Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Places: Why We Can Never Have a Science of Society

By Richard Heyman.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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In my paper I will be examining the following question: Can we have a science of society, i.e. does it make good sense to assume we can study, understand, and manipulate the phenomena of the social world using the same scientific methods we use to study, understand, and manipulate the phenomena of the physical world? To answer this question I will look at the ontology and epistemology of social and physical phenomena though the lens of my field, ethnomethodology, in order to examine the way in which the things of the social and physical worlds appear to exist. It seems clear to me that this question has not satisfactorily been answered in either the social sciences or the humanities, and that further argument and clarification of the relevant issues needs to be done insofar as the majority of published books and articles about the social world read as if it were as valid to use scientific method to research social phenomena as it is to research physical phenomena. Certainly, the general public seems ready to accept that the results of any particular "scientific" opinion poll is accurate within 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20. Clearly, it's time for a rigorous and more cogent investigation of the arguments and evidence for and against the scientific study of the social world.

Keywords: Ontology, Epistemology, Ethnomethodology, Social World, Knowledge, Science

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.17-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 278.968KB).

Dr. Richard Heyman

Professor, Graduate Division of Educational Research, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Richard Heyman is a professor at the University of Calgary and has taught courses, written articles and papers, and has been a guest lecturer on topics in ethnomethodology and the ontology of the social and material worlds. He was founder and director of the Discourse Analysis Research Group, an international network of scholars who study language use in everyday life. He was a visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge University. He has given the Faculty of Education Distinguished Lecture, and was nominated multiple times by his students for the Students’ Union Teaching Excellence Award which he received in 2009. He is currently a member of the editorial board of TEXT, an international journal for the study of discourse. His professional affiliations include the American Sociological Association, and the National Communication Association. He has published his research findings in the fields of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and communication extensively, including more than thirty chapters and articles in various books and such distinguished journals as Sociolinguistics, Discourses Processes, and Discourse Social / Social Discourse. He is also the author of five popular books on communication published by Jossey-Bass, Prentice Hall and Penguin.