Objectivity, Positivism, and Epistemological Others

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Weber, Max. [1904](1949). “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy,” In The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Max Weber, translated and edited by Edward Shils and Henry A. Finch. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Pages 49-112.

Max Weber - The Methodology of the Social Sciences

Sociology arose in order to make value judgments about measures of state economic policy. For Weber, though, an empirical science can’t provide binding norms and ideals that you can use to immediately derive policy from. “An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he should do—but rather what he can do—and under certain circumstances—what he wishes to do.” Social science can attain objectivity only by keeping out the researcher’s value judgments about their subjects’ goals. In the same way, economics claims objectivity because economists don’t take positions on what people are supposed to value.

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Descriptive Participant Observations on the Culture of the Park Slope Food Coop

Writing assignment for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

The Park Slope Coop (PSFC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973. It offers sustainably and ethically produced food and grocery items. Because it needs only to cover costs rather than turn a profit, the PSFC’s prices are substantially lower than a typical Brooklyn grocery store. Since its founding, it has grown from a small ad-hoc organization into a substantial neighborhood institution with over 17,000 members. Only Coop members are allowed to shop, and members are required to work a monthly two hour and forty-five minute volunteer shift. This is unusual—most food coops give members the option of paying a membership fee rather than working. The PSFC is managed by a core staff of paid employees, but members perform much of the day-to-day labor, which helps keep costs low.

Park Slope Food Coop exterior

The aisles are narrow, stacked floor to ceiling with inventory. Per the web site, the store carries “local, organic and conventionally grown produce; pasture-raised and grass-fed meat; free-range, organic and kosher poultry; fair-traded chocolate and coffee; wild and sustainably farmed fish; supplements and vitamins; imported and artisan cheese; freshly baked bread, bagels and pastries; bulk grains and spices; environmentally safe cleaning supplies, and much more.” The PSFC generates over fifty million dollars in sales revenue per year, with a “shrink rate” (merchandise lost, damaged or stolen) of about half the industry average. The environment feels markedly different from a typical grocery store. There is a conspicuous absence of candy, magazines, soda, marketing aimed at kids, and branding and marketing generally. The only periodical available is the PSFC’s own Linewaiter’s Gazette, which resembles a high school newspaper.

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The Interpretive Turn: From Sociological Positivism to Constructivism

Note-taking for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

Willis, J.W., (2007) Foundations of Qualitative Research, Sage, chapters 1-4.

Jerry Willis - Foundations of Qualitative Research

The simplest way to define the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methods is that one uses numbers and the other uses words. But in reality, qualitative researchers use stats too, and all quantitative studies contextualize their findings with qualitative arguments. The real difference is not in the type of data being collected and studied; it’s the foundational assumptions behind each method, otherwise known as their underlying paradigms.

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More salsa-dancing social science

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Continuing with Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences by Kristin Luker. See the first part of the discussion here.

Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences

Canonical sociologists usually have well-bounded sets of questions, and answer them using well-bounded sets of theories and previous findings. Qualitative researchers have questions that emerge out of theoretical and purposive open-ended research. Luker describes the case that “chooses you,” or “the one that you sample yourself into.” You want to ask: What is this a case of? and: How do you expand it to another level of generality?

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Bourdieu and Swidler – Structures and the Habitus

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

This week’s reading was the second chapter of Pierre Bourdieu‘s Outline Of A Theory Of Practice, on Structures and the Habitus. Bourdieu writes the worst, most opaque prose of any social theorist. The second paragraph of this chapter includes the phrase “structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures.” Later: “the habitus, which at every moment structures in terms of the structuring experiences which produced it the structuring experiences which affect its structure…” Bourdieu. What are you doing. Why do you write like this.

Pierre Bourdieu

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Émile Durkheim – Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

This week, we read another cornerstone of the sociology canon: Émile Durkheim on where religion comes from.

Émile Durkheim

The book is very much a product of its time, with continual and annoying references to “primitive” religions and peoples. No question that Durkheim’s methodology doesn’t pass contemporary muster. But his theoretical insights are on point.

[R]eligion is something eminently social. Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities; the rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of the assembled groups and which are destined to excite, maintain or recreate certain mental states in these groups (10).

You could substitute the word “music” for “religion” and this paragraph would still be true. This is food for future thought.

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