Geddes on methods

Earlier posts have examined some recent thinking about social science methods (link, link). Here I will examine another recent contributor to this field, Barbara Geddes. Geddes is a specialist in comparative politics, and her 2003 Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics is a thoughtful contribution to the debate about how …

Classifying mechanisms by location

If we are going to take social mechanisms seriously, we need to be able to say more about what they are. Earlier posts have opened the possibility of offering a scheme of classification for social mechanisms (link, link). Here I want to briefly explore a different idea: to group mechanisms according to which part they …

Mechanisms and intellectual movements

I am particularly interested in the idea that we can explain social outcomes by identifying the social mechanisms that (often, typically, occasionally) bring them about. I also find the evolution of science and systems of ideas to be particularly fascinating within contemporary sociology, in that this aspect of human life embraces both rationally directed thought …

Simulating social mechanisms

    A key premise of complexity theory is that a population of units has "emergent" properties that result from the interactions of units with dynamic characteristics. Call these units "agents".  The "agent" part of the description refers to the fact that the elements (persons) are self-directed units.  Social ensembles are referred to as "complex …

Neighborhood effects

  In Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect Robert Sampson provides a very different perspective on the "micro-macro" debate. He rejects the methodologies associated both poles of the debate: methodological individualism ("derive important social outcomes from the choices of rational individuals") and methodological structuralism ("derive important social outcomes from the features of large-scale structures …

Hempel after 70 years

Carl Hempel published his sole contribution to the philosophy of history in 1942, almost exactly 70 years ago. The article is "The Function of General Laws in History" (link), and it set the stage for several fruitless decades of debate within analytic philosophy about the nature of historical explanation. Hempel argued that all scientific explanation has …

Neil Gross on mechanisms

Neil Gross offers a friendly amendment to the growing literature on social mechanisms within sociology in "A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms" (link). He offers general support for the framework, but criticizes the main efforts at specifying what a social mechanism is. (James Mahoney makes a major effort to capture the main formulations in "Beyond Correlational …

Do organizations have causal powers?

An organization is a meso-level social structure. It is a structured group of individuals, often hierarchically organized, pursuing a relatively clearly defined set of tasks.  In the abstract, it is a set of rules and procedures that regulate and motive the behavior of the individuals who function within the organization.  There are also a set …

Doug McAdam on contentious politics and the social sciences

Doug McAdam is hard at work shedding new light on the meso-dynamics of contention.  What are the specific social and psychological mechanisms that bring people into social movements; what factors and processes make mobilization more feasible when social grievances arise?  Recently he has done work on the impact of Teach for America on its participants, …

Scientific realism for the social sciences

What is involved in taking a realist approach to social science knowledge? Most generally, realism involves the view that at least some of the assertions of a field of knowledge make true statements about the properties of unobservable things, processes, and states in the domain of study.  Several important philosophers of science have taken up this …

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