Five easy pieces (for the social sciences)

Social scientists are generally interested in "explaining" social outcomes: why did such-and-so take place as it did? Why did the Indochina War occur, and why did it end in the defeat of two modern military powers? Why did the French fail so miserably at Dien Bien Phu? Why was the Tet Offensive so consequential for …

Heterogeneity according to Cartwright

  Nancy Cartwright is one of the best philosophers of science around, in many people's opinion. I find her work particularly interesting for the new ways she offers of thinking about old ideas like "laws of nature" and the ways things work in the natural world. Much of what she writes about the entities and …

The heterogeneous social?

image: screenshot from video, "A Bird Ballet" I've argued in several places that we need to think of the social world as being radically heterogeneous (link, link, link). There are multiple processes, things, structures, and temporalities at work, and what we perceive at a moment in time in the social world is a complex composite of these various …

Variation as a social fundamental

Over 700 historians, sociologists, demographers, and political scientists enjoyed a splendid program of panels at the Social Science History Association in Long Beach this week (link). There were panels on recent historical demography, comparative historical analysis, and social mobilization research, as well as a pair of great panels on the work of Charles Tilly. There …

A better social ontology

I believe that the social sciences need to be framed out of consideration of a better understanding of the nature of the social—a better social ontology. The social world is not a system of law-governed processes; it is instead a mix of different sorts of institutions, forms of human behavior, natural and environmental constraints, and …

What do polls tell us?

We're all interested in the opinions of vast numbers of strangers -- potential voters, investors, consumers, college students, or home owners. Our interest is often a practical one -- we would like to know how the election is likely to go, whether the stock market will rebound, whether an influenza season will develop into a …

Social surprises

The near meltdown of the US financial system this week came as a surprise to most of us -- experts, legislators, and citizens alike. That isn't to say that the components of the disaster were unknown -- the subprime crisis, the earlier financial undoings of Fannie Mae and Bear Stearns this summer, and the sudden …

Composition of the social

Our social ontology needs to reflect the insight that complex social happenings are almost invariably composed of multiple causal processes rather than existing as unitary systems. The phenomena of a great social whole -- a city over a fifty-year span, a period of sustained social upheaval or revolution (Iran in the 1970s-1980s), an international trading …

Discipline, method, hegemony in sociology

An earlier post referred to the "Perestroika" debate within political science. There are similar foundational debates within other social science disciplines, including especially sociology. What is particularly striking is not that there are deep disagreements about the methodology and epistemology of sociology -- this has often been true within sociology, going back to the methodenstreiten …

Heterogeneity of the social

I think heterogeneity is a very basic characteristic of the domain of the social. And I think this makes a big difference for how we should attempt to study the social world "scientifically". What sorts of things am I thinking about here?Let's start with some semantics. A heterogeneous group of things is the contrary of …

%d bloggers like this: