The Early Origins of the Social Sciences

The Early Origins of the Social Sciences

The Early Origins of the Social Sciences

The Early Origins of the Social Sciences

Synopsis

Against these contentions she shows, for example, that women social thinkers have been active in every age since the sixteenth century. McDonald presents these women's work as evidence of the way in which the empirical social sciences have been employed by social reformers, including advocates for the equality of women, to challenge the state and those in authority. She argues as well that Weber's "interpretative sociology" has been misinterpreted, citing his extensive, but usually ignored, quantitative work. Despite the supposed opposition of interpretative and mainstream sociology, McDonald maintains that many of the founders of the discipline explored both. Covering the important eras in the development of the social sciences, she deals with the early Greeks, the seventeenth-century emergence of the scientific method (especially Bacon, Descartes, and Locke), the French Enlightenment, (especially Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, and Germaine de Staël), and British moral philosophy (especially Hume, Smith, and Catharine Macauley). From the nineteenth century she includes figures such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Quetelet, Harriet Martineau, Florence Nightingale, J. S. Mill, Harriet Taylor Mill, and Beatrice Webb.

Excerpt

The Early Origins of the Social Sciences was prompted by a sense that contemporary social scientists do not know the beginnings, history, or uses of the methodology of their own discipline. the literature is rife with attacks on the use of empirical methods in the social sciences, calling them narrow‐ minded, exclusive of all consideration of values, and oblivious to political and social context. the use of empirical methods is said to necessarily support existing power relations. To this radical critique of methodology has been added a feminist critique: that the use of objective methods and the search for laws, let alone any quantification, implies "malestream" methodology and is antithetical to the interests of women. Good feminists are told that they ought to do "qualitative" work instead, as if the two could be so conveniently separated. "Feminist methodology" and "postmodernism" began to appear as interchangeable terms. An emerging environmentalist critique would have scientific method necessarily result in the domination/exploitation of nature. the scientific method — as opposed to the greed and gluttony of us humans — is said to be responsible for environmental degradation and pollution.

I have been an empirical researcher throughout my academic life and have found empirical methods useful, even essential, in my political, feminist, and environmental causes as well as in my academic work. It grated to hear the very methods I needed in my struggles condemned in the name of those very causes. (I have been at various times in my life a Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party, critic for the federal caucus on justice and the environment, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the largest feminist organization in Canada, and . . .

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