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About this book

The third edition of this popular, innovative and engaging textbook introduces students to the various methods of modern social science, explaining how these have emerged, their strengths and limitations for understanding the world in which we live, and how it is possible to combine methodological pluralism with intellectual rigour. Focussing on the debate between positivist and constructivist approaches, this new edition features contemporary research examples, expanded discussion of experimental methods, and a new emphasis on methods that have recently grown in popularity, such as process tracing and controlled randomized trials.

This is the perfect textbook for students studying the philosophy of science in the context of political science or the social sciences more broadly, and it is essential reading for all those seeking to understand how different ways of knowing affect the methods we choose to study social phenomena.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
For as long as can be recalled, there have been arguments over ways of knowing. Gods, giants and even reasonable people cannot seem to agree about the nature of reality and how we can understand it. There are  – quite simply – different ways of knowing.When battles over the nature of reality are between gods and giants, we can expect sparks to fly. But the battles between mere mortals, or even scientists, can also generate a great deal of heat. As much as we like to pretend it is otherwise, the scientific process is not driven solely by the ideals of impartial and measured dialogue, drawing on empirical and rational support. Rather, presuppositions, aggressive rhetoric, economic and legal muscle, authority and rank all have a role to play in securing scientific knowledge. This book aims to identify a few lines of conflict and explain some of the root causes of these heated exchanges. In particular, we introduce different ways of knowing and how these affect the methods we choose to study social phenomena.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 2. The Naturalist Philosophy of Science

Abstract
The origins of modern science can be traced back to the early spring of 1610, to a slim book entitled The Starry Messenger. Today’s readers would have to search long and hard for excitement or provocation in this book, as it largely describes the night sky. Yet, in the early 1600s, The Starry Messenger was capable of triggering condemnations, angry reactions and even calls for its author to be burned at the stake.
The author was Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). His controversial observations were enhanced by a new instrument, the telescope, which enabled him to describe and draw pictures of configurations in the night sky. The telescope also enabled Galileo to see things that traditional science had not prepared him to expect – including mountains on the moon (which orthodox churchmen considered impossible), and three moons or satellites that circled Jupiter in a steady orbit. The latter was not only impossible, it was clearly in violation of Church doctrine, which held that the Earth was handmade by God, placed at the centre of a divinely crafted universe, and encased in eight perfectly circular crystal spheres. If moons orbited Jupiter, as Galileo said, this would break the crystal sphere to which Jupiter was attached.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 3. The Experimental Method

Abstract
In closing the previous chapter we introduced a hierarchy of methods associated with the naturalist approach, an approach that assumes the world is inherently characterized by regularities or patterns. These patterns are made accessible to the naturalist by the systematic use of particular methods or techniques. These are based on control, comparison and random assignment, which are used in different ways across the entire hierarchy of naturalist methods. Control is used to isolate the cause–effect relationship from other potential explanatory variables; comparison is used to map regularities with the aim of discovering general laws or patterns; and random assignment is used to secure stronger ground for causal inference. By means of experimentation, the scientist is able to identify, isolate and explore regularities in the world. This is done – as Hume and Mill insisted – by the systematic observation of that world.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 4. The Statistical Method

Abstract
Naturalist social scientists agree that their task is to identify patterns and regularities in nature. Applied methods of comparison, or what John Stuart Mill (2002 [1891])referred to as ‘experimental methods’, are used to flush out these patterns. While Mill’s methods of experiment refer mainly to what we call the comparative method today, they have been elaborated on by statisticians in ways that have secured statistics a very high status in the pantheon of naturalist methods.
While naturalists are able to agree on the importance of identifying regularities in the world, there is a tension among them as to how much we can infer about the nature of these observed relationships. As we saw in Chapter 2, David Hume distrusted causal explanations and cautioned scientists against their use. For Hume, scientists should limit their activities to identifying, observing and charting the regularities of the world.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 5. The Comparative Method

Abstract
Let us return to the basic philosophical components of the naturalist approach: that there is a Real World out there, independent of the observer; that this World is uniform and orderly; that observations and observation statements allow us to access this World; and that a careful process of induction and deduction can be used to identify the ordering principles of the World, so as to determine its component parts and their causal relations. This chapter describes how the comparative method is employed from this methodological perspective.
In one sense, of course, all scientific endeavours are comparative in nature. Francis Bacon used the comparative method in his laboratory to identify the optimal conditions for the sprouting of seeds. He steeped wheat seeds for 12 hours in nine different liquids: cow dung, urine, three different wines and four different water solutions. He then carefully observed the speed of germination and the heartiness of growth in each dish, and compared each sample of seeds carefully with all the others – as well as with a sample of unsteeped seeds. After doing this several times over, he drew two general conclusions: first, seeds steeped in urine are a sure winner, every time; second, seeds steeped in claret is a waste of good drink (Bacon, 1627, pp. 89–90).
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 6. History, Interviews and Case Studies

Abstract
In this chapter we discuss the role of history, broadly understood, in the naturalist’s toolbox of methods. Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to return to Robert Fogel and his study of cliometrics, introduced in the closing pages of Chapter 4. Here we find quantitative methods and behavioural models from the social sciences applied to the study of the past. This relatively new ‘scientific’ approach to history has proven to be both popular and fruitful – Mr Fogel, after all, received a Nobel Prize in Economics as an acknowledgement for his work. Yet cliometrics itself does not provide us with a method that is distinct from those already covered in previous chapters; cliometricians such as Robert Fogel have simply borrowed statistical methods and theories from naturalist social science and employed them to historical queries.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 7. Sowing Doubts About Naturalist Methodology

Abstract
Up to now we have presented the naturalist tradition. We have tried to make a fair and straightforward presentation that is familiar to social scientists in a wide range of subject areas. We have tried to avoid creating a straw man for what is easily the hegemonic methodological tradition in social science. We have attempted to identify some of the key philosophical assumptions of the naturalist approach, but have exposed these assumptions to little critical thought. In this chapter we change gear.
Here we begin to assess the naturalist approach more critically. We raise some questions about the naturalist tradition and some doubts about its application. Such questions and doubts will open up a space for alternative approaches. They will, in other words, pave the way for our presentation of the constructivist methodology that follows in Chapter 8. This constructivist alternative will, for the remainder of the book, prod us to explore a menu of alternative social science methods.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 8. A Constructivist Philosophy of Science

Abstract
Behind us, in Chapters 1–6, we have left the empirical quest for certain knowledge; ahead of us lie doubt, difference and dissent. Chapter 7 planted the seeds of doubt, and here we seek to identify some of the wild methodological vines that have grown from those seeds. Our intention is to harvest a constructivist alternative to the naturalist philosophy of science described in Chapter 2.
In Chapter 2 we began by introducing David Hume and hailing his An Inquiry Concerning Understanding (1983 [1748]) as a major contribution to Western philosophy of knowledge. In this chapter we introduce a rival, constructivist view. This chapter too begins with Hume. However, it does not discuss the naturalist legacy that emanated from his Inquiry; instead, it focuses on the reactions it provoked. First, we turn the spotlight on Immanuel Kant. He read Hume’s argument with disbelief and made it his life’s vocation to dispel it. In our view, it is in Kant’s sustained reaction that we find the ontological taproot for the constructivist approach to the social sciences.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 9. From Storytelling to Telling Histories

Abstract
The social scientific project, regardless of its methodological point of departure, seeks to find and explain patterns. For naturalists, the project is a fairly straightforward process of observing (or experiencing) and noting the patterns found naturally in the world. For constructivists, however, the patterns of interest are illusive and complex; they cannot be taken at face value; their nature and origins need to be probed and pondered. In short, while naturalists believe that facts speak for themselves, and that knowledge will grow by their relentless accumulation, constructivists tend to doubt the innocence of facts and question whether facts come to the social analyst ‘like fish on the fishmonger’s slab’ (Carr, 1987 [1961], p. 9).
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 10. Comparing Contexts

Abstract
In Chapter 9 we saw how constructivists are committed to understanding the uniqueness of social phenomena. To do this, they favour narrative techniques that provide insight into social contexts or reveal the contextual settings of the social scientist observer. With the realization that the patterns they study are largely of our own making, constructivists prefer to climb into a particular problem and examine it from the inside out. Like Miss Marple, they exploit their familiarity with contexts to arrive at understandings that are consistent with those of the subjects they are studying.
The constructivist’s preference for particular stories and narratives does not imply that he avoids comparisons; indeed, comparison plays a central role in the constructivist project. However, constructivists and naturalists use comparisons in different ways, and these differences stem from their disparate ontological and epistemological positions. When constructivists employ comparisons, their primary concern is not so much variable correlations as how to preserve and exploit the qualities associated with thickly descriptive narratives.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 11. Contextualizing Statistics

Abstract
It is not easy to find constructivist authors of statistical studies. This, in itself, should not surprise us. After all, the traditional objective of the statistical method is to capture a segment of the world in numerical terms. The purpose is to identify co-relations or patterns in that segment. And to do this, it is necessary to subject that slice of the world to analytical operations that are abstracting as well as generalizing. Such operations convert sense perceptions into numerical expressions and remove the object of scrutiny from its constitutive context. For the constructivist, where meaning, uniqueness and context are prioritized, this is double sin. Such operations contribute to a twofold distancing: between the data and their context, and between these and the analyst.
This does not mean that statistics cannot play an important role in constructivist analyses. Indeed, some of the most exciting new developments in statistics lend themselves to constructivism. Not only are traditional regression and measuring techniques being harnessed to study the constructed nature of the patterns that interest us, but also new developments in a number of fields – including graphic displays and information design, Bayesian logic, correspondence analysis and discourse analysis – have made statistical approaches more relevant and attractive to constructivist scholars. As a consequence of these developments, constructivists are able to find patterns, associations and meanings that are not entirely obvious in – or easily captured by – more traditional, narrative-based, approaches.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 12. Interpretive Experiments

Abstract
In an experiment, researchers control the conditions under which their study takes place, as well as the variables they explore. As we saw in Chapter 3, it is this type of control that allows researchers greater certainty about the nature of the causal relationships they test. This, in turn, produces firm predictions about the nature of the Real World. As Kathleen McGraw (1996, p. 770) notes: ‘Structurally, experiments are marked by a deliberate intervention in the natural, ongoing state of affairs.’
This willingness to intervene deliberately and to manipulate the empirical context of a given social phenomenon is a hallmark of naturalist science. The constructivist, by contrast, wants to avoid muddying the contextual waters. He would argue that when an experimenter manipulates the contexts surrounding a phenomenon, he undermines the very ground in which interpretation and meaning are anchored.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Chapter 13. Conclusion

Abstract
Karl Popper once noted that science is about solving mysteries. We tend to agree. As a consequence, we have directed mystery solvers, such as Sherlock Holmes and Jane Marple, to play important and recurring roles in this book on social science methods and methodologies. Science is all about solving problems and answering riddles; and scientific riddles are often derived from some observed regularity. This claim provides the key to opening our text: all social scientists are concerned with patterns or regularities, but some of them argue that these patterns are part of the real social world, whereas others argue that they are contingent – that they are, to a significant degree, constructed by our imagination.
Jonathon W. Moses, Torbjørn L. Knutsen
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