Sociology, Epistemology of Rampton B 1999 Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(3): 421–585 Roberts C, Jupp T, Davies E 1991 Language and Discrimination. Longman, London Romaine S 1994 Language in Society. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK Rubin J 1985 The special relation of Guaranı! and Spanish in Paraguay. In: Wolfson N, Manes J (eds.) Language of Inequality. Mouton, Berlin, pp. 111–20 Sacks H 1984 Notes on methodology. In: Maxwell Atkinson J, Heritage J (eds.) Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conersation Analysis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 21–7 Tagliamonte S, Hudson R 1999 Be like et al. beyond America: The quotative system in British and Canadian youth. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(2): 147–72 Thomas J 1995 Meaning in Interaction. Longman, London Trudgill P 1988 Norwich revisited: Recent linguistic changes in an English urban dialect. English World-Wide 9(1): 33–49 Wardhaugh R 1998 An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 3rd edn. Blackwell, Oxford, UK
Sociology, Epistemology of The word ‘epistemology’ will be taken here in its etymological acceptation, which is the one kept in the Romance languages, namely as philosophy of science. Like any other special branch of the philosophy of science, the epistemology of sociology may be construed as having three main components: ontology (or metaphysics), epistemology in the narrow sense (theory of knowledge), and methodology (or normative epistemology). This order is not arbitrary, for every research strategy depends upon the type of knowledge being sought, which in turn depends on the nature of the thing studied. Thus, if the object of study is concrete, like a photon or a social group, and if what is sought is objective knowledge of it, then the scientiﬁc method will be adopted. If, by contrast, the object of knowledge is assumed to be spiritual, and if things spiritual are deemed to be beyond the reach of science, then an alternative method will be preferred—such as revelation, intuition, interpretation (Verstehen), unchecked speculation, or narrative. In this article the ontology, epistemology and methodology of sociology will be glanced at.
Ontology: Nature of the Social The Idealism–Materialism Dilemma
Most sociologists adopt the vulgar view that the human being is a composite of body and mind (or spirit or soul), and do not ask how these two components are kept together. Hence they do not
characterize social facts as either material or spiritual, and do not worry about the place of sociology in the system of human knowledge: they are dualists. But some sociologists do worry about these questions, and argue for or against one of two monistic worldviews: idealism or materialism. Idealism is the view that everything is either ideal or ultimately ruled by ideas, whereas materialism holds that all existents are material or concrete. In social studies, the idealism\materialism cleavage appears notably in the place and relative weight assigned to the so-called ideal (cultural and political) superstructure vis a' vis the material (biological and economic) infrastructure. This very distinction betrays a dualistic stand, even if the pre-eminence or priority of either ‘structure’ (system) is postulated. Consistent idealists will assert that everything social is spiritual (or cultural), whence sociology is a Geisteswissenschaft (science of the spiritual). This is the view of hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, phenomenological sociology, and ethnomethodology. By contrast, materialists assert that persons and social groups are material, though not necessarily conﬁned to the physical or even the biological level. And, unlike idealists, they claim that all cultural and political activities are inﬂuenced or even determined by environment, reproduction, and material production. While it is undeniable that the reproductive patterns and means of subsistence condition culture and politics, it is no less true that the latter in turn help shape the former. In a systemic perspective, changes in the environment and in any of the subsystems of society (the biological, economic, political and cultural) may initiate processes altering any of the others. People may work or ﬁght, live or die, for King and country, no less than for food and family. There is no ‘last analysis.’ Marxism is the oldest, and still the most inﬂuential, of the materialist schools in social science. However, given its proposed division between the material infrastructure and the ideal superstructure, it is questionable that Marxism is consistent. Moreover, philosophical Marxism is nowadays split into a large number of diﬀerent schools, neither of which is ﬂourishing. By contrast, some of Marx’s contributions to social science, particularly his emphasis on production, on the economic roots of the power elites, and on the economic causes of many an international conﬂict, have survived. Even some of Weber’s studies are materialist, particularly those of the congruence between Hinduism and the Indian caste system, and on the causes of the decline of slavery in ancient Rome. Likewise the Annales historical school owes much to Marx. Sociobiology is the newest and most popular materialist school in social studies. Sociobiologists hold that everything social is ultimately biological, for having evolved as an adaptation to the natural environment. This view overlooks all the types of self14569
Sociology, Epistemology of destructive and antisocial behavior, from suicide to military aggression to environmental degradation to gullibility and ideological zealotry. And it ignores all social inventions (like formal education) and social revolutions (like the information revolution)—hence it is basically conservative. The sociobiological speculations on the origin of mental faculties are even more far-fetched and they lack empirical support. Still, something does remain of the attempt to reduce social science to biology, namely, the reminder that sociologists cannot aﬀord to ignore human physiology and ecology. For example, they should not ignore that malnutrition stunts development and limits productivity; that plagues, foreign invasions and wars are bound to eliminate some genes and change the immune system; and that a few more centuries of uncontrolled environmental degradation is likely to make our planet uninhabitable.
1.2 The Indiidualism–Holism–Systemism Trilemma There are essentially three consistent views on social structure: that it does not exist, that it is self-existing, and that it is a property of a system composed of individuals. The ﬁrst, or individualism, identiﬁes ‘society’ with ‘crowd.’ The second view, or holism, regards society as an organism, and the individual as wholly subordinated to it. The third, or systemism, views society as a system made up of individuals linked to one another by ties of diﬀerent kinds and strengths. Individualism stresses agency at the expense of structure, and tends to explain action in terms of ‘rational’ (self-interested) decisions. Holism emphasizes collective traits, which it claims to be unexplainable, and it explains individuals by wholes. Lastly, systemism admits the novelty of systemic properties, as well as the possibility of explaining them in terms of interactions among individuals and systems. Individualists rightly see in individual action the root of everything social. And, even if they acknowledge the importance of the social context or situation, they resist the very idea of a social system (family, village, ﬁrm, etc.) Radical individualism cannot work in sociology if only because the idea of an individualist social science makes as much sense as the idea of a collectivist psychology. After all, sociology studies social facts and, although these result from individual actions, they have nonindividual traits. Families, businesses, schools, armies, religious congregations, and other social systems are structured groups, and a structure is a set of relations, among them the bonds holding the system together. Likewise, social processes, such as trade, governance, and war, are impersonal aﬀairs. This is why there are no radical individualist sociologists, with the possible exception of Homans. Many who call themselves methodolo14570
gical individualists, from Weber and Pareto to Coleman and Boudon, admit the peculiarity of the social, and only attempt to explain it as emerging from individual actions: they behave more like systemists than like individualists. Holists rightly emphasize the centrality of connections, but they exaggerate in claiming that social structure precedes and dominates individuals. This view is logically untenable, because there are no relations without relata. In reality there are only interrelated individuals: relations, like their relata, are only the products of abstraction. For instance, there is no such thing as ‘married’ in itself, any more than there are unrelated spouses. Hence relations cannot act upon individuals, but interrelated individuals can alter or even sever some relationships—though never all of them at the same time except through suicide. Systemism, often confused with holism, is a sort of synthesis of the latter with individualism. It holds that, because individuals are inter-related, individual behavior can only be understood in terms of both intentions and social constraints and stimuli. Thus, agency and structure are mutually inseparable. And social change, though brought about by individual action, consists in structural change—that is, change in the nature and strength of the bonds that hold social systems together. A social system may be characterized by its composition, environment (natural and social), structure, and mechanism. A change in any of these features may modify the other three. However, some features may resist changes in the others. For example, social order may survive demographic turnover and environmental catastrophe. Still, all four aspects coexist and, in the long run, important changes in any are bound to alter the other three. Yet individualism ignores structure and underrates environment, whereas holism ignores composition and mechanism, and underrates the natural environment. Only systemism accounts for all four, and is thus likely to favor realistic models of social groups and eﬀective social policies.
Epistemology: Knowledge of the Social
There are as many views on the nature of social studies as general views on the nature of knowledge: skepticism, apriorism, empiricism, and realism.
Skepticism comes in two strengths: moderate (or methodological) and radical (or systematic). The moderate skeptic doubts a thesis as long as no solid evidence for it is available. By contrast, the radical skeptic questions the very possibility of knowledge of some kind. Whereas moderate skepticism is part of the
Sociology, Epistemology of scientiﬁc attitude, radical skepticism is destructive and even self-destructive for, if everything is doubtful, why not skepticism itself? The variety of radical skepticism most common concerning the social is cognitive relativism, or the view that social facts cannot be known objectively. This view has been falsiﬁed by the growing pile of reliable social data and approximately true sociological hypotheses. Since every research project sets out to ﬁnd out the truth about something, it presupposes the ability to ﬁnd it.
manifest or disguise. Only sociological theory can suggest the search for social data that indicate social process, in particular the mechanisms behind appearances. By banning theory, or restricting it to correlating commonsense data, empiricism curtails experience. Moreover, its limitation has elicited some of the postmodern attacks upon science.
Apriorism is speculation without reality checks. The ‘grand social theories’ of old were apriorist. So are the sociobiological theories on the alleged genetic roots of all social traits, from the incest taboo to social stratiﬁcation to ideals of human beauty. However, nowadays the most popular a priori theories in social studies are the rational choice models. All of these assume that we always act in self-interest and moreover ‘rationally,’ that is, striving to maximize our expected utilities. These theories are a priori because they are seldom if ever checked against empirical data. In particular, they postulate that agents have certain preference rankings (or utility functions), that are seldom checked. Moreover, some rational choice models are untestable. Thus, if agents behave in an obviously irrational fashion, they are said to be subjectively rational—as when they play lottery. And if people are altruistic, it will be argued that altruism is nothing but enlightened self-interest. Being impregnable to empirical data, such models are unscientiﬁc.
2.3 Empiricism Empiricism is the view that only empirical data count: that they are the source, content, and ﬁnal judges of ideas. Note that the emphasis is on data (reports on observable facts), not on objective facts. So much so, that the neopositivists disallow all talk of objective facts as metaphysical, in going beyond experience. However, empiricism is not limited to positivist philosophers. Behaviorism is a prime example of empiricism, since it deliberately avoids the neural springs of behavior and it eschews theorizing. Ethnomethodology, though ostensibly tributary to the antiempiricist philosophies of Dilthey and Husserl, is another instance of empiricism, since all its practitioners do is to record overt everyday behavior. Empiricism condemns students to the shallowness characteristic of common sense, because the most interesting facts of any kind are invisible, whence they must be guessed. For example, we can see a status indicator but not status, let alone class; and we can hear political talks, but not the interests that they
Scientiﬁc realism, or objectivism, has two components: the ontological thesis that the world outside the knower exists on its own, and the epistemological thesis that it can be known. As applied to sociology, scientiﬁc realism is the view that social facts are just as real as physical facts, and that they can be known by blending theory with observation, measurement, and (whenever possible) experiment. Such knowledge is objective, but partial and gradual. In the case of social facts, research must include not only the facts themselves but also the way the actors perceive them—for example, the fact that people gauge social inequalities, and react to them, by reference to the adjoining social group. Although scientiﬁc realism demands that theories be ultimately justiﬁed by data, it does not stiﬂe the sociological imagination the way empiricism does. A realist concedes that, just as some data trigger the curiosity of the theorist, at other times untested theories motivate the search for pertinent empirical data. And, on still other occasions, advances come from the confrontation of either rival theories or mutually incompatible data. In short, according to scientiﬁc realism, theorizing and empirical research should go hand in hand, now matching, now challenging one another. On the critical side, scientiﬁc realists will ask interpretivists and other armchair students to exhibit empirical evidence for their ‘interpretations’ (hypotheses). They will ask rational choice theorists to specify and justify the utility functions they impute to people. They will remind Marxists and other ‘economic imperialists’ that real people engage in some activities that are economically unproductive or even counterproductive, and that many a social change—such as the diﬀusion of the computer and the revival of religious fundamentalism—has come about with little or no class struggle.
Methodology: Social Research Strategy
Methodology is the normative or prescriptive branch of epistemology: it attempts to lay down, justify, reﬁne, or criticize research rules and procedures. Philosophers are interested only in general or crossdisciplinary strategic principles: they leave special 14571
Sociology, Epistemology of techniques to specialists. Here is a tiny random sample of the class of general methodological problems: How are causation and statistical correlation related? What is a social indicator? How to infer intention from behavior? Can every social feature be quantiﬁed, or are there irreducibly qualitative properties? Is an ideographic (or particularistic) science possible? Here we shall only review three rival research strategies.
3.1 Dataism: Collect Data In the Anglo-Saxon sociological tradition, research is equated with data hunting, gathering, and processing, whereas theory is regarded as mere data compression (as in curve ﬁtting), or even as parasitic upon data collection. To be sure, there is no factual (or empirical) science without empirical data. But data alone a science does not make, because they are what calls for explanation. To understand a bit of the world is to explain it. And explaining involves guessing (and then checking) mechanisms—causal, random, intentional, or hybrid. Hence, theorizing is just as important as data collecting, whether in sociology or in any other factual science. Moreover, only theory, by suggesting interesting variables, can spare us the barrenness and boredom of mindless data gathering.
3.2 Interpretiism: Impute Intention The interpretivist school holds, rightly, that we can explain an agent’s behavior if we know his intentions. But it overlooks the fact that we only have direct access to behavior, not to intentions. That is, the interpretivist is faced with the inverse problem of guessing intentions from actions. (Typically, inverse problems are insoluble or have multiple solutions. Think, for example, of the problem of decomposing a given even number into prime numbers, as opposed to the problem of adding prime numbers.) The interpretivist is entitled to guess anything, but not to present his guesses (hypotheses) as true unless they have passed the suitable empirical tests. The imputation of intentions is not only dicey: it is also insuﬃcient, because intentions, even if known, may explain success but not failure. The social constraints upon agency, and the reactions of other people to one’s actions, must be envisaged too. That is, individuals must be placed in their systems.
3.3 Scientism: Gather Data and Craft Theory Consistent with Data Scientism is the thesis that the scientiﬁc approach is the best of all approaches to cognitive problems of all kinds in all ﬁelds. Scientism should not be mistaken for naturalism, or the thesis that the social world is a 14572
fragment of nature, and consequently social research should be conducted in exactly the same manner as the study of nature. One may admit that everything social is made, while holding that, once made, a social item is out there, along with rivers and butterﬂies. That is, social reality is constructed, but not by the knower. And it is changeable, but not because the knower changes their viewpoint. Scientism does not involve the denial of the speciﬁcity and irreducibility of the social. It only holds that the scientiﬁc method is applicable across all the disciplinary barriers, hence that it is advisable to trespass them whenever they are artiﬁcial. In the case of sociology, scientism favors close relations with all its sister disciplines, particularly economics, politology, and historiography. Scientism also promotes the proliferation of social indicators, the production and statistical processing of data, and the crafting of empirically testable theories—in particular mathematical models. Hundreds of social indicators have been invented, measured and used since the mid-1960s. However, their very nature is still somewhat unclear, due to insuﬃcient philosophical investigation. A social indicator bridges the observed to the unobserved, eﬀects to causes, symptoms to mechanisms, and data to hypotheses. However, it does so ambiguously unless it can be shown that no other unobserved trait or event could possibly account for the data. For example, the popularity of low-cost merchandise may measure either consumer satisfaction or poverty; and high church attendance may measure either religiosity or the need for social integration (or for respectability). Ambiguity is typical of empirical indicators. By contrast, the indicators used in the more advanced sciences are unambiguous because they are backed by theories. For example, pH is a reliable measure of acidity because it is an index of proton concentration, and theory deﬁnes acids as proton donors. The moral for sociology is that the reliability of a social indicator can be increased either by grounding it in a theory, or by using it jointly with other indicators of the same hidden trait. Values and morals would seem to defy scientiﬁc realism. After all, Weber held that science ought to be value-free and morally neutral because he wished to preserve objectivity as well as the diﬀerence between science and ideology. Now, it is certainly correct to distinguish value judgments from factual statements. But not all values are subjective: some, such as peace, welfare, and truth, are not a matter of taste. Moreover, it is possible to investigate scientiﬁcally how values and moral norms emerge, and why some of them have become obsolete. It may even be argued that there are moral facts, such as misery and torture, and consequently that some moral judgments can be justiﬁed scientiﬁcally. Example: ‘Anomie is wrong because it is personally and socially destructive.’ It is also correct to distinguish science from ideology. Social scientists endeavor to understand social reality, not to alter it.
Sociology, Epistemology of However, some of their ﬁndings can be used by social activists, politicians and managers to alter social conditions in a rational fashion rather than through costly improvisation. That is, a scientiﬁc ideology— one based on social science and empirically testable— is not out of the question.
The Sociology–Epistemology Connection
The traditional view of the relation between science and philosophy is that they are disjoint or even mutually incompatible. This view is mistaken, because science teems with philosophical concepts, such as those of reality, law, and knowledge, and because scientiﬁc research presupposes the reality and knowability of the world—a philosophical thesis. In short, philosophy and science, in particular social science, overlap partially. This overlap is only partial because only philosophers analyze philosophical constructs, and only scientists are equipped to study social facts. However, not all philosophies are congenial with science. Whereas some philosophies are extraneous to science, others are relevant to it. For example, phenomenology is extraneous to science because it rejects the scientiﬁc method and consists in egology, or the selfstudy of the self. Existentialism is even more alien, because it rejects rationality and does not deal at all with problems of knowledge. The philosophies congenial with science examine, among others, the problems, concepts, hypotheses, and methods common to science and epistemology. Hence, they can be judged to be adequate to the extent that they propose true accounts of actual scientiﬁc practice and help advance science. For example, Popper’s philosophy is congenial with science because of its rationalism and objectivism. But his devaluation of conﬁrmation is incompatible with the search for truth, since a hypothesis can only be said to be true to some extent if it has been well conﬁrmed.
Sociology of Epistemology
The sociology of philosophy is only embryonic, and mostly speculative. In particular, little is known about the social roots of the various epistemologies of sociology. For one thing, it is not true that they are motivated by class interests. Nor is it true that all idealists are reactionary and all materialists progressive. For example, Hegel’s followers split into a leftwing and a right-wing. The second Comte inspired both the Mexican conservatives led by Porﬁrio Dı! az, and their contemporary Brazilian progressives. What is true is that, once crafted for whatever reasons, some philosophical views favor certain social groups rather than others. For instance, radical skepticism, even while revolting against the establishment, objectively favors the latter in that it discourages scientiﬁc social research and therefore
reasoned and well-organized opposition. Individualist philosophies favor anarchism and liberalism. By contrast, holistic philosophies jibe with communitarianism and totalitarianism. In short, some philosophies, particularly if fuzzy, can be craftily interpreted to suit anyone’s social interests. But the more abstract philosophical ideas—in particular the logical and semantical ones—are socially neutral. Thus, neither the logical calculi nor the theories of (semantic) meaning and truth refer to social facts, whence they cannot support any social ideology. However, they are useful to examine the cogency of any views whatsoever, and to this extent they have a subversive potential. See also: Action, Theories of Social; Empiricism, History of; Grounded Theory: Methodology and Theory Construction; Interpretive Methods: Macromethods; Interpretive Methods: Micromethods; Macrosociology–Microsociology; Marx, Karl (1818–89); Methodological Individualism in Sociology; Methodological Individualism: Philosophical Aspects; Neutrality: Axiological; Phenomenology in Sociology; Positivism: Sociological; Rational Choice Theory in Sociology; Sociobiology: Overview; Sociology, History of; Structure: Social; System: Social; Theory: Sociological; Weber, Max (1864–1920)
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Sociology, History of The standard way in which surveys of the history of sociology are written and taught still lags behind actual developments in the ﬁeld itself. The writing and teaching of the history of sociology continue to be strongly dominated by the tradition of the history of ideas. Only recently have some major attempts been made to view the history of sociology from a sociological angle, using sociological concepts, methods, and theories. In the absence of a standard sociological survey of the development of sociology, we shall in this outline mainly follow the familiar textbook trajectory. This approach inevitably implies distortions. It suggests a pattern of Whig history, in which the history of sociology is made into a neat succession of successes. To balance that bias, the reader should bear in mind that the development of sociology itself has been a social and cultural process, consisting of a multitude of short-term planned actions and interactions with aggregate results that in the long term have not been planned by any single individual. This process took place, moreover, as a part of wider social and cultural developments. The context was primarily European and, since the second half of the nineteenth century, North American; yet, as Europe and North America belonged to a more encompassing global constellation, we should also consider the relevance of the processes of colonization and decolonization aﬀecting nineteenth and twentieth century society and culture all over the world (Connell 1997, Collins 1997). Sociology, furthermore, was one of the social sciences amidst other intellectual disciplines: academic disciplines ranging from physics and biology to history and philosophy, as well as nonacademic disciplines including journalism, political debate, and literature. Sociology took on an articulate form in continuous dialog with those other disciplines, sometimes borrowing ideas from them, sometimes opposing them. Most of the controversies within sociology itself reﬂected its relations to the larger ﬁeld of intellectual activities.
This would be true of the moral or political views informing sociological theories as well as of the preference for either quantitative, ‘scientiﬁc’ methods or a qualitative, ‘hermeneutic’ approach (Lepenies 1988). In addition to the diﬀerentiation into (a) theoretical and methodological orientations, sociology has also become diﬀerentiated according to (b) empirical specializations, and (c) national traditions. These various forms of diﬀerentiation are respectively related to (a) the prevailing orientation to other intellectual disciplines including science, philosophy, literature, and journalism; (b) the general process of diﬀerentiation of functions in society at large; and (c) international relations. While the variety of empirical specializations and national traditions is easily visible, this is not so clearly the case with the way the national traditions are ‘nested’ in an evolving international constellation characterized by speciﬁc hierarchies, loyalties, and corresponding intellectual interests. We shall not continuously refer to the more general conditions aﬀecting sociology in the following account which, because of its encyclopedic format, is written in accordance with standard practice. The reader should realize, however, that these conditions are relevant to each of the ﬁve major stages into which the development of sociology can conveniently be divided: (a) A long ‘predisciplinary’ stage up to 1830, marked by what in retrospect may be recognized as ‘protosociologies.’ (b) The formation of an intellectual discipline, 1830–1890. (c) The formation of an academic discipline with diverging national traditions, 1890–1930. (d) The establishment as a fully ﬂedged academic discipline with autonomous degrees, departments, and research facilities and an emerging international hierarchy, 1930–1970. (e) A period of crisis, fragmentation, and attempts at new synthesis, 1970–2000. In discussing the successive stages we shall have to observe a basic rule of ‘phaseology’ (Goudsblom 1996): when a later phase begins, new elements are added to the previous constellation; but most of the elements which were already present in the earlier phase will continue to exist, albeit in a modiﬁed guise.
The Predisciplinary Stage
By a discipline we mean a ‘unit of teaching, research and professional organization’ (Heilbron 1995). There is a body of knowledge, recognized as such under a generally accepted name, set down in textbooks and discussed in professional journals by practitioners. All of these elements were absent from the ﬁeld of sociology prior to the nineteenth century. And yet we can list many names of people who may, arguably, be regarded as predecessors, ‘protosociologists’: people who reﬂected about social phenomena, collected data
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