SOAN 2111 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1 : Reductionism, Waggle Dance
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THE NATURE AND TYPES OF SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY
THEORY AND SOCIAL LIFE
Social theory often seems, remote, abstruse, abstract and irrelevant, but it is basically
grounded in human interests and in commonplace experience.
One major divide between social theorists is that some believe that it should model itself
after the natural sciences while others say humanities. Some use mathematical methods
while others use journalist methods. Some say they should stay clear of ideological issues
while others insist that the whole point of theory is to promote critical self-understanding
and also changing the world.
It can be divided into three categories:
Positivist explanation and interpretive critical thought have emerged from two distinct
First organisms have to learn how to adapt and process information about their
environment: during this process they acquire behavior that maximizes the possibilities of
instrumental control over them. Environments are generally objectively given whether
they are natural or social.
animals are hard-wired which makes it easier for them to adapt to their
environment unlike us who deal with variation from day to day.
The same goes for interaction, ours is mostly arbitrary and reflective and human
symbolic interaction requires a person to take the role of the other in order to
participate in a meaningful cultural creative dynamic open process.
The type of learning that is driven from modern scientific explanation is the need to
master objectively defined or given environments. – hence positivism is nomothetic:
seeking generalizable, universally applicable laws.
Comte and Pareto: science and prevision while prevision leads to the ability to control.
With the ability to control, sociologists are able to discover the laws that were able to
explain causes such as crime and suicide.
Natural Sciences: mainly have an interest in technical theorizing, hence prediction and
control and based on the ability of the theory to predict or objectively master
Human interaction requires the use of reflective interpretive practices – this becomes
obvious when we compare communication of humans to another social actor: waggle
dance (implanted in the bee, cannot distance themselves from conversation) while our
communication is learned and we can reflect on extrinsic realities that are expressed by
the way we communicate.
weber mentions that with different modes of interaction our symbolic modes have
to be understood from within a cultural or civilization complex from without – we
cannot forgot ideographics (one event in historical context may have a different
relevance in another culture.
In a modern capitalist society, the precise measurement of time is absolutely
indispensable for the articulation of social relations.
•critical theory had its roots in classical Greece
As we have noted, humans do not respond to their environment in a direct, unmediated
fashion but they participate in them by showing an act of interpretation. We all have the
ability to reflect on how they themselves are the product and creators of modes of
Ex: those who are poor while those who are rich. (filthy vs. clean).
Regardless, any presentation of social reality always reinforces authority relations that are
more than likely not fair and can be questioned and with authority it does not always let
us grasp the underlying relations.
Critical theory is the analysis of how domination is institutionalized within
communication modes. Whereas a positivist might use scientific methods for more profit
while the critical wants to know how they are doing.
CRITICAL = SELF REFLECTION
Primitive and traditional societies are not really self-reflective while the modern world is
a reflective project.
It requires a commitment from: determinism and empiricism.
A commitment to determinism helps the scientist look for postulated mechanisms in the
world. It encourages them to define the cause effect relations that are inclusive as
Deductive-nomological explanation (nomothetic science): consists of the production of
certain scientific laws which are described in terms of a theoretical language. They
describe a set of conditions that describe the circumstances under which the laws apply.
Explanandrum: explained and predictable - Explanans: what does the explaining
what is explained by the first one must come to pass.
Thus, in order to test the scientific laws it is necessary to set up an experiment carefully
so that the circumstances described come into effect. Usually only possible in a lab
setting for scientists to provide the grounds for corroboration or refute any law.
Nomothetic Science: strives for the generalizability of an explanation. It seeks laws that
enable individual’s to predict what will happen under certain circumstances at any time
and at any place. (most come to the conclusion that they are not going to come up with
the perfect one).
Many tend to look at the statistical correlations and see what tends to be associated. They
have technical control while deductive logic guarantees human certainty about the
validity of certain conclusions. Here for this idea, stats are inferior.
Empiricism helps the scientist accept that knowledge about the external world is
ultimately grounded in what we can learn from our sense impressions. Many are the same
as we are generally exposed to the same stimuli. Unless you can classify according to
Comte this is impossible. Thus, when we receive information about something external to
us by being able to touch we gain the external reality knowledge – way the world really
is, independent of what we know.
In short, positivism treats raw data as if they consist of what can be seen, heard, smelled,
touch or tasted – while empiricism thinks we can do the same with pure information
about the world.
Positivism theory cannot involve the simple description of sense data – without
organization our sense of reality would be scrambled. Therefore it contains several levels
- abstract theory which specifies for particular relationships among concepts
- particular concepts defined by the language that the scientists use
- operational definitions which relate to concepts to observable conditions
- description of sense impressions
NOTE: that the actual concepts that positivist use are several levels removed from the
raw description of impressions received through the senses. Thus, raw data come to them
in the form of observations about changes in these instruments. Analysis requires an
interpretation of what actually happened during the experiment in terms of what other
scientists will find meaningful. They have a authoritative social network.