A Balanced Epistemological Orientation for the Social Sciences challenges social researchers to rethink the epistemological assumptions grounding their work. It reviews the strengths and weaknesses of four salient epistemological orientations in the field – positivism, relativism, interpretivism, and intersubjectivism – to identify the characteristics of a theoretically-informed epistemology for social science. Relying on such an epistemology means seeking a deeper understanding of the social world without losing sight of the constructed nature of one’s conceptual frames. It involves adopting a reflexive position with regard to the norms and traditions in one’s area of specialization and in the field as a whole. Epistemologically-balanced social research is neither the dispassionate gathering of factual information, nor the elaboration of universal assessments formed on the basis of armchair speculation. It involves engaging in inquiry in an independent manner and being aware of the perspectival character of the claims being made in the attempt to shed new light on social phenomena. The caliber of social science can be elevated when researchers recognize the symbolic nature of their work and the significance of their conclusions in the larger social order.
Charles F. Gattone is associate professor of sociology at the University of Florida
1: Positivism: Cutting Through the Myths
2: Relativism: Truth in the Eye of the Beholder
3: Interpretivism: Finding Meaning in Everyday Life
4: Intersubjectivism: The Quest for Common Ground
5: A Balanced Epistemological Orientation for the Social Sciences
This book is a remarkable project and contains a body of excellent critique and argument, constituting a concise and accurate analysis of the topic. The book draws on the epistemological tradition of modernity, but introduces a novel argument making it a strong competitor among any book dealing with the epistemology of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. The book makes a significant contribution to the literature because it draws a comparison between dominant epistemological trends.
Charles F. Gattone reconsiders critically, lucidly, and succinctly the strengths and limitations of major theories of social knowledge. He traverses broad, complex intellectual terrain effectively with a constructive emphasis on closing the gap between social theory and social inquiry. Entertaining the questions he poses enhances our reflexivity about our production of sociological knowledge.