Social Science and Other Black Magic
While having dinner with some colleagues yesterday, I was told that theorists should "at least try to measure something." Why? Well, in order to be in touch with the real world of course. I didn't quite know how to respond to this statement. Even now, I am still quite confused as to what measuring things has to do with one's level of contact with the real world. This seems to suggest a few things to me. First, social scientists perceive themselves to be apart from the real world. That is, they must measure things from their distant vantage point in order to have some sense of connection to the real world. I often wonder where this alleged real world is located if it is not the one I find myself living in every day. Second, for some reason this colleague of mine thinks that measuring things makes them somehow more real. Thus, Shakespeare talking about love, jealousy, and madness is somehow less real than the social scientist out there measuring these same things. How is it that a concrete discussion of lived experience is not seen as being as real as an abstract quantification of the same experience? Third, there seems to be some notion that everyone ought to be doing the same the thing. Should literary critics be measuring things? Should poets be measuring things? Should philosophers be measuring things? Whether or not one agrees with the assumptions of positivist social science should have no bearing on the fact that different people are carrying out different tasks with very different goals in mind. These are just a few of the things that have come to mind while reflecting on the conversation. Any thoughts?