Methods of social science

Social science methods

It is possible that social science methodology reflects the major paradigms of a given period of history (Sewell 2008). If so, this relationship is important to take into account in such methodologies for a more comprehensive and critical perspective.This awareness of periodization may be termed a form of“ reflexivity.” Such reflexivity would involve understanding the particular period of history, the distinct methods of social science, and one’s personal relationship to both, as illustrated by recent work (Eley 2005).

“Objectivity” in social science

One example of the rise of certain standards in knowledge production is the emergence of the criterion of “objectivity” is social science. The reification of key categories like “the individual” and “property,” as discussed in earlier chapters, is pervasive in modern social science (Daston and Galison 2007; Davis 2019; Poovey 2002).The use of abstractions to refer to social institutions helps to reinforce the “solidity” and “permanence” of those social institutions and to make them appropriate, discreet objects of study (Sewell 1980, 143—144). In this guise, the social scientist is not also a part of the object of study, or “society.” And yet the production of the social science model of society may influence the operation of that model by shaping expectations and behavior of those “individuals” whose actions constitute the model/society. The importance of“objectivity” in scientific methods also reinforces the scientific “voice,” which is “a view from nowhere,” (Nagel 1986; Bourdieu 2004, 115—116), disembodied, yet omniscient, to replace the dethroned deity of the pre-modern period. This may also be the merchants view of the world, always scanning for objects, any object that can be sold for a higher price than it cost. Such a world view creates “property" as an object for sale by seeing all objects as potential commodities. This objective standpoint of the scientist and social scientist then naturalizes and legitimates the view of humans and nature as instruments for human utility and wealth.

This stance of objectivity removes the use of first-person plural, either the dyad (Taylor 1989,2016) or the exhortation (Marx 1967), by the social scientist. The so-called dichotomy of agent/structure is a result of the choice of objective voice, which distances the social scientist from the population, as an object. Such abstraction and objectivity reinforce the status quo and discourage reflection outside the norms and habits of the present. These reified social objects of study then provide a means for managing time, by the assumption of stable, static social institutions, like “the market,” over infinite time.That is, reification helps to remove the influence of time on social science categories, like the “perpetual” market of economists.

The standpoint of the social scientists treats “society” as an object. In turn, this is an internalization of the relationship of “property in the person,” a characteristic of capitalism (Pateman 1988; MacPherson 1962). That is, the commodity “labor power” is a person, an abstract object which can be owned by himself and his employer. This scientific stance mirrors and legitimates the objectification of persons with the aura of “progress” and improvement. The social scientist s mission is to promote happiness, a common goal of economists’ “utility.” Sewell, like Taylor, understands that the economy operates “behind the backs” of economic agents (Sewell 2005,353), which is endorsed if this market mechanism brings about progress (Searle 2010).Whether these market mechanisms can be known and consciously managed is a matter of debate between theorists, such as Lange vs. Hayek in the socialist calculation debate, for example (Davies 2015).

The formulation of “society” as an object constitutes the social scientist as “objective” observer, a modern standpoint which is outside that object. This contrasts with the “corporatist” standpoint in which the person is a member of a collective and conscious of that collective while also participating in it, with rights to make decisions and to be recognized as a member. This direct participation in a collective entity, like a guild or commune, is contrasted with indirect representation. One example is the formulation of suffrage rules in the constitutional provisions of the liberal nation-state by collective deliberation. These rules provide a transition from the corporate consciousness of the ancien regime to the new individual citizen represented in the liberal nation-state. These criteria for “citizenship” determine who counts in future deliberations and establish categories of eligibility. These categories are then applied objectively by bureaucratic procedures, a type of fairness and impersonality (North, Wallis, andWeingast 2009;Weber 1978).The objective standpoint of the modern social scientist then mirrors and legitimates the treatment of the other as a category, or object, which is pervasive in the wage labor relationship of modern capitalism. The ability to understand and analyze such “reifying abstractions” then becomes the “modern” world view and role for modern professionals, who stand outside any conflict in the society to play the role of analysts, problem solvers, and policy-makers.

Such a transition can be observed historically in mid- to late-nineteenth-century Germany (Beck 1995), when social science and its methods were being

Methods of social science 109 developed, a new nation-state was emerging, and the modern “welfare” state was being instituted amid the active suppression of socialism. The rise of objective professionals also served to resolve the widespread unrest in the late-nineteenth-century, and to undergird the role of the Progressive movement in the US (McGerr 1986,2003). "

Abstract, ahistorical social science enabled its practitioners to avoid moral questions like the “social problem.”This explicit feature of methodology was debated by Schmoller, a member of the German Historical School, and Carl Menger, a founder of the Austrian School, in the latter half of the nineteenth century (Grimmer-Solem 2003, 248-260; Milonakis and Fine 2009, 101—115). Menger made “a sharp distinction between economic theory and history,” positing that “the axioms of praxeology were a priori true and were not subject to refutation by empirical test” (Slobodian 2018, 5). At a time when the use of coercive power of the state and censorship was widespread, the use of abstract categories avoided any mention of the domination of labor as an inherent part of the nature of capitalism (Hodgson 2015; Pateman 1988).The firm could remain a “black box” and the market mechanism merely a “machine."

 
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