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How Does Social Science Work?

How Does Social Science Work?: Reflections on Practice

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    How Does Social Science Work?
    Book Description:

    The culmination of a lifetime spent in a variety of fields - sociology, anthropology, economics, psychology, and philosophy of science - -How Does Social Science Work?takes an innovative, sometimes iconoclastic look at social scientists at work in many disciplines. It describes how they investigate and the kinds of truth they produce, illuminating the weaknesses and dangers inherent in their research.

    At once an analysis, a critique, and a synthesis, this major study begins by surveying philosophical approaches to hermeneutics, to examine the question of how social science ought to work. It illustrates many of its arguments with untraditional examples, such as the reception of the work of the political biographer Robert Caro to show the hermeneutical problems of ethnographers. The major part of the book surveys sociological, political, and psychological studies of social science to get a rounded picture of how social science works,

    Paul Diesling warns that "social science exists between two opposite kinds of degeneration, a value-free professionalism that lives only for publications that show off the latest techniques, and a deep social concern that uses science for propaganda." He argues for greater self-awareness and humility among social scientists, although he notes that "some social scientists . . . will angrily reject the thought that their personality affects their research in any way."

    This profound and sometimes witty book will appeal to students and practitioners in the social sciences who are ready to take a fresh look at their field. An extensive bibliography provides a wealth of references across an array of social science disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7153-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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    (pp. ix-xii)

    THIS BOOK is intended for the practicing social scientist or social science student. It is concerned with actual research, and focuses on three main questions: (1) What are the actual goals of the various current research methods? Call the goals “truth” or “knowledge”; then what characteristics does achieved truth have in the various methods? (2) What social, cognitive, and personality processes occur or should occur during research, and how do they contribute to the outcome? (3) What persistent weaknesses and dangers appear in research, and what can we do about them?

    Brinberg and McGrath (1985, pp. 78–86) would call...

  2. PART I Perspectives from the Philosophy of Science

    • 1 Logical Empiricism, 1922–1970
      (pp. 3-28)

      LOGICAL EMPIRICISM was the dominant movement in twentieth-century philosophy of science until about 1965. During its prime in the 1950s it dominated the field so totally that philosophers regarded it as identical with philosophy of science itself. Its basic definitions and distinctions were regarded as self-evident, and anyone who questioned them was contemptuously ignored as simply not a philosopher of science. After about 1958, it was increasingly on the defensive against newer movements, and by 1970 all the innovation was occurring in the newer movements. By 1980 it had almost completely disappeared from philosophy of science convention programs in the...

    • 2 Popper and His Followers
      (pp. 29-54)

      FOR THE LOGICAL empiricists, Popper was simply one of the Vienna Circle, a member who made valuable contributions to analytic philosophy of science. He was a dissenting member who had pointed out some of the difficulties that led to early revisions of doctrine. His most valuable contribution was to emphasize that testing could involve falsification as well as verification. The two kinds of testing are symmetrical (Hempel, 1965, pp. 39–40). An existential statement like “Some ravens in western Manitoba have green heads” could be conclusively verified by going there and finding two or three of them, but could never...

    • 3 Kuhn and Stegmüller
      (pp. 55-74)

      KUHN’S THEORY of scientific revolutions swept through the social sciences in the early 1970s with enormous effect. One theorist after another announced that the social sciences were in crisis, that the old paradigm was collapsing under the weight of its anomalies, and that the new paradigm had just appeared. If we are to believe all these announcements, the social sciences experienced a revolution every six months, on the average, in those years. In each case, all the social sciences were included in the old paradigm except for a few anticipations and predecessors of the theorist making the announcement. His work,...

    • 4 Pragmatism
      (pp. 75-103)

      PRAGMATISTS TREAT SCIENCE as a process of inquiry or search for truth. The emphasis is on process, method, correction, change, not definitive and permanent results. Inquiry begins with a question or a problem, and is directed to answering the question or solving the problem. Problems are initially practical ones: How can we resolve or tone down family quarrels? How can we reduce the inflation rate, or compensate for its more harmful effects without causing trouble elsewhere? However, the search for solutions brings up more abstract problems: What is a good measure of inflation? What is the relation between the quantity...

    • 5 Hermeneutics: The Interpretation of Texts
      (pp. 104-146)

      HERMENEUTIC PHILOSOPHIES and traditions have existed for centuries, flourishing especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Germany and other parts of continental Europe. They were concerned originally with understanding the Bible and other sacred texts, and with the interpretation of Roman law, which ruled parts of the Continent as late as the nineteenth century. But by extension all sorts of other texts could be subjected to hermeneutic techniques: the works of Plato and Aristotle, commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, poetry and drama, myths and legends.

      Since different texts require different interpretive techniques, the variety of texts studied...

  3. PART II Social Science Studies Itself

    • 6 Macrosociology of Social Science
      (pp. 149-180)

      THE MODERN macrosociology of science begins with the work of Robert Merton in the 1930s. The evidence for the above statement consists of citation counts of journal articles (Cole and Zuckerman, 1975), reports of informants (Storer, 1973, esp. p. xi), and acknowledgments and tracing of ideas in leading works such as Hagstrom (1965). Many sociologists of science since 1960 were Merton’s students or students of students (Cole and Zuckerman, 1975, p. 155), and others took up and developed some of his ideas, for instance, Blissett (1972) and Mitroff (1974a). When the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) was founded...

    • 7 Microsociology of Social Science
      (pp. 181-206)

      IT IS TIME once again to give chaos its due, and as always bring some order to it. The Mertonian scientific community was unified by shared norms and countemorms which enabled scientists to work together and achieve a shared truth. But Merton’s critics such as Michael Mulkay and Randall Collins have maintained that these norms are fictions that scientists have invented as part of their struggle for professional prestige and foundation grants. Scientists are not disinterested, not self-skeptical, and certainly not humble, the critics assert; they push their own ideas dogmatically and persistently. They do not judge others’ ideas on...

    • 8 Science Politics
      (pp. 207-241)

      FOR THE MERTONIANS, social science is an autonomous subsystem of society unified by its own institutionalized values. The values have to be maintained by socialization and by rewards handed out by elite scientists for conformity. However, Mertonian empirical investigations have complicated this scheme by suggesting that all or nearly all norms are accompanied by equally valid counternorms. The resulting normative ambivalence produces conflict as well as unity, since scientists can urge norms on others while they themselves follow counternorms. Shared values thus can serve as rhetorical devices in disputes, rather than as unifying forces. Consequently, the unity-disunity balance must be...

    • 9 Cognitive Processes in Social Science
      (pp. 242-272)

      “ANYONE ATTEMPTING to come to grips with the booming [sic], buzzing confusion that is contemporary cognitive psychology is likely to be left with an actual or metaphorical headache .... Cognitive psychology often seems to resemble the messenger inAlice in Wonderlandwho went in all directions at once” (Eysenck, 1984, p. 1). “We are like the inhabitants of thousands of little islands, all in the same part of the ocean, yet totally out of touch with each other. Each has evolved a different culture, different ways of doing things, different languages to talk about what they do. Occasionally inhabitants of...

    • 10 Personality Influences in Social Science
      (pp. 273-300)

      DO SOCIAL SCIENTISTS’ personalities find expression in their work? Yes, they do. Personality effects are a class of experimenter effects, and appear in all methods involving direct contact with people-experimentation, interviewing, survey research, clinical research, and ethnography (Rosenthal, 1966). “Experimenters who differ in anxiety, need for approval, hostility, authoritarianism, status, and warmth tend to obtain different responses from their experimental subjects” (Rosenthal, 1983, p. 91).

      We can arbitrarily distinguish three kinds or levels of personality influences for study. First, there are the direct effects on other people, mentioned above. These include the extensively studied experimenter effects on subjects, interviewer effects...

  4. PART III Putting It All Together

    • 11 How Does Social Science Produce Knowledge?
      (pp. 303-326)

      IN PART III we begin to integrate the materials of parts I and II around our basic questions: (1) What sort of truth or knowledge does social science provide? (2) How does or should it do this? (3) What weaknesses and dangers appear, and how can they be avoided or corrected?

      We begin in chapter 11 by taking answers from the philosophies summarized in part I. These philosophies provide answers aplenty for all three questions, but the answers conflict. By now we have several bases for evaluating the various answers: the internal difficulties and changes in the philosophies, the disagreements...

    • 12 Problems and Dangers on the Road of Knowledge
      (pp. 327-364)

      IN THIS CHAPTER we derive further answers to our basic questions from the materials of part II. We will focus on the second and third questions posed at the opening of chapter 11: (2) How do research programs or traditions develop knowledge; (3) What difficulties come up in this process and how can they be remedied? Under question 3, the philosophers have left two unanswered questions for us. One is a problem derived from Lakatos: there seems to be no rational basis for choosing to work in a particular research program or programs. By this we mean rational for the...