Empirical constraints on sociological theories

What makes sociology "scientific"? An important component of a reply is that assertions, hypotheses, and theories are subject to the test of empirical evidence. Hypotheses need to be evaluated in terms of observations of how the real world behaves. We should evaluate our assertions in terms of their fit with the empirical facts. This is …

Area studies and social science knowledge

How do the social sciences complement the study of particular regions and cultures? How do the researches and theories of political science, sociology, or anthropology extend our understanding of China or Mexico?There is one answer to this question that can be disposed of fairly quickly: many sociologists, economists, or political scientists are also specialists on …

Explaining large social formations: fascism

In a previous post I discussed the problem of explaining fascism. Let's return to this issue as a topic for historical and social inquiry.There are clearly a number of different explanatory questions we might have in mind: why did fascist movements emerge and gain popular support in the first three decades of the twentieth century? …

What is a "moral intuition"?

We have all had this experience: we hear of a complicated social or personal event, and we think inwardly, "that's wrong!" A co-worker tells us an embarrassing private story about another co-worker; we hear on the news that the number of children in poverty has increased; we read about a mining company that has dumped …

Aggregating social trends

Would we say that discerning and aggregating social trends is an important kind of social knowledge? What about explaining social trends? What is a social trend, anyway?Suppose people notice that crimes are getting less frequent but more violent; or that Thai restaurants are replacing Chinese restaurants at the bottom end in Chicago; or that young …

Explaining fascism

Kevin Passmore's short introduction to fascism comes out at a good time (Fascism: A Very Short Introduction). Passmore does a great job of framing the problem. He poses a definitional question -- what is fascism -- and demonstrates that this apparently semantic issue requires careful historical and theoretical analysis. Arriving at a good definition of …

Social structures as causal factors

The continuing question here is this: how and through what mechanisms do various social entities exercise causal influence with respect to social outcomes? (This will also be relevant to the question: how does power work in a given society?) We think the Gulf Stream wields influence with respect to weather and climate change, but not …

Power: social movements

Social movements usually have to do with change rather than persistence. And they usually emerge from "under-class" groups who lack meaningful access to other official and institutionalized means of power. They are among the "weapons of the weak", and their effectiveness usually turns on the ability of a sub-population to mobilize in collective action with …

Social properties: Persistence, change, and stochastic social processes

How can we explain social change and social persistence?Society is a complex, compositional entity. Both persistence and change require explanation in such entities. Because there is a third alternative condition of such an entity: chaos, randomness, and Brownian motion of individuals in interaction with each other. Succinctly -- the current state of the ensemble is …

Wittgenstein on the science of psychology

Wittgenstein's comments about the science of psychology have some resonance with the current state of the social sciences:“The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a “young science”; its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings... For in psychology there are experimental methods …

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