SCIENCE, POSITIVISM
AND SOCIAL INQUIRY
Gurminder K Bhambra
MODULE OUTLINE - 2013/14
Week
Topics
Lecturer
2
Science, Positivism and Social Inquiry
GKB
3
Interpretation & Realism
GKB
4
Values, Validity and Ideal Types
GKB
5
Standpoint Epistemology: Marxist & Feminist
GKB
6
Postcolonial Epistemologies
GKB
7
The Mobilities Turn
NG
8
Social Science in Crisis?
NG
9
DTC Conference - Nottingham
10
Live Methods
NG
CONTACT DETAILS

Convenor, Lecturer / Seminar Tutor
Professor Gurminder K Bhambra
 Sociology, R2.35, Ramphal
 [email protected]
 Office Hours: Weds, 10-11am or by appointment


Lecturer / Seminar Tutor
Professor Nicholas Gane
 Sociology, R3.15, Ramphal
 [email protected]
 Office Hours: Tues, 4-5pm or by appointment

ASSESSMENT

Final essay, 3000 words due in week 1 of the
spring term
Tuesday 7th January 2014, by 2pm
 E-submission – a link will be available on the module
website


Essay Question:

Discuss the strengths and limitations of the
epistemological framework underpinning your
planned research.

Or, you can choose your own question, but this must
be agreed with your seminar tutor by week 8 at the
latest.
WHAT THE MODULE IS ABOUT…
How do we know what we claim to know?
 How can we justify what we claim to know to
others?

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This gives rise to questions about features of the
world that make our knowledge of it possible, but
also potentially fallible.
How do we explain how knowledge is produced?
 How do we explain erroneous beliefs and how do
we know that they are erroneous?

WHAT IS SCIENCE?

These issues are connected to the emergence of
science and its self-understanding



It is a product of strict ‘norms’ – method
It is secured by institutions that reinforce these norms –
universities, research laboratories, peer-review journals.
Science is presented as rising above particular
contexts (universality), but has a history, which,
insofar as it involves changing ideas, must also
be a history of error and correcting error.
WHAT IS SCIENCE?


The possibility of ‘objectivity’ in circumstances of possible
‘subjective bias’
Knowledge vs. Belief

What counts as evidence?
How is evidence produced?
Theory-independent observation?

Falsification

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Naïve
As process
Role of anomalies


Progressive problem shift
Degenerative problem shift
SCIENCE AND SOCIAL INQUIRY


Science is a social activity, which implies human
beings are of nature and distinct from it, capable
of acting in relation to it and ‘misrepresenting it’.
Representing nature and representing society
may be different activities.
Natural science might be thought of as a human
activity accounting for a reality external to that
activity
 Social inquiry is more problematic. It is an activity
accounting for human activities of which it is a part.


What does this mean?....
SOCIAL INQUIRY

Debates on the nature of social inquiry are
implicated with debates on natural science.
Unity of method
 Criticism of positivism applied to social inquiry
 Criticism of positivism applied to natural science


Consequences ...
Pluralism of positions and conflicting ontological
claims about the (true) nature of natural and social
worlds.
 Pluralism of positions and conflicting epistemological
claims about how these natural and social worlds can
be represented in knowledge.
 These differences more pronounced in social inquiry

SOCIAL INQUIRY

Generalities/ regularities:
‘Structures’ – these are frequently taken-for-granted
or routinised.
 ‘Cultures’ – humans are social beings and their
behaviours are reinforced by groups and the
meanings that inform their interactions.

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Unique events and ‘unintended consequences’:


Emphasis on ‘particularities’ and case study
approaches.
Unlikely that social inquiry wouldn’t address
objects of inquiry that involved a mix of structural
and cultural regularities and unique case-specific
events.