Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Literary Fiction and Social Science. Two Partially Overlapping Magisteria

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Literary Fiction and Social Science. Two Partially Overlapping Magisteria

Article excerpt

Setting the stage: literary fiction and social science as interactive magisteria

The system of knowledge produced and administered in academia has historically developed into a cognitive structure resembling a honeycomb pattern, with each discipline trying to hermetically insulate itself from its neighbors. However, the boundaries with which each discipline surrounded themselves in order to guarantee the achievement of the triple objective of institutional survival, epistemic autonomy and intellectual identity show cracks that makes them permeable to mutual influences. Inter-disciplinary communication is permitted and facilitated, instead, by the porous nature of the frontiers that separate different areas of knowledge in self-sufficient containers than by the desideratum of collaboration. Above all of the boundaries that structure the system of knowledge in a mosaical model there is a wall that trenchantly divides academia into 'two cultures' (Snow, 1993) [1959], each culture operating with its own distinctive logic. These are the scientific culture of the natural sciences, on the one side of the dividing line, and the humanistic culture of the classical disciplines (literature, history, philosophy, and various other human and cultural studies), on the other. Fields of study like sociology, individual and social psychology, social and cultural anthropology, and even political economy - disciplines housed together under the rubric of "social sciences" - are caught in the middle of these two antagonistic cultures. Due to their in-betwixt position, all of them have dual intellectual personalities, combining their humanistic legacy with their latterly acquired scientific outlook. Thanks to this in-betwixt position along the humanistic-scientific continuum, social sciences are intellectual spaces of creating interferences between the two cultures, realms where ideas with different disciplinary origins can meet and enrich each other. But social sciences are not only spaces of cultural intersection, intellectual cross-roads and rendez-vous places between the humanistic and the scientific culture; they can also be floating bridges transporting ideas from one cultural bank to another. Social sciences break up the binary equation of the humanistic versus the scientific cultures by advancing a third, mixed, culture that strives towards scientific rigor without denying its humanistic heritage. This dual nature of social science given by its in-betwixt position is best revealed by the special relationship it has with literary fiction.

Departing from these considerations as the starting backdrop, this paper proposes an analytical probing into the nature of the relationship between social science theorizing - defined as an empirically controlled rational speculation on social reality -, and literary fiction - by which we refer to an imaginative textual construction inspired from the phenomenal reality, but independent of the natural laws and sociological regularities that structure the empirical world. By creatively appropriating J.S. Gould's (1997) notion of 'non-overlapping magisteria' devised for describing the relationship between the realms of religion and science, social science and literary fiction can be construed as forming two distinct, but partially overlapping and mutually interacting, magisteria. They are, on the one hand, distinct, as each magisterium is governed by its own intrinsic rules and procedures. Social science theorizing finds its raison d'être in constructing meaningful renderings of social reality that can be useful to either understand, explain or even predict the phenomena making up the social universe. The supreme twin criteria for assessing the quality of social theorizing are methodological observance, i.e., compliance with the methodological procedures in doing research, and the 'empirical fitness' of the theory, i.e., the degree to which theoretical statements are supported by empirical observations. …

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