What is social science?

Re: What is social science?

Postby The Dharma Bum » Wed Nov 06, 2013 7:06 pm

50% is very optimistic I think, but yes I agree with that. It's fundamentally a problem of organization. I think we are just now gaining the insight to fully plan a society. Until recently human progress has been due to ad hoc development, which is hit or miss at best.

For good or bad we are stuck with agriculture and industrial production. But the silver lining is we have the capacity to act intelligently. If we can develop ways to produce food and other goods in a sustainable manner it is possible industrial production and agriculture won't continue to have many of the destructive aspects that they have in the past.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby broken robot » Wed Dec 04, 2013 2:57 am

Skimming some of the posts in this thread, I think the next post I'm going to do will be on popular conceptions of society, millenarian and conspiracy theories, sense of anomie and fragmentation of any previously existing system or order of meaning, etc. Was going to write something on the state but figure the former would be more relevant.

EDIT: So instead of social theory what folks seem to be talking about is predicated on a very vague notion of "society" that's threatened by enemies from within and without. This is actually part of a long popular tradition engaged in millenarian fantasies about how the world's going to collapse. For those that don't know, millenarianism is basically the belief in an apocalyptic outcome that will overturn the existing order. To use a common example, many evangelicals believe that Jesus's second coming will result in rapture (see the Left Behind series). While their ideas may differ from those expressed in this thread, there's a similar logic of argumentation. Often times when we debate political or social topics we very quickly revert to simplistic dichotomies such as "the people" and "the elites", "natural society" based on equilibrium and balance and "industrial society," "freedom" and "oppression." These are simple schemas that help us act in a world of increasing uncertainty. Discussions in this thread among others aren't unique. At key moments in history actual social and political movements have arisen based on the fervent belief that there is a battle looming between two monolithic forces.

I'll discuss briefly the history of Christian sects especially in England from the 17th to 19th centuries and the US in the 19th century as my two examples. In the case of England by the 17th century there was an increasing fragmentation of sects and diverse reformers (Winstanley and the Diggers are a good example). In addition challenges emerged to the authority of the king which culminated in the English Civil War and the Glorious Restoration. The latter resulted in the rise of an absolutist state that was predicated on the reform of agriculture, consolidation of landholdings, and the rise of trading towns. By the 18th, 19th centuries enough people were being thrown off the land and forced to find work in dusty hovels and town centers. These changes again spawned offshoots of radical Christian sects and their translation into secular political life as secret associations established among members of occupational groups such as guilds and artisans that were losing out to the rise of factories. A good discussion of the radical implications of these movements can be found in EP Thompson's Making of the English Working Class, along with the effects of more conservative Christian emphasis on discipline and inculcation of workers into proper habits for the new industrial order.

In the case of the US in the 19th century frontier attitudes combined with a "protestant ethic" shaped the emergence of local communities founded in parochial traditions (think the Mennonites or "Amish" for example). Some of these communities began early communitarian experiments, such as the Owenites in the midwest, that were predicated on achieving utopia here and now. The emergence of these groups wasn't a product of industrial expansion so much as a characteristic of the decentralization of local government and prominence of relatively autonomous communities that led Alexis De Tocqueville to characterize the US as a unique experiment in democracy based on these vibrant local communities. Many communities however were incorporated into the federal structure and thus lost some of their radical edge suspicious of any order imposed from above that may have fomented popular rebellions or otherwise resulted in continuing isolation from the rest of society based on the messianic appeals of a leader (a useful contrast is the case of Mormonism and its continuing isolation from mainstream US society).

So to sum up in the case of England there were big changes from the 17th to 19th centuries including the reconfiguration of political authority subjected first to the power of absolutist rulers and later increasingly to a parliamentary combination of aristocrats and merchant capitalists that resulted in the dispossession of the peasantry and a growing working class. Given their detachment from traditional circumstances the latter group in its formative stages relied more on various sectarian groupings that indulged in fervent practices of discipline and faith to stave off the dissolution imposed by industrial society. These increasingly were translated into modern political movements and a shift from secret societies into actual forms of working class organization that eventually gave birth to modern unions, etc. In the case of the US the 19th century frontier movements indulged isolation and built up rural communities, but the majority of these utopian experiments nevertheless eventually became consolidated under a federal structure, limiting the scope of their more messianic implications based on the visions of a new, harmonious society in equilibrium with nature and God.

Even despite these historical changes though, as we've seen in the very discussions on this forum itself there's still a popular belief in powerful dichotomies such as that between a global elite and oppressed masses, or industrial civilization on the verge of ecological ruin. These ideas transcend traditional political divides, moving from "deep ecologists" and environmental radicals to right-wing militias to hip hop 5 percenters. Has there been an increase in conspiracy theory in the contemporary US predicated on Manichean dichotomies similar to those sectarian groups and movements discussed above? If so why? We tend to isolate these trends and relegate them to the "fringes," but they may very well reveal anxieties about contemporary material changes such as outsourcing and the loss of stable incomes or the very real questions surrounding the penetration of US national security interests into the organization of domestic life (see NSA wiretaps--as real a conspiracy as they come, but one that's sure to provide fodder for more outlandish theories).

The point though is that good social scientific analysis takes popular ideas and doesn't dismiss them as "crazy" but submits them to critical analysis to understand changes to society that provoke a sense of anomie (term popularized by Durkheim that means social disintegration). The fact of the matter is the fears and prophecies about collapse or massive transformation expressed in this thread aren't unique. Across time and place in societies as different as 18th century England and 21st century East Africa, there have been charismatic, revivalist, and millenarian movements based on the idea that the end is near, society is going to collapse, a nefarious elite is going to take control, etc. Social science analyzes the force and persuasiveness these ideas have and more importantly offers an explanation as to why they gain traction in specific historical and cultural contexts.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby broken robot » Sat Feb 22, 2014 1:19 pm

Next up in the thread: what is inequality. Seems we need a refresher course.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby exploited » Sat Feb 22, 2014 1:22 pm

You may not want to confuse your own political leanings with being the truth. I am pretty sure that everyone is aware of what inequality is, despite your disagreement with them re: feminism and the possibility of non-white people being racist.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby Stratego » Sat Feb 22, 2014 3:37 pm

Science is about one thing. How to predict what is not yet observed. Social science is trying to predict the behavior of society given a certain stimuli. We can approach it any way we want.
Sigmund Freud defined four parts of a psyche; the id, the ego, the superego and the stratego. The Stratego being the highest form of morality and scientific thinking.

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Re: What is social science?

Postby broken robot » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:36 am

exploited wrote:You may not want to confuse your own political leanings with being the truth. I am pretty sure that everyone is aware of what inequality is, despite your disagreement with them re: feminism and the possibility of non-white people being racist.


Then after the post on inequality, one on the relation between theory and politics, a well discussed problem in the social sciences...
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Re: What is social science?

Postby The Dharma Bum » Sun Feb 23, 2014 6:32 am

and then a snack
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Re: What is social science?

Postby broken robot » Sun Feb 23, 2014 2:22 pm

Actually lunch would be preferable. Damn hungry writing endlessly on an internet forum.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby The Dharma Bum » Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:49 am

I'm eagerly awaiting the promised postings :)

I'm probably the only one here that agrees with your point about racism. I wanted to discuss equality, as well, because I'm sure you can bring something interesting to the table.
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Re: What is social science?

Postby broken robot » Mon Feb 24, 2014 11:46 pm

Thanks patna. yeah it helps to translate stuff from academic jargon into ordinary language, helps me clarify my own thoughts. So it's great if someone else benefits too and sparks a conversation.
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