism Rational Choice Hermen-eutics Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 22

23 The Hollis Matrix: Holism
Explanation Understanding Structur-alism Social rules Holism Individualism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 23

24 The Hollis Matrix Systems Agents Actors Explanation Understanding
Holism Agents Actors Atomism Wednesday, January 07, 2015 24

25 For seminar discussion…
“Does the way in which you think about your discipline place it near to, or far from, the natural sciences?” Wednesday, January 07, 2015 25

26 Further Reading Elster, J. (1989) The Cement of Society: Studies in Rationality and Social Change (Cambridge: CUP) Elster, J. (2007) Explaining Social Behaviour: More Nuts and Bolts of the Social Sciences(Cambridge: CUP), Ch.1. Fay, B. (1996) Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford: Blackwell). Hay, C. (2002) Political Analysis (Basingstoke: Palgrave), Ch.2. Hemple, C. (1965) Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press), essay 12. Hollis, M. (1994) The Philosophy of Social Science (Colorado: Westview), Ch.1. Little, D. (1991)Varieties of Social Explanation: an introduction to the philosophy of social science (Boulder: Westview), Ch.1. Rosenberg, A. (1988) Philosophy of Social Science: 2nd Edition (Boulder: Wetsview). Sayer, A. (2010) Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach: Revised Second Edition (New York: Routledge). Wednesday, January 07, 2015 26

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