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Overview of Paradigms in the Social Science

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  1. 1. Paradigms
  2. 2. The Structure of Scientific Revoloutions  Thomas Kuhn ◦ Author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” ◦ Introduces two key idea that impact virtually every discipline.  Science does not always proceed in a straightforward logical fashion. Science is as much a political endeavor as anything else.  Science is organized into different competing schools of thought called Paradigms.
  3. 3. Examples of Kuhn‟s ideas  Publishing in academia ◦ When an academic publishes they go through a process called peer review. ◦ If a journal editor wants to kill an article he can send it to people who are non- sympathetic to a particular view.  e.g. from UNLV Sociology department. We are known for sex research. Our department is sympathetic towards people working as sex workers (prostitutes). Many academics are not. Many articles which are sympathetic towards those working in those jobs get rejected, or sent to a peer review committee which will reject them.
  4. 4. More Examples of Kuhn‟s ideas  Demand for Types of Science ◦ What gets funded helps determine what gets studied.  e.g. if I put out a call for grant proposals for the study of internet usage, suddenly that line of research increases  Institutions can issue a decree on what they want researched. ◦ Demands are subjective. What I think is important gets funded, and is thought to be important.
  5. 5. Kuhn‟s Big Point  Most of the time science proceeds incrementally, building off of the work that came before. However, science is also subject to social and political forces.  Paradigms represent this idea of a „school of thought‟. They are largely a collective of researchers who share a particular view of how the world works.  Most paradigm shifts, occur when a prominent figure changes to another paradigm not from a revolutionary finding.
  6. 6. Elements of a Paradigm  Ontology (world view) ◦ This is the paradigmatic idea of how the world works. It is the paradigms story.  Epistemology (methods) ◦ This is the preferred way those in the paradigm do research.  Political/Policy ◦ This is the political and policy implications that arise from the paradigm. Often it is the researchers goal.  Criticisms ◦ Simply the limitations of each paradigm.
  7. 7. Positivist Paradigm  Ontology ◦ The social world is like the natural world made up of law like, universal patterns that can be used to explain and predict behavior.  Epistemology ◦ Use the methods of the natural sciences.  Policy ◦ Social engineering. Develop social laws, like the law of thermo dynamics, that can be used to control social behavior.  Critique ◦ Big criticism is that the social world is not like the natural world and that this view is too scientific. What if the social world is fundamentally different from the natural world?
  8. 8. Interpretative Paradigm  Ontology ◦ The social world is a world fundamentally different from the natural world. It is a world of meaning.  Methods ◦ Utilize methods which allow the sociologist to get at „meaning‟. In depth interviewing, spending time with people in their environment (ethnography or fieldwork), or analyzing documents (diaries, photographs, etc.).  Policy ◦ Those practicing this paradigm believe that the key to social conflict lies in aiding in mutual understanding. In other words, those source of marginalization is a lack of understanding.  Critique ◦ The biggest critique is that this view is not scientific, to which those within the paradigm respond by say yes, by your definition of science. However, as one uncovers certain fields one finds that even the most scientific of disciplines are not as scientific as they would like to appear. Additionally, if the social world is a world of meaning using a microscope to understand meaning is not a wise idea. Would you ask a rock what it means to be a rock? In other words, the natural science model is not a good fit for the social sciences.
  9. 9. Critical Paradigm  Ontology ◦ The social world is made up of patterns, but these patterns are man made (not natural) and therefore we can change them.  Methods ◦ Largely historical, but they use anything that works to prove their point. They are attempting to show patterns of inequality and how they change over time. Race, gender, and sexual orientation are all categories which people are marginalized. E.g. I can show how race is a category which has changed over time. Irish and Italians were at one time marginalized, today however they are considered „white‟. Or, I can show how there is a gendered pay gap in the states but in other European countries this pay gap does not exist.  Policy ◦ Emancipatory liberation. They seek societal change and to reduce inequalities. Adherents to this view believe if you make people aware of their situation they will change. E.g. if you show people there is not scientific evidence for race, people will stop being racist and realize racism is based on bogus data. Or, if you show people that they are being used by an exploitative work system they will rally to change the situation.  Critique ◦ Assumes people are more rational than they really are. Sometimes if you show people how the system works they feel powerless to change it and therefore, nothing changes.
  10. 10. Postmodern Paradigm  Ontology ◦ The social world is a fragmented world, without a grand narrative. The best way to understand that world is by constructing miniature situational subjective theories of existence.  Methods ◦ Postmodernists are look for new methods of understanding. They assume the metaphors we have been using are wrong. They borrow methods from literature, the arts, and other disciplines to make sense of the world. Some examples include: performance ethnography, ethnographic poetry, dance, and a variety of other methods. The idea is that we can no longer represent the world in the way we have traditionally, and that maybe a poem says a lot more about the human condition than a book.  Policy ◦ Resistance of the grand narrative, and the destruction of formal categories. Example: We have the category of race. It is a kind of universal classification scheme we put people into based on skin type. Postmodernists say let‟s just do away with the category all together.  Limitations ◦ The idea that there is no grand narrative is a grand narrative. ◦ Yes, categories of marginalization (race) should not matter, but we know they do matter for people living in the „real‟ world. People experience „real‟ discrimination.
  11. 11. Some Caveats  There are times when not everyone fits neatly into these schools of thought. But, most do.  If you understand this, you can argue academically with anyone.  Most scientists do not go around calling themselves an interpretative, critical, positivist, or postmodernist. Sometimes you have to look for „word clues‟. (e.g. positivism – biological, interpretative – meaningful, or constructed, critical – inequality, political, or conflict, postmodernists- they usually admit what they are)  Scientists can change paradigms depending on the research.