Making It Count: The Improvement of Social Research and Theory

Making It Count: The Improvement of Social Research and Theory

Making It Count: The Improvement of Social Research and Theory

Making It Count: The Improvement of Social Research and Theory

Synopsis

This title reexamines and reconsiders the model of empirical research underlying most empirical work. The goal is neither a whitewash nor capital punishment, but rather it is to reform and mold empirical research into an activity that contributes as much as possible to a rigorous understanding of society. Without worrying about defining science or even determining the essence of the scientific enterprise, the goal is one that pools together logical thinking and empirically determined information. One of the fundamental issues to be addressed in this volume: Are there questions currently studied that are basically unanswerable even if the investigator had ideal nonexperimental data? If so, what are the alternative questions that can be dealt with successfully by empirical social research, and how should they be approached? In the chapters ahead, it will be important to keep in mind this doctrine of the undoable. Of course, one cannot simply mutter "undoable" when a difficult obstacle is encountered, turn off the computer, and look in the want ads for a new job--or at least a new task. Instead, it means considering if there is some inherent logical reason or sociological force that makes certain empirical questions unanswerable. There are four types of undoable questions to consider: those that are inherently impossib≤ those that are premature; those that are overly complicated; and those that empirical and theoretical knowledge have nullified.

Excerpt

This volume deals with the methodology underlying modern empirical social research. It reviews the inherent nature of such research—its logic, procedures, assumptions, limits, and potential functions. Neither the critical review of present practices nor the proposals for change are fully compatible with any existing school of thought in social science. To minimize needless controversy and misunderstanding, it is important at the outset to trace the origins of the book, what it seeks to accomplish, and what it does not attempt. I am fully sympathetic with the empirical research goals found in much of contemporary American sociology, with its emphasis on rigor and quantification. However, for reasons that will become clearer to the patient reader, I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that many of the procedures and assumptions in this enterprise are of no more merit than a quest for a perpetual-motion machine. Even worse, whereas the latter search is innocuous, some of the normal current practices in empirical social research are actually counterproductive. Good social research, as we now define it, involves criteria and thought processes that are harmful because incorrect empirical conclusions are drawn that lead us to reject good ideas and accept false ones.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to abandon the enterprise and turn to activities that give up on rigorous empirical social research, as some schools would have us believe. Rather, it is necessary to . . .

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