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Title:The question of method in social science
Author(s):Sen, Biswarup
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Carey, James W.
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mass Communications
Abstract:The question of method is one of the central issues in the philosophy of the social sciences. A dominant view--positivism--argues that human behavior can be best explained by employing the methods of the natural sciences. Developed initially by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, positivism was popularized through the writings of Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill and found its final expression in the doctrines of logical positivism. The positivist ideal of a social scientific method based on observation, experimentation and verification gained dominance through the behaviorist revolution in psychology initiated by John Watson and B. F. Skinner. Behaviorism denied the existence of the mind and argued that all human behavior could be reduced to connections between physical movements. Although the obvious inadequacies of such a behaviorism led to its abandonment, the subsequent paradigm in the social sciences--cognitivism--has continued to pursue the positivist project. Cognitivism holds that a science of man can be constructed by thinking of the mind as an informational device which generates meanings by computing over inner representations.
Drawing upon the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, this dissertation offers a critique of both the above versions of the positivist program. The meaningfulness of human behavior, it is argued, arises neither from causal connections between physical movements nor from computable representations inside the head. Rather, meaning is seen as a product of social practice, it emerges from the rules, customs and behaviors that constitute our way of life. This culturalist account of meaning implies that the scientistic dream of naturalizing meaning and constructing a science of man is doomed to failure. In its stead, culturalism offers a vision of social studies as a rich description of the webs of meaning that bind us as social agents and make us fully human.
Issue Date:1990
Rights Information:Copyright 1990 Sen, Biswarup
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9026316
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9026316

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