Evidently

I’ve been thinking about evidence and how we know things (dare I say it – epistemology) a lot lately as I write my thesis.  The statistics, the articles… the citations.  My God, the citations.  Science is tedious, and I don’t even have the possibility of turning into a mad scientist – who ever heard of a mad sociologist?

All this methodical, painstaking construction of knowledge has made me sharply aware of how often people make claims in society without scientific backing.  I know non-scientific prognosticators often make ridiculous claims – the “social science” section at most bookstores makes me want to retch – but, damn, I really envy non-scientists’ ability to make sweeping, dramatic True Statements, as well as their ability to make lovely suggestive graphics (see here and here, too) without having to build on, destroy, modify, or even acknowledge any kind of theory.

It’s interesting, though, when scientists and non-scientists can arrive at the same sorts of ideas through different routes.  For example, I am kind of in love with the idea of differential association, despite never having studied it in-depth.  I am kind of totally in love with Neko Case.  But I had never heard her sing about differential association before:

There was nothing to put me in love with the good life
I’m in league with the the gangs guns, and the crime
There was no hollow promise that life would reward you
There was nowhere to hide in Tacoma

It’s cool.  But it also makes me wonder just how much of science – even the pure ones – is just formalization of what people already know, and how much of what people know is a common-sensification of things they learned in high school.

Bah.  I swear I’ll write some decent posts someday.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Evidently

  1. Promises, promises.

    Well, a lot of what we are trying to do is unveil reality, I think. If that’s the case, then it is possible that some people do already know the things we are trying to figure out. But, I’m thinking with complexity, we probably already know parts. Think of social network analysis. Yes, we know who we are connected to. We may even have an idea of how far away we are from Kevin Bacon. But I don’t think people really have a sense of their overall network, how information moves along it, and the benefits (and determents) of network membership. Likewise, we may know we utilize humor to dispel tension, but may not really know the patterns of acceptability, the type of humor utilized. We may know who the highest status member of a group is, and how that means we are supposed to behave towards that person — but people may not have a clear idea of how it affects the overall group.

    If we hate to have to think, how complex do you think our thoughts get on these matters? Do we just suffice to know our place and our scripts in our place? Social scientists perhaps have as their purpose to reveal the complexity that actors are too focused on brain candy to figure out for themselves.

  2. Actually, I think this is a great post. I think about this very same thing quite frequently.

    In fact, I have been going one step further and asking this (rather anti-sociological) question: what is the point of knowing things at that level of detail or complexity? Is there a pragmatic goal? Is it just out of curiosity? Is there any real purpose to it when social scientists’ voices are not often elevated above those of talking heads that don’t take the time and energy to prove their claims with empirical data? Do our empirical efforts actually get us any closer to “the truth” of the matter?

    Perhaps, as Pitseleh says, science allows us to unveil the truth that is obscured by our unruly irrational human impressions of things. But isn’t that deconstructing social construction? What value is a thing without the meaning that humans have bestowed upon it? I know, I know, we are looking for that elusive “objective” meaning. But isn’t that really just saying we’re looking for the meaning that some (powerful) group has reached consensus on?

    As it turns out, even though I positively loathe the way postmodernists write, I tend to think like a postmodernist. Then again, I’m not saying there’s no value to social science research. I don’t actually believe that. I just don’t think we can take ourselves too seriously, that’s all.

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