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A Treatise on Social Theory by W. G.…
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A Treatise on Social Theory

by W. G. Runciman

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This is clearly the most detailed study of social science methodology that I've come across. The author begins by differentiating three senses of understanding in social science: reporting (what's observed), explaining (a cause) and describing (a first person experience). He then supplements these tasks with that of evaluation and proceeds to analyze these four aspects of social science in some detail. He gives an enjoyable discussion filled with examples, especially from anthropology and history. He clearly draws a line between methodological questions, which should concern all social scientists, and philosophical ones which they don't need to adress. He also frequently defends the scientific merit of social studies.

I like the fact that the author makes no sharp distinction between history and social science and that he even acknowledges fictional literature as a form of social inquiry. However, the discussion is so broad that it might take a couple of readings before you really digest all that the author has to say. I think there was a bit too much heavy-handed repetition in the book. The author has a tendency to carry on arguing with more and more examples even though he's already made his point sufficiently clear. I also think that the end of the book, where he discusses description and evaluation, fails to reach the same level of insight as the earlier chapters on reports and explanations. Nevertheless, this still a very good work on social science methodology. I can recommend it for people with a serious interest in this topic.
  thcson | Mar 18, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521272513, Paperback)

In this first volume of a projected trilogy, the author argues that a methodology adequate to solve the long-standing debate over the status of the social as against the natural sciences can be constructed in terms of a fourhold distinction between the reportage, explanation, description and evaluation of human behaviour. The distinction rests on an analysis of the scope and nature of social theory which is not only original in conception but far-reaching in its implications for the assessment of the results of sociological, anthropological and historical research. In this volume, there are set out the separate and distinctive criteria by which the reports, explanations, descriptions and evaluations put forward by social scientists of rival theoretical schools require to be tested. These criteria will then be applied in Volume II to a substantive theory of social relations, social structure and social evolution, and in Volume III to a detailed analysis of the society of twentieth-century England. Each of the three volumes can be read independently of the others. Thus the trilogy will, when completed, be seen to form a coherent and unified whole.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:24 -0400)

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