Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Causality, Agency, and Reality: Plato and Aristotle Meet George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Causality, Agency, and Reality: Plato and Aristotle Meet George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer

Article excerpt

Causal theorizing in sociology is often presumed best handled in the domain of multivariate, quantitative variable research. In contrast, we argue that such theorizing may be more authentically accomplished within the theoretical and methodological impetus of symbolic interactionism. Analyzing notions of causality in the work of Plato and Aristotle, we consider their relevance for contemporary accounts of human group life with reference to the work of George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer. Rather than envisioning causality as a concatenation of external forces acting on people to produce outcomes, we focus on how people actively enter into the causal process through individual and joint action. Using the work of Plato and Aristotle, we bolster contemporary accounts of agency by locating the moving process of deliberation within the interplay of purposive activity, emotional states, bodily appetites, and changing character dispositions. Further, we show that agency as a conceptual locus point of social change is found not only in the spontaneity of linguistically enabled individuals but also in the emergent processes of deliberative interchange and collective action in the world.

Interactionist research is often criticized as antiscientific, astructural, and subjectivist in its depiction of social life (e.g., Grenier 1992; Huber 1973; Zeitlen 1973). Demerath (2002) has gone so far as to assert that causal theorizing is the purview of those who use a multivariate research strategy and that ethnographic researchers are left to generate merely descriptive theory. However, as Prus (1996, 1999) observes, these critiques are often based on partial and otherwise inadequate representations of the positions developed by George Herbert Mead (1934), Herbert Blumer (1969), Anselm Strauss (1993), and others working in Chicago-style interactionism (see Fine 1993; Reynolds and Herman-Kinney 2003). Nonetheless, these criticisms also reflect the unwillingness of interactionist scholars to incorporate the influence of external, antecedent causes into their formulations of human group activity. Indeed, many interactionists also explicitly avoid considerations of causality in their work. Taylor and Bogdan's (1984: 2) statement that "the search for social causes is neither what this book is about nor where our research interests lie" seems indicative of the distance from explanatory theory within the interactionist paradigm. Likewise, it is almost impossible to find scholars who broach the topic of causality in the major qualitative methods manuals.1 Neither Denzin and Lincoln (2000) nor Reynolds and Herman-Kinney (2003) engage the issue of causality in any serious way within their collections.

In contrast, the issue of causality has received a great deal of attention in the quantitative methods literature (Berk 1988; McKim and Turner 1997). Lazarsfeld (1959) outlined three essential criteria for establishing causal relations in variable analysis in social research. He lists these as: (1) antecedence; the cause must precede the effect in time, (2) correlation; the variables used must be empirically correlated together, and (3) there must be a control for spurious variables. Often added to these requirements is (4) the causal relationship identified should represent a reasonable expectation from some set of theoretical propositions. Since then, other quantitative scholars have invoked more exacting criteria for establishing cause in variable analysis. Cox and Wermuth (2001: 70) argue that (5) causal relations also ought to be "found repeatedly in independent studies, especially if these are of somewhat different form." In this way, implied causal associations would be less peculiar to one particular survey and could be generalized across contexts. Cox and Wermuth further argue for (6) an increased attention to path analysis, where "baseline" variables are seen to affect "intermediate" variables, which then bring about effects seen in the "final response" variable, to bolstet proof of antecedence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.