Dissecting the Social: On the Principles of Analytical by Peter Hedstrom

By Peter Hedstrom

Development on his previous influential contributions to modern debates on social concept, Peter Hedstrom argues for a scientific improvement of sociological concept in order that it has the explanatory strength and precision to notify sociological learn and understanding--qualities missing in a lot of the grand social theorizing presently stylish.

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These models are analytical because they intentionally move out of focus all elements that are deemed inessential to the problem at hand. 3 The DBO theory Desires (D), beliefs (B) and opportunities (O) are the primary theoretical terms upon which the analysis of action and interaction will be based. 4 The concept of action refers to what individuals do intentionally, as distinct from mere ‘behaviours’ such as snoring during the night or accidentally tripping over a stone, which are not actions.

Even if it were possible to carry out a reduction in the manner described in the previous paragraph – impossible in practice – the resulting explanation is not likely to be of much sociological relevance. There exist disciplinespecific relevance criteria and ‘stopping rules’ (Miller 1987) that at least roughly stipulate what types of explanatory factors are considered relevant within different academic disciplines. Although, as noted above, sociologists differ in what they consider to be the most appropriate stopping rules – Blau and Black, for instance, advocate different stopping rules from those that I do – non-explainable laws of nature are far outside the domain of sociological relevance.

Statistical regularities are rarely (if ever) as unequivocal and easily interpretable in causal terms as this view would seem to suggest. ’ Phenomena such as gender differences in earnings, voting trends, political upheavals and most other concerns of sociologists are clearly the result of highly complex social processes. The belief that one should be able to ‘read off’ their causes by observing relationships between variables such as those discussed above has always seemed a bit naı¨ve to me. Rather than trying to establish ‘phenomenophenomenological laws’ on the basis of statistical analyses, Boudon’s suggestion (1976: 117) that we should ‘go beyond the statistical relationships to explore the generative mechanism responsible for them’ seems to be a more promising path forward, and it is the one pursued in chapter 6.

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