20 jun. 2011

Bullshit Fields (17)

Social Science

Social science, in general, is bullshit. Thou shalt not commit a social science, said Auden. The problem with social science is that can prove anything it wants to. If medical trials sponsored by drug companies are mostly bullshit, what about studies that demonstrate very narrow or very obvious results? Social science does not have the solidity of the physical sciences, but it also lacks, typically, the hermeneutic sophistication of the Humanities at their best. Quantitative social science itself constructs the data that it then subjects to analysis, in a circular way. Ethnography is suspicious because it places the Western anthropologist in a position of understanding a culture through a very suspect methodology. I don't understand my own culture in the slightest. I don't think a Martian could come and spend 9 months here and understand a thing.

I think a lot of social science is very interesting and valid, but I often feel that it is just a guy, or a gal, trying to explain things in the best possible way, just like anyone else who is not a "scientist.'

6 comentarios:

Thomas dijo...

I agree with this, though I'm inclined to think that social science (or at least its backers, i.e., its sources of funding) has more sinister motives than just bullshitting us.

Consider your self-deprecating "I don't understand my own culture in the slightest." Well, that's not true. You understand Western or American culture quite well, I suspect. But social science is there to make everyone feel like we need to know something about how society works, that we're ignorant of social facts just like we're ignorant of facts about undiscovered planets circling unknown stars. Social science constantly condescends to the people who "get wise" to society by personal experience and by engaging with the highest products of culture, namely, art.

Margaret Mead didn't just bullshit us about the Samoans. She also played an important part in getting us to think that there is some way to "know" about "natural" human behavior, including our own. If she had written a travel book or a novel about the South Pacific, it would be very different. She committed an act of social science.

matt dijo...

I'm also inclined to agree, unless we're going to take into account Bruno Latour's re-visioning of sociology. _Reassembling the Social_ tackles some of the very objections you raise here about social sciences use the "social" to explain other things, when, in fact, the "social" is what they should be investigating.

Jonathan dijo...

I wonder if folk-beliefs about the social order are any worse than a theoretical metalanguage designed to explain these folk-beliefs.

Thomas dijo...

Yes,that's an interesting question. Didn't Malcolm X once say he'd rather have dinner with a member of the KKK than a "liberal" intellectual or politician?

Likewise, one is inclined to prefer a direct cultural engagement with racist views (as expressed, say, in literature) to a sociological study of racial attitudes from the superior point of view that racism is a false folk-belief about social order. I'm precisely not sure that sociological theories are any better at overcoming racism than folksy polemics (on either side).

That is, I'd take an exchange of views between William Faulkner and James Baldwin over a sociological "study" of racial tension in the South any day. Or an exchange of views between Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer about the status of women...

Professor Zero dijo...

I suppose this includes Poli Sci although you haven't covered that one specifically. Re Economics, here's an interesting piece on why what we hear them to say isn't what they'd say from a scientific pov: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/05/18253.html

Jonathan dijo...

Economics was bullshit field #9.