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Limitations of Objectification and Quantification in the Social Sciences

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  • Limitations of Objectification and Quantification in the Social Sciences

    Originally posted by Morgan Kane
    " a dissertation criticizing the (mis)application of mathematics in social science "

    I am very interested by the result !
    Me, too. Reading the post, it almost sounded like a description of Psychohistory from Asimov's Foundation series.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Pellaz
    Me, too. Reading the post, it almost sounded like a description of Psychohistory from Asimov's Foundation series.
    Actually, in a way it is.

    Part of my argument suggests that certain objectified conceptions of human nature tend to be self-reinforcing, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies... to the point that attempts to describe human beings as predictable actually make us more so.

    This derives, in part, from the fact that our expectations about other people have a lot to do with shaping our own behavior. If scientists and other authorities insist, for instance, that people are fundamentally "rational" utility-maximizers, I am given to believe that people with whom I associate are looking out for themselves first... with little to no room for ethical thinking properly so called. Under such circumstances, I am the fool at whose expense others will benefit if I allow myself to fall into the suspect forms of commiseration, pity, or other-regarding thought.

    But then, of course, I'm "proving" the science to be correct.

    The more we all come to think this way, the more likely we are to actually behave as if it were true. (This is no original thought on my part... Kant said precisely this, and it's been implied as far back as Plato.)

    In a more practical sense, the trend can be seen in the monopoly of "horse-race" reporting on politics as well as the emphasis on sociological predictors of an individual's vote. Where has my agency disappeared to when political scientists across the country know how I'm going to vote before I do?

    In short, it is a unique property of the social sciences that their epistemological problems cannot be disentangled from the politics of the disciplines themselves. There is a distinct difference between the kinds of knowledge produced by a political science that serves the powers-that-be by making predictions (which make people predictable); and a political science that addresses people as subjects themselves--in the sense that psychoanalysis, for instance, tends to supercede its own explanations because it addresses them to the patient. If I explain to someone the "why" behind her behavior, it is precisely so that this understanding may help her to decide whether and how to continue or cease said behavior. As soon as she does, my explanation is (in a certain sense) moot: she no longer behaves that way--or if she does, the "why" is "because she wants to."

    My aim, in other words, might be described as a "psychoanalysis of politics."

    But... I think I'm hijacking the "Introductions" thread, and for that I apologize. Perhaps I'll start another thread elsewhere.

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    • #3
      do it ..... i am anxious to read more ...

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by AnarchyeL
        But... I think I'm hijacking the "Introductions" thread, and for that I apologize. Perhaps I'll start another thread elsewhere.
        You don't need to start another thread. I'm sure if we ask nicely, Rose will move this section over to Reasoned Debate...

        [EDIT: Thanks Rose!]
        Last edited by johneffay; 07-26-2006, 12:17 AM.

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        • #5
          This is not precisely related to what I've been talking about in this thread (I welcome, by the way, reactions)... but a recent conversation took me back to one of my favorite books on approaches to history as an academic discipline (or even a casual hobby).

          Has anyone else encountered Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Truillot?

          The substantive topic of the book is the history of Saint-Domingue/Haiti, which I find very interesting in itself. But the more profound aspect of the work is Trouillot's theoretical approach to the construction of historical narrative around key "silences"... and, in a related vein, his concept of "authenticity" in the study and presentation of history.

          All too often, he argues, historians present history as a "then"--a period with no explicit relationship to "now." One obvious reason for this is the development of period-expertise in the discipline: historians become intimately familiar with the events, personalities, and social realities of particular times and places--so much so that they feel that they stray when they attempt to comment on the present-day legacies of historical events.

          All this would be fine, if those present-day legacies and the histories that produce them were not often explicitly political. This means that our relationship to those histories is also political.

          One clear example is American slavery and the legacy of racism that follows. Here even the most painstaking "accuracy," argues Trouillot, does not suffice to present an authentic portrayal of history. Present-day tourists (especially white ones) may walk through a museum with the most painfully accurate depictions of the horrors of slavery. They may see documentaries and historical films that pull no punches--that truly show the reality of slavery for what it was.

          Yet if these displays and documentaries periodize slavery to the point that it becomes disconnected from the realities of race today, the presentations invite reactions of horror without actions of attonement, healing and reparation. White viewers may put a hand to their breast, a tear in their eye, thinking "what HORRIBLE things... HOW could this ever HAPPEN?!" We can congratulate ourselves on our own humanity--our reaction is appropriately horrified, WE are better people, WE would never allow THIS to happen again.

          Such displays provide opportunities to VENT our guilt rather than FOCUSING it. Pleased with ourselves, we can minimize and ignore the realities of race today. We can pretend that there are no crimes to which we are still a party... or at least crimes that we continue to ignore.



          Anyway, that's a brief summary of his theoretical position, which I find rather compelling.

          Thoughts?

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          • #6
            Interesting stuff, do you (or Truillot) use "focusing guilt" maybe to mean focus it so as to be able to more concisely anazlye it through some new "accepted" consensus or filter and then be able to "cure" it? Too many ""s, sorry. Or to make it more recognizable as a real thread continuing to steer and influence the present, so as to be able to repair what is repairable, and avoid it's continued sway? or...?
            "A man is no man who cannot have a fried mackerel when he has set his mind on it; and more especially when he has money in his pocket to pay for it." - E.A. Poe's NICHOLAS DUNKS; OR, FRIED MACKEREL FOR DINNER

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            • #7
              The matter with social science is that ideology and politics are never far.

              An example with France and oocupation by Germany during WWII :

              At liberation, De Gaulle who was anxious to restore national unity pushed the dust under the rugs and proclamed a France resistant. More he dicided that the Vichy gorvernement was not legitimate and that France had no responsability in collaborating with nazis.

              At the begining of the sixties, the myth was broken by studies and the accent was put on collaboration ( movies and studies by historian such Paxton ).

              Action in court took place and an ancient high civil servant of Vichy, minister in the 70 's was judged.

              Recently, president J. Chirac acknowledged the responsability of France in the deportation of jews. French courts have condemned the state and railways company.

              But, the pendulum in my opinion is going too farfor political reasons. If all France was not resistant many french gave or risked their life to resist. A big proportion of jews residing in France were hiden or saved ( 80 % ) .

              Military historians recognize the role of resistance in DD day.

              Let us say that when the picture is grey with black and white spots, people see only a part of it.

              the debate on the philosophical origins of totalitarism is significant.

              Church and conservative people see the origin in atheism and in the reason as seen by the philosophers of the XVIII th.....

              Left lending people and atheists see it more in the church doctrine and behaviour of the preceding centuries.

              My aim, in other words, might be described as a "psychoanalysis of politics."
              Reich and philosophers of the Frankfurt school have made researchs about psychanalyse and politicis from a marxist point of view. Even if Reich has become mad, his book : " The mass psychology of fascism " stays a classic.

              In my opinion, it is not because people think they act rationnally and by egoism that they do so.

              For instance conservative thinking is contradictory as proclaming that man is a self thinking rationnal being and claiming protection of the family and of traditionnal values.

              The fact is that when the movement of capitalism is breaking the family and making traditional values obsolete, the conservatives cannot see this.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Talisant
                Interesting stuff, do you (or Truillot) use "focusing guilt" maybe to mean focus it so as to be able to more concisely anazlye it through some new "accepted" consensus or filter and then be able to "cure" it?
                Truillot doesn't use the term, and I don't want to go too far with it. "Guilt" is a dangerous term with these things, because certain kinds of guilt are too much about emotional atonement.

                Guilt, as I conceive it as a political concept, stands somewhere between the psychological and the ethical. It suggests both that cultures, like individuals, cannot "grow" or "move on" until they deal honestly with their past... and also that societies bear an ethical responsibility for reparations of past harms--or more broadly, for working toward something called "justice".

                Too often, ethical terms are transformed into meaningless abstractions--like "equality" used against programs designed to heal racial (or gender-based) injustice. "Treating people equally," we are told, "means being 'color-blind'." We should simply blind ourselves to the factual inequities of the world, because attending to them necessarily means violating that sacred principle of "equality."

                Nonsense. "Equality," like "liberty" and other political terms, represents an historical movement--an idea about what a just society should be. It's something that we fight for, something we try to create. As such, we cannot simply wave our hands one day and magically declare that now we treat everyone equallly; now despite long histories of injustice, we declare neutrality.

                Yes, the ideal of equality seeks a world in which immutable characteristics do not matter. But for that very reason, it is more than just a word: as long as immutable characteristics like race, gender, and sexual orientation do matter, treating equality as an abstraction means shutting one's eyes to reality.

                I'm not exactly sure anymore how I wound up on this tack starting from my discussion of political guilt.

                Or to make it more recognizable as a real thread continuing to steer and influence the present, so as to be able to repair what is repairable, and avoid it's continued sway?
                Yes, that's actually a pretty succinct description of what I mean.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Morgan Kane
                  The matter with social science is that ideology and politics are never far.
                  Exactly. And the obsession with "method" only serves to obscure the politics.

                  Let us say that when the picture is grey with black and white spots, people see only a part of it.
                  Indeed. It sounds like you especially might like Trouillot's book, for his take on the "silences" of history.

                  It is also worth pointing out that the "momentum" of this kind of research is important in establishing the dominant opinion. When "everyone" is finding evidence that the French resisted, contrary studies tend to be dismissed more easily for methodological shortcomings that are tolerated in studies that affirm the trend; likewise when popular (scientific/historical) opinion decides that the French were collaborators.

                  A friend of mine once organized a conference around "discarded" findings in psychology: studies that researchers had set aside because they seemed to clash with the dominant paradigm. When she brought them all together, the mass of such evidence was astounding.

                  Reich and philosophers of the Frankfurt school have made researchs about psychanalyse and politicis from a marxist point of view. Even if Reich has become mad, his book : " The mass psychology of fascism " stays a classic.
                  Yes, I'm definitely a fan of the Frankfurt school. Their critique of positivism remains relevant--the task now is to extend it to take on the social construction theories of post-structuralism and postmodern thought more broadly. (A first step may be to demonstrate that postmodernism and positivism, despite some apparently contradictory concepts, are actually quite complementary to one another; indeed, I suspect that they may really be different ways of stating essentially the same false assumptions about human nature.)

                  For instance conservative thinking is contradictory as proclaming that man is a self thinking rationnal being and claiming protection of the family and of traditionnal values.

                  The fact is that when the movement of capitalism is breaking the family and making traditional values obsolete, the conservatives cannot see this.
                  Ah yes... fascinating history!

                  There was a time, not that long ago, when social conservatives understood themselves as firm opponents of capitalism. Interestingly, it roughly corresponds to a period in which capitalists understood themselves within a context of positive rights rather than "natural" rights to property and accumulation--see, for instance, Andrew Carnegie's essay "On Wealth," in which he admits social responsibility precisely because he is only wealthy as the result of a social choice to nurture capitalist industry!

                  I think those conservatives and those capitalists were, if still wrong , at least more respectable.

                  The Hartz thesis notwithstanding, it took a rather long time for the Lockean conception of property fully to take hold in America.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Oh, my.




                    Follow the money.

                    Science fails due to the need for patronage or profit.

                    Pure reason makes no dinero.

                    No matter how it's prettied up, that's the bottom line.
                    Miqque
                    ... just another sailor on the seas of Fate, dogpaddling desperately ...

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                    • #11
                      One of the problem is that private laboratories are looking for immediate profits ......

                      For instance permanent study and following of evolution of virus is made by public laboratories and when there is a need private firms have to ask them for support ....

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hear, hear. And since private business works increasingly less well in the public interest, due to a deeply unhealthy, not to say corrupt, form of capitalism, it will only get worse.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by AnarchyeL
                          Yes, I'm definitely a fan of the Frankfurt school. Their critique of positivism remains relevant--the task now is to extend it to take on the social construction theories of post-structuralism and postmodern thought more broadly. (A first step may be to demonstrate that postmodernism and positivism, despite some apparently contradictory concepts, are actually quite complementary to one another; indeed, I suspect that they may really be different ways of stating essentially the same false assumptions about human nature.)
                          I'm interested to hear your ideas here. I find far more agreement between critical theory and the various "posts" (indeed, critical theory is sometimes considered post-Marxism by some sociologists) than disagreement, and find little common ground between them and positivism. In particular, many aspects of post-structuralism specifically refute positivist claims about generalizability and the universality of any explanation of human behavior.

                          To clarify, I'm not suggesting that you are not on to something. I want to hear your position to better understand what you see. I'm guessing something related to imminent critique or the postmodern claims about the overwhelming value of pragmatism as explantion?

                          In fairness, I am pretty non-positivist and critical in my own orientation, and a strong advocate of many postmodern and poststructuralist ideas, especially the postmodern claims about the philosophical viability of pragmatism and the fracturing of human social life. I also do not put myself in a convenient box...

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Doc
                            I'm interested to hear your ideas here. I find far more agreement between critical theory and the various "posts" (indeed, critical theory is sometimes considered post-Marxism by some sociologists) than disagreement,
                            You are certainly correct that certain tendencies in critical theory paved the way for postmodern thought. The fundamental difference, however, between critical theory proper and the later, watered-down forms of "naive" immanent critique is this: critical theory is still deeply concerned with the problem of alienation.

                            The various "posts," however, deny alienation--it devolves into a meaningless term. When ALL experience is "mediated" experience, there is no "authentic" experience from which to be alienated. One age cannot speak to another; indeed, in its worst forms one person can hardly talk to another.

                            EDIT: The core dogma supporting the notion that human experience is purely and innately "mediated" is the insistance that "thought" is impossible without language--or worse, that there is a literal equivalence between the two: thought = language. This idea is so mindnumbingly stupid, so deeply wrong and so fully contradicted by the great mass of empirical evidence--from studies of humans with destroyed speech centers to observations of non-human (non-speaking) animals--that its widespread acceptance must be classed among the greatest achievements of contemporary ideology. This is not to say, of course, that a certain kind of thought may not be dependent on language as a representational system; rather, I mean only to attack the assertion that thought is intrinsically incapable of reaching "beyond" the word--a critical piece of the common argument, for instance, that Godel's Theorem serves as a generalized proof demonstrating the impossibility of valid epistemological foundations for human reason (a claim that Godel himself denied). [One notes that this abuse of Godel, a common footnote to the postmodern argument, relies on an essentially positivist (that is to say, axiomatic) understanding of "foundation."]

                            and find little common ground between them and positivism. In particular, many aspects of post-structuralism specifically refute positivist claims about generalizability and the universality of any explanation of human behavior.
                            I acknowledge the ostensible differences between postmodernism and positivism. You are also correct in pointing to the "pragmatism" of postmodern thought as an aspect of its relation to positivism.

                            The more fundamental similarity is the "anti-theoretizing" component of each. Postmodernism resists questions about the totality. Similarly, positivism in its pure form insists that while the goal is generalizable statements, these must be amassed strictly from narrower falsifiable claims. This makes theory, at a certain level (precisely that which attempts to understand the totality), impossible.

                            Moreover, strictly speaking positivist epistemology denies that it has anything to say about "really real" reality. The better theory is the one that makes the best prediction, not necessarily the one that explains what's really going on.

                            In fairness, I am pretty non-positivist and critical in my own orientation, and a strong advocate of many postmodern and poststructuralist ideas, especially the postmodern claims about the philosophical viability of pragmatism and the fracturing of human social life. I also do not put myself in a convenient box...
                            I think that postmodern thought is extremely useful for analyzing the human condition in its most fragmented, most mediated state. The postmodern dogma, however, is to believe that this is how things have always been (a la Foucault)--and that this is how it always will be.

                            And I certainly don't fit any convenient boxes, either.
                            Last edited by AnarchyeL; 07-31-2006, 07:01 AM.

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                            • #15
                              Anarchyel, would you mind giving some names of people who hold the position(s) that you are outlining as, with the exception of the bit about the misuse of Godel, I have trouble recognising these positions as being actually held. For example, who actually thinks that there is a literal equivalence between thought and language? I am familiar with people (e.g. Heidegger) who make reference to there being something very specific about the relationship between thought and language which is unique to humans, but when they say that thought is impossible without language, they are certainly not saying that thought and language are one and the same thing, rather that there are particular forms of thinking that are language dependent. This seems uncontroversial to me (if not particularly interesting).
                              Last edited by johneffay; 07-31-2006, 08:28 AM.

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