Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Methodological Gravitism

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Methodological Gravitism

Article excerpt

Methodological individualism, collectivism, and the social position of an actor have been dominant methodological perspectives for decades, but they are not sufficient to fully understand an issue within the pluralistic social environment. This paper explores methodological approaches in social sciences and extends them to the analysis of a social phenomenon in a pluralistic social setting within existing social conditions. It does not propose to utilize previous methods; rather it is an extension of previous methodological approaches. Theoretical literature shed light on the issue (Hodgson, 2007). Methodological individualism is based on the notion of individual identity plus an individual's social relationship within the social world (Hodgson, 2007, p. 211; Lindholm, 1982). The method is used to identify an individual's position in the social universe and defines the phenomenon from the perspective of an actor (Bourdieu, 1984; 1998). It is embedded in the interaction perspectives of sociological theory. Methodological individualism examines the patterns of interaction of an actor. It gives minimum space to social conditions and collective choices.

However, methodological collectivism is used to understand a social phenomenon from the perspective of collective interests (Levi-Strauss, 1969; Becker, 1974; Merton, 1968; Qadeer, 2006) rather than an individual's interest or his/her definition of the social world. In this perspective, the actor is perceived as an appendix of collective reality. This perspective gives more importance to the collective reality and overlooks an individual's uniqueness. It is based on the structural functionalism and conflict paradigm of sociology. Functionalist and conflict paradigms take into account the collective choices of a society and discuss the social change as a "built-in" phenomenon. Nonetheless, they are unable to provide an understanding of social position, given social conditions, and actors' responses to it.

Regarding the methodological individual and collective perspectives, among many others, one of the dominant perspectives to have received recognition is the social position of an actor (Bourdieu, 1998). This perspective gives importance to the position of an actor within the social structure and argues that it is the position of an actor that defines his/ her social world. It is neither the actor, nor the structure that defines their social world. Rather, it is the power, role and relationship of an actor that defines social phenomenon. In other words, an actor can influence actions of others as a result of his/her social position. Bourdieu (1998) gave examples of the position of a person among his/her kinship network. He highlighted the symbolic importance of a person in his social universe (kinship) in his study in Algeria. For him, a person can influence others, or he/she can be influenced by others as a result of his/her position within their social network. He gives importance to the structural roles, symbolic culture, habitus and power, but emphasizes the social position of an actor. However, this approach does not take into account pluralistic social conditions. A pluralistic society needs a grounded approach to analyse a social phenomenon.

Literature Review

Although, sociological literature (empirical studies) on the subject is rare (Anwar, 1979; Zaman, 2008), the need for such studies has been recognized. However, some anthropological studies have been faced with similar issues. Tapper's (1991) study in Afghanistan found gender and generation differences were strong in the exchange marriage system. People were divided according to different ethnicities and sociopolitical status in order to arrange exchange marriages. Tapper, however, did not take into account the social positioning of an actor in his/her network of relations. She also did not realize that there was a need to identify relationship, nor did she focus on the given conditions of the people. …

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