Critics of sociology stating that the discipline has no ‘excess empirical content’, ignore efforts of methodological rigor without which ‘anything goes’
It is sometimes said that sociology is particularly well fit to kick in open doors. It is a response to sociological research findings is that people think they already knew the outcome of this study. Sure, sometimes this may be the case, but most often one may have a suspicion about the outcomes – rather than actual knowledge.
In philosophical sense, this criticism boils down to arguin that most sociological theories have no excess content: they have nothing new to add to what we already knew. One argued that is often heard is that in sociology so many methods are used that one can always find a method – or alter one – to support one’s own ideas: sociology would lack methodological rigor.
The term ‘excess empirical content’ was coined by Imre Lakatos. In my dissertation I write about my philosophy of science:
Based on Lakatosian philisophy of science, the interaction between opportunities and interests means that we must reject explanations of women’s employment solely based on the concept of opportunities. Lakatos argued that: “For the sophisticated falsificationist a scientific the- ory T is falsified if and only if another theory T’ has been proposed with the following characteristics: (1) T’ has excess empirical content over T: that is, it predicts novel facts, that is, facts improbable in the light of, or even forbidden, by T; (2) T’ explains the previous success of T, that is, all the unrefuted content of T is included (within the limits of observational error) in the content of T’; and (3) some of the excess content of T’ is corroborated.” (Lakatos, 1978, p. also see: Levels & Nieuwenhuis, 2011).
Paul Feyerabend argued for methodological pluralism, stating that ‘anything goes’. This has been interpreted as indicating that any method should be endorsed, or tolerated. I do not think this is a correct interpretation. I interpret Feyerabend as suggesting that one should look at problems in different ways – and see whether news ideas reject old conceptions of truth. The methodological rigor is then found in the attempt to relate the findings based on different methodologies to each other – within a common theoretical framework.
In my dissertation I have closed three open doors, so to say, or rejected (at least) three theories:
- Pettit and Hook (2009) argued that (parental) leave is a mechanism of exclusion of women from the labor market. In my analyses I found that short-term leave includes women on the labor market, and only very long periods of leave exclude women from the labor market
- As argued in the quote above, I reject explanations of the outcomes of family policies solely based on opportunities, as it is the interaction of opportunities and women’s interest in employment that drive the outcomes of family policies.
- The incomplete revolution thesis by Esping-Andersen, who argued that increasing rates of women’s employment resulted in higher degrees of inequality between households. I could not confirm this claim, and rather argued that “The conditions for women’s earnings to increase inequality between households are hard to meet“.
This is a series on the 10 propositions that are part of my PhD dissertation. These propositions are a Dutch tradition to highlight key findings of a dissertation and some additional insights by the author. My dissertation is titled “Family Policy Outcomes: Combining Institutional and Demographic Explanations of Women’s Employment and Earnings Inequality in OECD countries, 1975-2005″ and I will defend my dissertation on January 10 2014. So, this series is also a count down. Find out more about my dissertation.