By Félix Ovejero Lucas
A book quoted with veneration of the one and the other side of the Atlantic, the definition of the concept of habitus, regarded by not a few as the main contribution of the author of the sociology: “Systems of provisions long-lasting and can be extrapolated, structures, structured predisposed to function as structures structuring, that is to say, the early generators and organising practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their end, without involving the conscious pursuit of purpose, or the control of express operations necessary for obtaining, objectively “regulated” and “regular” without being, in any case, the product of obedience to rules, and being, therefore, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organized action of a director of orchestras”. And, as well, the crackling goes on for several pages. Anything less than a definition.
Pierre Bourdieu is not a unique case. Also not the worst. Try you to take to the coleto some text of social theory, post-modern, are cultural studies, deconstructionists, poststructuralist, postcolonial, or “healing of memories”. Very possibly I will have to do that to Garcia Lorca, when, after listening to the verse of Ruben Dario “pubescent canéforas you ofrenden the acanthus”, stood up and said: “see, once again, please, that I’ve only understood the “that””.
It was not a coincidence that the physicist Alan Sokal chose the journal Social Text as the recipient of an article descabalado, full of nonsense, fallacies and errors of high school, with the sole intention of showing that there were guilds that are favoured kine did eat up anything1. Of course, as always, as in almost everything, the reaction of the profession was to say that life was elsewhere, that what was published by Social Text was not properly sociology, or which, in any case, it was not the whole of sociology. And it was true. There are few disciplines in which to cultivate genres as disparate2. Abound the classifications of the ways of doing sociology, so that it will not matter if I add one more. From most to least, without pretending to be exhaustive, and pricing with the criterion of empirical content, can be recognized by at least three genera sociological. One, a moralist, in a few cases directly sermoneador and in others covertly, in the form of descriptions jeremíacas of a reality that never gives the size, contrasted with the light of the best of all possible worlds, of the “good society” governed by values, without a shadow of forms of relativism, social disintegration, selfishness, or routine tasks, a disproportionate counterfactual that, although nearly always is dye-progressive, usually do not pass be more than one version a few times improved the classic thesis of the historical school of law, that is, reaction antiilustrada in been clinically pure. A second gender-sociological a kind of Whig history, although not always optimistic, centered in a supposed ” trends of the world, for example, in the path of the society, “network”, the company “liquid” or the “company risk”, to mention a few of the most circulating in the bazaar. Sprinkled with some statistics or simple news newspaper that come as rivets when the argument falters, operates by using chains of plausibility, in a sequence of steps, each of them moderately likely, but that, enfilados one behind the other, they are almost impossible: this leads to this that leads to the beyond, which in turn, etc3 Finally, in increasing order of quality empirical, there is also a sociology, densely qualified sometimes as “statistic”, with low claims teorizadoras, but neat in the treatment of the data, either by prudence, well to the expectation that, with the passage of time, find a way to link without cheating with theories of higher level, adopts a sort of skeptical of behaviorism and limited to establishing relationships between variables, for example, between low income and poor health, between schooling in Catalan of the students native language Spanish and school failure, or between level of income of males and number of orgasms for their partners.
THE LANDING OF THE ECONOMISTS
The sociology analytic aspires to hold the good empirical sense of that last bit of sociology, but without abandoning the pretense of locking the data with the theory. So to speak, in hopes that the Kepler sociology statistics you find your Galileo or even, if possible, the Newton. The starting point is elementary, an effort almost merely hygienic, although obliged to view the issue of big words: purge the lexicon, which in sociology traditionally has meant, among other things, reaching the emptiness of holistic and impossible subject. No one ever said “we’re going to the thirty-years war”, and no one should say things like “the language of Catalonia is Catalan”, or “the elections confirmed that the citizens have not wanted that no party rule by the majority”. The result of the actions of all it is not the will of anyone. The explanation satisfactory, we will say, the analytical, is the one that takes us from some things to others, the actions of each one the result of all of the interactions between the agents to the events, processes or social status.
Of course, none of that I ignored it the best sociology classical Max Weber, for example. But yes the worst versions of functionalism and of marxism, that in the immediate post-war period señorearon the discipline in regard to the theory of posh. In reality, notable exceptions apart, the roots recent turn of analytical sociology are to be found in other social science, in the economy, more exactly in the attempt of the economy to extend their empire into domains traditionally occupied by sociologists and political scientists. “Expand its empire” in that case I wanted to say “deal with the social phenomena as if they were the result –desired or not– of the actions of rational individuals, calculating and selfish, men oeconomici“. Economists –neoclassical economists, we need to– sought to explain prices as a result of the interaction of the –of the exchanges between agents, between users seeking to maximize their satisfaction and entrepreneurs who sought their benefit.
The head of the bridge of the landing of the economists was the theory of rational choice. A landing in every rule. Democracy is described as a market where politicians, who behaved as entrepreneurs, competed for the votes of citizens who, for their part, they acted as consumers. The laws and justice are understood as solutions to problems of bargaining or of social coordination, such as agreements rather than responding to ideal normative were the less bad that everyone could get without breaking the deck, or as equilibria of Nash, conventions that all of them pays off respect while the others observe. The moral standards were no more than a way to punish those who, by his own, producing negative externalities or undermined essential public goods, such as the trust, that grease and make bearable the life in the company. Here and there, without asking anyone’s permission, the ways and the conjectures of economists set as the pitch. The operation was anything but an example of finezza, but what did not fit was to put on profile, continue to take refuge in the quejumbre, in the thicket solemn or in the stock of warehouse4.
Exactly that is what they will do –with one notable exception5– a good part of the sociologists encuadrables under the label of “analytical”: retrieve the strategies explanatory of the economists, the explanations from the reasons of the protagonists, without committing to a few theories which are often accused of unrealistic, excessively simplificadoras. The operation entailed, among other things, a disagreement with the thesis of epistemological Milton Friedman very popular among economists, thesis who had accompanied the homo oeconomicus as the love sorrows, and who had become the talisman with which conjuraban the undeniable incompatibility between the assumptions of their theories and the actual behaviors observed in humans. In 1953, in an article now considered a classic, Friedman had argued that it did not matter that the assumptions of the theories were false, that the only thing important was to be accurate the predictions made from them. Of course, came to say the great economist, that consumers are not these people superlatively rational and selfish economists say, but if a theory that rests on this assumption has implications consistent with the data, must be taken for holy, and good: after all, add, all theories, by abstract, by looking in ideal conditions, they are “unreal”.
The thesis, without leave of have your that in your presentation more refined, it seemed to confuse the inevitable unreality of any theory, which is abstract by definition, with the falsehood. It is one thing for a course to be abstract, something that is inevitable when you do science, and that therefore it becomes difficult to control empirical, but another, quite different, is that it is simply false. Neutrinos are not easy to observe, the behavior of the consumers. About it there was no doubt: there was no problem whatsoever to assess experimentally the assumptions of behavioral economics; we could do and, when made, were false. But is that, in addition, in the case of the economy and, even more, in the areas of the economy to the domains of other social sciences, the thesis of Friedman was irrelevant because, in reality, there was no predictions, because most of the guesses pertaining to facts already known, it does not look ahead but backwards, are retrodicciones, explanations in hindsight of what has already happened. In these circumstances, the proposal of Friedman was in danger of becoming a trapacería to save the furniture with quick fixes circular: on the one hand, by down, by the facts, a few observations to which they look for explanation and that, obviously, the theory block for already known, because they are the starting point known, which has led him to build the theory; on the other, above, shall be exempt from the control empirical, and it is good any thing. So, the whole building is left without anchoring experimental: a huge tautology that patches the frame where needed. We’re going, what the character of Molière: the opium dismisses the dream because it possesses a virtus dormitiva of which there is other evidence that the same adormeciendo.
THE BASICS: THE MECHANISMS
The ideal of clarity and realism are at the starting point of Dissecting the Social, working with more acute self-awareness of methodology from among those outlined here. In view of Hedström, theories must be psychologically plausible, because otherwise, simply we are facing a narration speculative (as-if story), before a cartoon”. The ultimate goal of the research is to tell the story cause that really happens, the mechanism, so to speak, with the methodological concept around which gravitates a good part of the book, that is, the “constellation of entities and activities organized such that they regularly produce certain type of result.” Synthetically: it seeks to open the black box that shows the gears that lead to the explanandum.
In social theory, the gears are the social actions and, therefore, the explanation of social, says Hedström, has to be found, at the end, with “actors, desires, beliefs and opportunities”. A thesis modest, strictly methodological, not theoretical. The theories, the conjectures, they begin at the instant, when faced with the explanation of an action, each researcher fills in the boxes for “beliefs”, “desires” and “opportunities”. Some will say that Bush invaded Iraq because he believed that it was hiding weapons of mass destruction, and others because I wanted to ensure access to oil. More in general, to give an account of this or that, some estimate that social constraints are drawn up to such a point the set of opportunities that, in the explanation, there is little place for the elections, while others think that there is no such, that, in the words of Borges, it is not the door that you choose, but the man. The research, of course, would have to elucidate who exactly right, throw the accounts of empirical, direct or indirect. A struggle, no doubt, but not impossible. In any case, one and the other to cut off the explanation with the same pattern, the of rationality: beliefs, desires, and opportunities.
Hedström contrast mechanisms to the statistical explanations, and, above all, to thecovering-law explanations, the ideal of science of logical positivism, according to which to explain an event is subsumirlo under –”figure it out”– one or several laws. While the statistical explanations, which are limited to detect stable relationships between variables, to obtain “results” (data), without theory, are not, strictly speaking, explanations, “explanations” based on the laws do not pass trivia campanudas, which, above all, speak of the good intentions of its advocates. That does not remove –awareness analytical forces– to recognize the merits of the aspiration of positivist, his contribution to Polish the discussion. The traces of that heritage are shown throughout the book: the desire of clarity, the specification of the anatomy of the inferences, the requirement of controls empirical, the use of models, the introduction of mathematical tools. Principles exercised in the second part of Dissecting the Social, on which the program unraveled in the early chapters is put to ride.
There are not many issues that put the reflection of Hedström. Minor details aside, his reconstruction of the anatomy of the explanations is clean and consistent and is adjusted to proceed in the best social theory. If anything, the drum roll is excessive when you advertise the originality of their perspective. Or, at least, when emphasizing the contrast between the mechanisms and the laws and statistical explanations. And is that, as has shown the recent philosophy of science, far from the ideal hempeliano of the covering law, from a certain perspective, there is no incompatibility between laws and “narratives causal”6. It is not that there are not laws, but they are “inaccurate”, comes to us to say. There are always interferences and causes distorting that prevent the laws manifest in the form of regularities observable and that limited empirical evidence to “clean up” of the theories. The laws would be true provided that “all else” to remain the same. Which means that, in reality, they are all false, because virtually all are interferibles, because there is no unconditional. Any would be universal because all would be exposed to noise, circumstantial. Hence the need to introduce in the laws clauses ceteris paribus, not a few times made with vagueness, without possible specification comprehensive. In fact, when they begin to specify the “reserves” to the law, their operating conditions, and says that whenever X, unless you happen to, b, c … z, then y, the law begins to close in on the description or the narration, it is about the story. The mechanism, if you will. The interesting thing is that this would happen in all the sciences, including physics7. So, you see, the old project of positivist unification of the science cuajaría where least expected, on the model of the social sciences. And, of course, to be taken seriously, these considerations, perhaps you would think that, in reality, what had until now was a bad description, not social science, but of science tout court.
THE PRACTICE: THE RULES
Classically, the standards wanted to be explained by appealing to something as vague as “history” or “tradition” or, with any greater precision, by appealing to its functionality, to the advantages that “society” assumes its persistence, for example, to keep the social cohesion. Each of these strategies had its problems: the history and the tradition, before an explanation, are a sorcery in order to avoid the explanation, and the functionality, when not behind a theory as natural selection, which provides a support, a causal mechanism (variation-selection-inheritance), almost always ends in some form of chinese fairy tale ad-hoc, as that according to which the nose exists to wear the glasses8. For sociology analytical even the difficulty seems greater, committed as it is with any idea of rationality. If it, in its most common versions, is equivalent to a behavior instrumental, “do X to get Y”, for not a few sociologists, the rules would come to be the paradigm of the behavior is not instrumental, “I do C, because I need to do C”. Usually, in the end, the one and the other, to explain why we comply with the standards, at some point clog the holes of their arguments by using the marrullería of “get into the head” of the protagonists, the problem (the standard), using any version more or less watered down super I blurt: the individuals “interiorizaríamos” the rules.
The Grammar of Society that attempts to provide an explanation compatible with the rationality and not have to resort to any black pudding pseudopsicológica. Before moving on what interests, social norms, Bicchieri begins by clearing the way, by deslindarlas of the rules or descriptive conventions. The first –the fashions, for example– understood as a set of rules that we follow when we hope that a sufficient number of individuals to follow. The convention, like driving on the right (or the left), are classical equilibria of Nash: each one leads you by the hand in that you create that will make others and no one has interest in unilaterally change side. Standards descriptive and conventions shared one feature: compliance –the preference for its compliance, in the lexicon of the essay– does not conflict with the pursuit of self-interest. We are off to follow the habits of a reference group, if only to spare us the costs of the discrepancy and, since then, except suicide, to the time of driving, best by where all. Something that is not the case with social norms: there is always the possibility of losing some advantage when we feel compelled to take a cable, to act justly or to reciprocate a good gesture.
In any case, in a and other standards, there is a key concept that designate the highlighted words in the previous paragraph: expectations. We act according to our preferences, certainly, but also hopefully to act the others. So, it is natural that Bicchieri go to the theory of games, which allows to treat formally the situations of strategic interaction, those in which the outcome (the reward) of each one depends on the choices of all. The originality of his perspective is to highlight, in addition, the presence of normative expectations: the players not only believe that the other will abide by the rules, but we believe that they should do so. From another side: the people comply when they believe that others will, and others expect that they are going to do it. If you make me a favor, do not only expect that, when you touch, I will also do it to you, but, in addition, you consider that you have a right to expect it. All, that is to say, each one.
With this tool deals with characteristic areas of the social reality in which are involved the rules: situations, in general, in that there is a place for it –there are benefits in collaboration (cooperation, reciprocity, or justice), but there is also the temptation to “go to yours”, you get biggest advantages to leaving it “hanging” to the other. That, despite everything, choose to comply with the standards depends on a number of reasons. Sometimes simply seeking to avoid sanctions. Other involved reasons anchored in normative expectations and we behave according to what we consider to be legitimate or what is expected of us, regardless of whether there are watchers or penalties. In such situations, the contextual issues function as the brake or triggering the activation of the rules.
The author entertains quite a few pages in give an account of how it produces the activation of the rules. Interpreting and understanding a social situation involves comparing it with other similar we have experienced in the past. The likeness that we find or attribute, triggers the regulatory scheme that will apply to the new situation. The process has nothing to do, as shown by a thousand experiments, with a process of rational assessment. There is No comparison, evaluation and hierarchy of the alternatives. We are rather more pedestrian, or, better to say, more complicated. We spew into the world of heuristics, cognitive structures owe a debt of experiences sedimented in dealing with the world and its people and, with that sieve, we consider a situation and to exercise the corresponding behavior. We will act so very differently to an exchange, as cataloguemos: as a relationship of market, reciprocity, or as a bribe.
To control empirically its models, the author goes to various experiments of social psychology classic and the more recent, almost all of it developed under the label of “experimental economics”. Used almost always, to assess your rational reconstruction of the rules, in particular, those of cooperation and of justice. However, it shows more remisa when looking for endorsements empirical in the upper part of his argument, in scaffolds that support his theory, including the more original, such as the heuristics, the cognitive mechanisms that are involved in the formation of the normative expectations and empirical central idea of the emergence of norms. And that, in general, speak in favour of their views, as happens with the conjecture according to which we have an “essentialist” to go out into the world with esteriotipos, a provision, “inductive” if you will, that leads us to generalize from superficial characteristics, such as physical traits or work (“hairdresser”, “madrid”, “young”), and to draw conclusions that relate to essential features, deep (“sensitive”, “proud”, “irresponsible”). This heuristic, which turns on the other in “natural class” and that is fundamental in the interaction rules, in both dota to other of a single “identity” stable in time on which to base inferences and predictions about their behavior, have solid guarantees in anthropology cognitive that do not seem to be of interest to Bicchieri9.
The nonchalance of the author by the guarantees extrasociológicas perhaps attributable to its proclaimed “constructivism”, that perspective, in their own words, which is limited to “explain the rules in terms of the expectations and preferences of those who follow it.” And, of course, travels a long way without get out of the way sociological. Even so, it is difficult to understand that you do not go to developments which not only are compatible with their thesis, but they seem to sue and they seem reasonably explored10. I do not say that in these times of passion biologicista, with more promises that accounting results, something like the Ponzi scheme of social theory, it might not be worthy of praise the prudent attitude of limiting himself to speaking of the territory that one is oneself in terms of tread, but it is no less true that his argument is less autonomous than states: the landscape of standards can hardly be understood without the emotions and they, like it or not, they have foundations biological11.
THE PROGRAM: THE NATIONS AND THEIR INSTITUTIONS
Explaining Social Behavior is another thing12. The same analytical perspective, but another thing. It is not a book, thesis, adhered to the rationale of a strategy of explanation, such as the Hedström, or to a subject, to the rules, as Bicchieri. That does not mean that he devotes many pages to issues of method, to how to explain, and quite a few more to issues of social theory to contemporary, including the rules. There is all of that and much more13. If I may be allowed the emphasis, relieved by the first person, I would say that is the best introduction to the social theory of the last twenty years that has fallen into my hands. What is the degree of information on the most disparate investigations, by the weighted acribia of the exhibition and, not least, the grasp that some things and other are exposed, without a hint of enyclopaedism, but in no time it seemed that the results will yield pages to lump, without order or purpose.
There is not of wonder. We are before a work of maturity, of decantation, of an author who has made contributions in various areas of social theory. That walk by border territories is of great importance in social theory, in which the major findings, before which the major theories are the explanations of this or that event, something that requires cross-linking of different frames causal, the results of different disciplines or, to put it with Marx, “synthesis of a multiplicity of determinations”. Elster repeated, with slight variations, the thesis of Hedström: it is, in social theory, a “science of universal laws”. Any generalization is subject to interference, sequences, causal emborronan the cleaning of the “Whenever X, then y”. It is true that there is an established relationship between parents and children given to the drink, but there is also a sequence that takes the children, who have seen what they have seen, to withdrawal symptoms. The only thing that fits in each case is to identify what is happening, to follow a thread causal inevitably contingent.
Convinced that the best findings of social science are to be found in the explanations, before the macroteorías, he argues, and, above all, illustrates this point. Just look at the classic that returns time and time again (Tocqueville in the first place), or the readings that toward the end of book recommended for the proper training of the researchers: almost all fall into the administrative segment of the story. That does not mean to recognize contributions of high flight, the grand theory, such as the theorems of social choice, theories of technical progress or the models of natural selection, to cite just a few that have dedicated jobs, and about that again in this book. Acknowledge their merits, but with the righteous enthusiasm of someone who has done the readings due to the suitable age, who has seen almost all of the fads that periodically has fascinated the social theory. The prudence shown even with what they deemed “the most significant advancement of the social sciences in the TWENTIETH century”, the theory of games, when it warns us of the dangers of the formalizations free, of the developments that lack of predictable empirical application, as in the case of a good part of what he calls “science fiction” economic, whose delusional culture –that led to Econometrica, journal toe, to impose a moratorium on the publication of articles of the theory of social choice– can only explain it –guess Elster– an inconvenient outgrowth of the system of incentives of the american academy, that does not always guarantee that the ways of good research match with the good life of the researchers. And, since then, in the same batch there is include your prudence about what we can expect from the cognitive sciences, very noticeable due to the proliferation of literature that seems to believe that it is sufficient to prepend the prefix “neuro” to any subject (economics, ethics) to which, by the art of birlibirloque, solve their own problems of life. Although in the latter, it is true, that is not the only voice, informed, that invites caution14.
That Explaining Social Behavior does not defend a “system” or a “doctrine” sociological does not mean that it is the occurrences or the novelería. As with the other two works, there is missing here the functional relationships and graphs. Elster does not believe that we can expect a physical, mechanical, social, but what we would call an algebra, a modelling strategy, whose skeleton concept last would be the rationality and mechanisms, and that, in its different variations, would analyze the frames causal social processes, these inaccurate “contexts”, so frequently invoked when you do not want to put an end to explain something that many seem to understand as synonyms of “haze”, to repeat the clear image of the Norwegian. For him, the applicability, realism, matter more than the formal sophistication.
The book opens with an exposition of what the author meant by the correct explanation in social theory, in essence, the idea of mechanisms, and whose fertility will adjust to throughout twenty-six chapters grouped in four parts: mind, action, lessons from the natural sciences and interaction. These tags, so solemn, are a mere expedient to arrange matters a little more worldly, classical social theory, including selfishness, emotions, rationality, interpretation, neuroscience, natural selection, social norms, collective action and institutions. In reality, the author fits a bit more focus and, in a powerful gesture of captatio benevolent, opens the book with half a hundred questions, very precise, that is, locked in the exposure of the topics mentioned, find an answer, more or less temporary, in the pages of the book: why is it true that “who has offended you will never forgive”? Why are we reluctant to admit that we are envious? Why is it that in some cultures, shame is more important than blame? Why do some people helped the jews under the nazi regime? Why are the suicide rates decreased after the dangerous medicines are sold in blisters and not in bottles? Why is it less likely to migrate poor populations? Why do many countries when they gained their independence adopted as the official language of the country that dominated? Why is the president Nixon encouraged before the russians the image of a person irrational?
These and other issues, not the least suggestive provide the warp on which advances the exposure of their conjectures about how they work, the people, their reasons, their interactions and their institutions. A warp, which also hatch other materials that are less frequented by the social theory, but Elster has justified in its exact scope in various places: the wisdom settled in the sayings, the characters and the situations literary (Proust, Stendhal, or Jane Austen), and the essays moral, of the classics of self-help, so to say, as The Rouchefoucauld, Montaigne, Pascal or La Bruyère.
The weaknesses of the book, you can use them the reader to the view of what counted. To whom much covers, little squeezes. Quite simply, it is impossible to reach every corner of the argument. All in all, to find torn there is digging required not a little. Since then, it doesn’t happen in chapters indispensable for the project. For example, few times have been counted so clearly and in so few pages the “failures of rationality”, of the theoretical, associated with the idea of utility, and of the real, of the people. Surely, the specialists will be able to think that the chapters on collective choice are missing a last basting. And, of course, as happens with those who have seen it happen many fashion low bridges, sometimes pokes an ear skeptical that exempts the argument, and the author, as if he was back of all, do not believe in the obligation to give it the last boil their criticism. This is what happens, for example, when in the middle of the last chapter, a significant balance of the future of social theory, to justify with reasons affordable your lack of confidence in the possibilities of social science quantitative –that is not the same that the social sciences have formalized, math– endorse their views by appealing to the poor state of macroeconomic theory. Though he warns us that a long time ago to keep track of the discipline, what is true is that the poise of the views is not at the height of information that underpin them. To the same circumstance, perhaps, there is that can be attributed to some other passage in which the personal judgment, or the literary event laxly interpreted function as the premises of intermediate to base the guesswork.
But, all in all, an abyss with respect to the precede of the social theory with which I opened this comment. In his own description, “[a theory] of language “dazzling” but whose “teachings” are not teachable. No textbooks deconstruccionismo how-todo-it(though there are many views of “mapping” or “negotiations”), mainly because their growers from using insinuations and rhetorical questions before that play the guy doing assertions outright”. In sociology, analytical errors, at least, are recognizable. At least, understand the what.
Original article: review of Books, no. 151-152 · July-August 2009
Felix Ovejero Lucas is a Doctor in Economic Sciences and professor of the Faculty of economics of the University of Barcelona where she teaches methodology of the social sciences.
See also in Cisolog: From market to instinct (or from interest to passions) and the review of the author at the end of the same entry.