Political Mobilization: A Sociological Analysis of Methods and Concepts

By J. P. Nettl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

Centre and Periphery in Society
and Social Science

The notion of society as an entity—at least as a unit of analysis—is a common starting point in many branches of social science. Yet the fact is that few modes of analysis can do justice to the concept of society—even the concept of social system presents many difficulties. As a rule this discrepancy between the unitary implications of the concept and its lack of empirical application is ascribed to the nature of societies themselves—the existential material to which analysis relates. If society is not a meaningful concept it is because there may not be any obvious societies. (Not to mention the even sadder fact that too many social scientists, especially in Britain, simply evade the problem by refusing to rise above the safe but parochial level of 'indisputable' collectivities like parties, churches, trade unions or families.)

Let us for a moment make the opposite assumption—that societies exist in a meaningful way, and that the difficulties are due to the fact that the tools of social science cannot readily be co-ordinated to do justice simultaneously (1) to the sophisticated demands of different academic disciplines, and (2) to the integrated functional reciprocity of a society. The implications of this postulate are that it may be the methodological, intellectual and above all structural separation of social science that prevents justice being done to the study of whole societies. The model of structural differentiation as evidence of social modernization posits the controlling unity of a universalist orientation; in the case of the social sciences we may have structural differentiation without any universals. 1 The reason could be precisely this: social science is not a society and therefore has no universals of its own, yet on the other hand it transports its lack of universals into the subject matter with which it deals. Two qualifications underline the

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1
Cf. below, pp. 330 ff.

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