The Art of Social Theory

The Art of Social Theory

Richard Swedberg
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Social Theory
    Book Description:

    In the social sciences today, students are taught theory by reading and analyzing the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and other foundational figures of the discipline. What they rarely learn, however, is how to actually theorize.The Art of Social Theoryis a practical guide to doing just that.

    In this one-of-a-kind user's manual for social theorists, Richard Swedberg explains how theorizing occurs in what he calls the context of discovery, a process in which the researcher gathers preliminary data and thinks creatively about it using tools such as metaphor, analogy, and typology. He guides readers through each step of the theorist's art, from observation and naming to concept formation and explanation. To theorize well, you also need a sound knowledge of existing social theory. Swedberg introduces readers to the most important theories and concepts, and discusses how to go about mastering them. If you can think, you can also learn to theorize. This book shows you how.

    Concise and accessible,The Art of Social Theoryfeatures helpful examples throughout, and also provides practical exercises that enable readers to learn through doing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5035-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. INTRODUCTION: Why Theorize and Can You Learn to Do It?
    (pp. 1-10)

    Why is it important to know how to theorize in social science? And is it a skill you can learn—and perhaps also teach? Some interesting light was cast on these questions in the very strange way in which a crime was solved in the summer of 1879. The victim of the crime, and also the person who solved it, was philosopher and scientist Charles S. Peirce.

    The crime took place on a steamship calledBristol, which was traveling between Boston and New York. At the time Peirce was thirty-nine years old and had just accepted a position as Lecturer...

  4. PART 1: How to Theorize
    • CHAPTER 1 Starting Anew
      (pp. 13-28)

      Similar ideas to those of Charles S. Peirce on abduction and theorizing have been voiced over the centuries by a number of people, from scientists to artists. When Coleridge, for example, two centuries ago wrote that to think also means to theorize, he had little evidence to base his opinion on other than his own intuition as a thinker and poet.

      Today, in contrast, the situation is different. Thanks to cognitive science and neurophysiology we know that people are born with a capacity to think; to create concepts, analogies, and metaphors; and to come up with explanations. In brief they...

    • CHAPTER 2 Social Observation
      (pp. 29-51)

      In order to theorize well, as Sherlock Holmes explained to Dr. Watson, it is absolutely necessary to have facts. This chapter will elaborate on this point and also discuss what kinds of data are helpful to theorize well in social science. It is not, however, a chapter in methodology.

      At the early stage of the research process the emphasis is on getting a good empirical sense of the phenomenon you want to study, in order to theorize it in a preliminary way. What is at issue isnotto study it in the rigorous way that is necessary once the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Naming, Concept, and Typology
      (pp. 52-79)

      Once the stage of social observation is over, it is time to start working with the empirical material and, in the narrow sense of the term, to theorize it. In the terminology of this book, the theory will now be built out and provided with a structure and a body.

      According to Peirce, what should now take place is “that process in which the mind goes over all the facts of the case, absorbs them, digests them, sleeps over them, assimilates them, dreams of them” (Peirce 1906: 4–5). And this should continue, Peirce also says, until one has come...

    • CHAPTER 4 Analogy, Metaphor, and Pattern
      (pp. 80-97)

      How does the social scientist produce the sweet-tasting honey that Bacon refers to inThe New Organon?One answer is that he or she must not only be good at observing, naming a phenomenon, developing concepts and types, and in this way begin to develop a theory. There also exist some other skills that are important to have, if you want to be able to analyze a phenomenon well.

      The three skills to be discussed in this chapter are the following: using analogies, working with metaphors, and learning to recognize and read patterns. These skills are more general in nature...

    • CHAPTER 5 Coming Up with an Explanation
      (pp. 98-124)

      The focus of this chapter is on how to come up with an explanation, not on the nature of explanation. The latter topic is of great importance, extends well beyond the social sciences, and has resulted in a huge and difficult literature that is well worth studying in its own right. How to come up with a good explanationin practical terms, and from the perspective of the person who is doing the analysis, is less often discussed.

      An explanation represents the natural goal of theorizing and completes the process of building out the theory. This means that the explanation...

  5. PART 2: Preparing for Theorizing
    • CHAPTER 6 Heuristics
      (pp. 127-145)

      So far in this book it has been argued that you can learn to theorize by following certain steps: you observe, try to name the phenomenon, and so on. The time has now come to add that there is more to theorizing than this. You also need to develop a special skill in theorizing and you need to have some knowledge of theory in social science.

      In the next few chapters I will try to show how this can be accomplished. In this chapter I will look at a useful tool for helping you to theorize in a practical way—...

    • CHAPTER 7 Practical Exercises
      (pp. 146-168)

      Work on philosophy, according to Wittgenstein, is work on oneself. He also says that it is the same with work in architecture, and one is tempted to add work in theorizing. One reason for this is that you can theorize well in social science only if you acquire a new way of thinking, a new set of mental habits.

      What Wittgenstein says is applicable not only to the situation when a person tries to learn how to theorize in social science but also when you try to teach others to theorize. The students have to be willing to “work on...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Role of Theory
      (pp. 169-187)

      So far heuristics and practical exercises have been suggested as ways of preparing yourself and students for theorizing. But much remains to be said on this topic. Most importantly what is at issue is not theorizing in general but theorizing in social science. Just as one may speak of, say, a legal mind or the capacity to look at things from a legal perspective, one can also speak of the capacity to look at reality from a social perspective. My argument is that for successful social theorizing, you need to have this capacity.

      What does it mean to look at...

    • CHAPTER 9 Imagination and Art
      (pp. 188-209)

      While it is impossible to theorize well without a good knowledge of theory, the way in which this knowledge is handled is just as important. A discussion of how theory should be used needs to be complemented with a discussion how theory shouldnotbe used.

      It is important, for example, not to squeeze the results into some existing theory. This will not only eliminate any potential originality of the research findings in a Procrustean fashion, it is also hard to accomplish (“it works in practice but not in theory”).

      It is similarly a mistake to just put a label...

    • CHAPTER 10 Summary and More
      (pp. 210-229)

      This chapter is mainly devoted to a summary of the argument so far. First, in order to do good social science, you need three things: solid empirical data, a skillful handling of methods, and some good theorizing. Today’s social scientists are usually well trained to handle the two first of these requirements—but not the third. This book represents an attempt to remedy this situation, primarily through its focus on how to theorize in practical terms.

      Having said this, it should immediately be added that there exist different types of theorizing, and that it is important to be clear about...

  6. APPENDIX: How to Theorize according to Charles S. Peirce
    (pp. 230-248)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 249-250)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 251-252)
  9. References
    (pp. 253-278)
  10. Index
    (pp. 279-284)