If you can prevent yourself following the footnotes to the end of the post, try and guess who offered this critique of scientific method when applied to the social:
“Yet the confidence in the unlimited power of science is only too often based on a false belief that the scientific method consists in the application of a ready-made technique, or in imitating the form rather than the substance of scientific procedure, as if one needed only to follow some cooking recipes to solve all social problems. It sometimes almost seems as if the techniques of science were more easily learnt than the thinking that shows us what the problems are and how to approach them.”
Perhaps this is a quotation from a post-Marxist sociologist, or a post-modern relativist worthy of being mocked by natural scientists such as Alan Sokal?
How about this quotation from the same person on the limitations of modeling social phenomena using statistical methods:
“Statistics of limited use because it proceeds on the basis of reducing complexity: it deliberately ignores the structure into which the individual elements are organized. We can talk in generalities, if, all things being equal, certain patterns will occur. We should have developed beyond the understanding that we are in search of simple regularities which will help us with predicting events. The idea that to be scientific we have to produce laws has proved very harmful.”
Maybe these are the thoughts of a famous social anthropologist or a critical management scholar?
Or lastly, the observations of our eminent mystery guest on social complexity:
“Since a spontaneous order results from the individual elements adapting themselves to circumstances which directly affect only some of them, and which in their totality need not be known by anyone, it may extend to circumstances so complex that no mind can comprehend them all. Consequently, the concept becomes particularly important when we turn from mechanical to such ‘more highly organized’ or essentially complex phenomena as we encounter in the realms of life, mind and society. Here we have to deal with ‘grown’ structures with a degree of complexity which they have assumed, and could assume only because they were produced by spontaneous ordering forces.”
Perhaps this is a contemporary of Norbert Elias, another process sociologist? Or perhaps another pragmatist arguing that ‘mind and culture developed concurrently rather than successively’? Continue reading