# Whats Wrong With Variable Analysis? Nick Crossley.

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Whats Wrong With Variable Analysis? Nick Crossley

Whats wrong with variable analysis? A brief account of some of the main criticisms of variable analysis in the literature. A brief account of some of the main criticisms of variable analysis in the literature. Criticisms which at least imply that case studies are better. Criticisms which at least imply that case studies are better. Chief sources:- network analysis, Abbott, critical realism, symbolic interactionism. Chief sources:- network analysis, Abbott, critical realism, symbolic interactionism. Time restraints mean that I only give one side of the story as an all or nothing caricature. Time restraints mean that I only give one side of the story as an all or nothing caricature.

What is variable analysis? Survey based. Survey based. Usually random samples (some variety of). Usually random samples (some variety of). Usually aiming to be representative. Usually aiming to be representative. Deriving and exploring the statistical relations between multiple variables. Deriving and exploring the statistical relations between multiple variables.

1 Variable analysis (VA) presupposes an empiricist definition of causality as constant conjuncture (Hume). Variable analysis (VA) presupposes an empiricist definition of causality as constant conjuncture (Hume). Because it only deals with the conjuncture of variables. Because it only deals with the conjuncture of variables. A proper account of causality makes reference to mechanisms which explain conjuncture but may not be self-evident on the basis of it. A proper account of causality makes reference to mechanisms which explain conjuncture but may not be self-evident on the basis of it. In complex and open systems robust causal mechanisms may fail to generate constant conjunctures and thus be missed In complex and open systems robust causal mechanisms may fail to generate constant conjunctures and thus be missed

So constant conjuncture is neither sufficient nor necessary to causality and VA is founded on a false premise. So constant conjuncture is neither sufficient nor necessary to causality and VA is founded on a false premise. At the very least we need to supplement VA with methods which are more sensitive to the detection of causal mechanisms. At the very least we need to supplement VA with methods which are more sensitive to the detection of causal mechanisms. Also bearing in mind that VA will not alert us to all of the causal relations to be found in the social world (since some fail to generate CC in open/complex systems Also bearing in mind that VA will not alert us to all of the causal relations to be found in the social world (since some fail to generate CC in open/complex systems

But variable analysis and surveys are invaluable tools for the description of: But variable analysis and surveys are invaluable tools for the description of: Patterns (e.g. of inequality) Patterns (e.g. of inequality) Trends Trends Correlations Correlations That we do want to know about and seek to explain. That we do want to know about and seek to explain.

2 VA is at odds with our main theoretical models of explanation. VA is at odds with our main theoretical models of explanation. The latter focus upon relations and interactions between actors, not variables. The latter focus upon relations and interactions between actors, not variables. Variables dont do anything in the social world. They are external constructs – at best proxies. Variables dont do anything in the social world. They are external constructs – at best proxies. The actor and her causal powers fall out of the picture in variable analysis. The actor and her causal powers fall out of the picture in variable analysis. We need methods more attuned to our theories. We need methods more attuned to our theories.

3 Variable analysis is insensitive to the lived world (lifeworld) of social actors, to their: Variable analysis is insensitive to the lived world (lifeworld) of social actors, to their: Identities Identities Classificatory Schemas Classificatory Schemas Situational definitions etc. Situational definitions etc. All of which are key to the mechanics of their actions. All of which are key to the mechanics of their actions.

4 VA treats social structures (e.g. class) as individual attributes. VA treats social structures (e.g. class) as individual attributes. Thereby ignoring the social relationships ordinarily taken to be constitutive of structure. Thereby ignoring the social relationships ordinarily taken to be constitutive of structure.

5 The average wo/man, sought out by samples, is a myth. The average wo/man, sought out by samples, is a myth. Screening out bias often screens out what is important. Screening out bias often screens out what is important. Social life involves multiple particularities. Social life involves multiple particularities. Social analysis should address itself to these particularities and to the universality evident in particularity. Social analysis should address itself to these particularities and to the universality evident in particularity.