Value in Social Theory: A Selection of Essays on Methodology

By Gunnar Myrdal; Paul Streeten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
THE PRINCIPLE OF CUMULATION 1

I N social science we have been drawing heavily on the notions and theories of the much farther developed natural sciences, particularly physics. The notion of equilibrium, for instance, has been embedded in our reasoning for centuries. It is present in most research of the present day, even when it is not formally introduced. In most social research we have restricted our use of the equilibrium notion to that simple and static variant of it, the stableequilibrium. It is this equilibrium notion which is implicit in the sociological constructions of 'maladjustment' and 'adjustment' and all their several synonyms or near-synonyms, where equilibrium is thought of as having a virtual reality in determining the direction os change.2 We propose the use of otherequilibrium notions besides this simplest one. For dynamic analysis of the process of change in social relations, it is highly desirable that we disengage our minds from the stable equilibrium scheme of thinking. The other types of equilibrium notions are often better descriptions of social reality than the stable one.

If we succeed in placing a pencil upright on its end, it is also in equilibrium, but an unstable one, a 'labile status' of balancing forces, as we discover when we touch it. No 'adjustment', 'adaptation', or 'accommodation' toward the original position will follow the application of a push, but only an accelerated movement away from the original state of balance. A third type of equilibrium is present when a pencil is rolling on a plane

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1
An American Dilemma, Appendix 3, pp. 1065-1070.
2
These equilibrium concepts have been used also as vehicles for introducing hidden valuations -- i.e., bias -- into research; see Chapter VII. Our interest in this chapter is directed only upon their usefulness as theoretical tools. To explain these other notions it is convenient to think in terms of analogies. The stable equilibrium is like a hanging pendulum, unmoving, and with no tendency to move unless jolted.

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Value in Social Theory: A Selection of Essays on Methodology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction ix
  • Part 1 1
  • Chapter Two - The Relation Between Social Theory and Social Policy 9
  • Part 2 55
  • Chapter Four - American Ideals and The American Conscience 65
  • Chapter Five - Valuations and Bbliefs 71
  • Chapter Six - Encountering the Negro Problem 89
  • Chapter Seven Facts and Valuations 119
  • Chapter Eight - Facets of the Negro Problem 165
  • Chapter Nine - The Principle of Cumulation 198
  • Part 3 206
  • Chapter Eleven - The Logical Crux of All Science 231
  • Postscript 237
  • Index 263
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