The Growth of Social Knowledge: Theory, Simulation, and Empirical Research in Group Processes

The Growth of Social Knowledge: Theory, Simulation, and Empirical Research in Group Processes

The Growth of Social Knowledge: Theory, Simulation, and Empirical Research in Group Processes

The Growth of Social Knowledge: Theory, Simulation, and Empirical Research in Group Processes

Synopsis

This timely, comprehensive analysis of the latest advances in group processes research shows how cutting-edge technologies, such as laboratory experiments, simulations, and complex systems combine with the rigor of cumulative research programs to change the way we see the social world. Group processes researchers study society scientifically, and have used sociological theory to build scientific, cumulative knowledge about the social world. Over the last 20 years, they have been extremely successful in advancing this knowledge through the reciprocal interplay of theory and experiment. The synthesis of such knowledge--uniting theory, simulation, and experiment--provides substantive explanations for social phenomena and predictions about events in complex social systems. This volume explores aspects of this synthesis from the perspective of group processes research.

Excerpt

Group processes researchers study society scientifically. They have used sociological theory to build cumulative, scientific knowledge about the social world. This conception of social theory as an explanatory tool contrasts with the widely held view of social theory as an interpretation of social reality. the classical works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and others can be studied and interpreted in varied ways depending on the perspective of the theorist. Although the interpretive approach has yielded much creative insight, cumulation of knowledge becomes problematic without a way to reconcile conflicting interpretations of different theorists (Cole 1994; Collins 1994; Davis 1994; Habermas 1988). Thus, sociological theory is often seen as social philosophy rather than as a component of the scientific method (Turner 1998:245).

Group processes research has self-consciously addressed itself, not only to conducting social research, but also to finding the best way to conduct it. the distinctive working style that characterizes group processes research dates to the 1970-1971 school year, when Joseph Berger was on fellowship at mit. There he encountered the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos. Berger recognized that Lakatos's (1970) conception of a scientific research program could be adapted to social research. While Berger and his colleagues (Berger, Cohen, and Zelditch 1966, 1972; Berger, Zelditch, and Anderson 1972b) pursued their research program in status characteristics and expectations states, they also developed a distinctive recipe for the conduct of theoretical research programs in sociology (Cohen 1989; Wagner 1984; Wagner and Berger 1986, 1993; Berger and Zelditch 1997). At about the same time, David Willer, Thomas Fararo, and other group processes researchers worked independently, but just as self-consciously,

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