The concept of "practices"--whether of representation, of political or scientific traditions, or of organizational culture--is central to social theory. In this book, Stephen Turner presents the first analysis and critique of the idea of practice as it has developed in the various theoretical traditions of the social sciences and the humanities. Understood broadly as a tacit understanding "shared" by a group, the concept of a practice has a fatal difficulty, Turner argues: there is no plausible mechanism by which (...) a "practice" is transmitted or reproduced. The historical uses of the concept, from Durkheim to Kripke's version of Wittgenstein, provide examples of the contortions that thinkers have been forced into by this problem, and show the ultimate implausibility of the idea. Turner's conclusion sketches a picture of what happens when we do without the notion of a shared practice, and how this bears on social theory and philosophy. It explains why social theory cannot get beyond the stage of constructing fuzzy analogies, and why the standard constructions of the contemporary philosophical problem of relativism depend upon this defective notion. This first book-length critique of practice theory is sure to stir discussion and controversy in a wide range of fields, from philosophy and science studies to sociology, anthropology, literary studies, and political and legal theory. (shrink)
This volume concerns philosophical issues that arise from the practice of anthropology and sociology. The essays cover a wide range of issues, including traditional questions in the philosophy of social science as well as those specific to these disciplines. Authors attend to the historical development of the current debates and set the stage for future work. · Comprehensive survey of philosophical issues in anthropology and sociology · Historical discussion of important debates · Applications to current research in anthropology and sociology.
In this reply, I raise some questions about the account of "normativity" given by Joseph Rouse. I discuss the historical form of disputes over normativity in such thinkers as Kelsen and show that the standard issue with these accounts is over the question of whether there is anything added to the normal stream of explanation by the problem of normativity. I suggest that Rouses attempt to avoid the issues that arise with substantive explanatory theories of practices of the kind criticized (...) in The Social Theory of Practices leads to a result that is uninformative, and the strategy raises the question of whether there is anything there to explain and thus whether there is any necessity to appeal to the kind of anomalous explanations the normativist offers. Key Words: Kelsen normativity Mauss naturalism practices. (shrink)
In his recent article, ‘Lottery puzzles and Jesus’ return’, Donald Smith says that Christians should accept a very robust scepticism about the future because a Christian ought to think that the probability of Jesus’ return happening at any future moment is inscrutable to her. But I think that Smith’s argument lacks the power rationally to persuade Christians who are antecedently uncommitted as to whether or not we can or do have any substantive knowledge about the future. Moreover, I think that (...) Christians who are so antecedently uncommitted have available objections they can reasonably press against Smith’s arguments. In the article, I attempt to bring out these objections. (shrink)
Agassi, Sztompka, Kincaid, and Crothers argue, in various ways, that Merton should not be held responsible for his published views on theory construction, and they provide psychological or strategic explanations for his failure to resolve issues with these views. I argue that this line of defense is unnecessary. A better case for Merton would be that theories in his middle-range sense were a nontechnical alternative solution to the problem of spurious correlation. Middle-range theory was not, however, a solution to the (...) problem of diverse approaches. Merton also did not resolve the problems with his account of functionalism, and the problems undermine the claim that he had a distinctive “structural” approach all along. (shrink)
The lack of "progress" in theory is often contrasted to progress in statistical methodology. The relation between the two bodies of thinking is itself problematic, however, for the particular advances in method that have occurred in quantitative sociology reflect a trade-off in which the results are characterized by the radical underdetermination of models by data and a high level of slack between measures and theoretical concepts. Both of these problems are usually understood as matters of "error," and thus as potentially (...) eliminable, but this claim is highly questionable, on grounds evident from Pearson's philosophy of science. The implications of large ineliminable error for the project of theory construction, particularly the "formal theory" of Blau and the California Positivists, is discussed. The ease of producing statistical results is an achievement, but one that leads away from theory rather than toward it, and, because the fact of underdetermination prevents these results from establishing clear cognitive superiority over the results of other "approaches," theoretical diversity is, in a sense, a consequence of the properties of the dominant statistical tradition in sociology. (shrink)
Practice relativism is the idea that practices are foundational for bodies of activity and thought, and differ from one another in ways that lead those who constitute the world in terms of them to incommensurable or conflicting conclusions. It is true that practices are not criticizable in any simple way because they are largely tacit and inaccessible. But to make them relativistic one needs an added claim: that practices are "normative", or conceptual in character. It is argued that this is (...) not supportable by any explanatory necessity, and that the differences in outcomes, though real, are not instances of relativism. /// El relativismo de prácticas es la idea de que las prácticas sirven de fundamento para cuerpos de actividad y pensamiento, y que difieren unas de otras de maneras que llevan a aquellos que constituyen el mundo en esos términos a conclusiones inconmensurables o contradictorias. Es cierto que las prácticas no son criticables de ninguna manera simple porque en general son tácitas e inaccesibles. Pero para que sean relativistas hace falta una tesis adicional: que las prácticas son normativas o conceptuales. Aquí se arguye que esto no puede sustentarse en ninguna necesidad explicativa, y que las diferencias en resultados, si bien son reales, no son casos de relativismo. (shrink)
Language is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees, but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness, but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a series of inapt words — of maxims once true, but of which the truth is ceasing or has ceased. As a man’s family go on muttering in his maturity incorrect phrases derived from a just observation (...) of his early youth, so, in the full activity of an historical constitution, its subjects repeat phrases true in the time of their fathers, and inculcated by those fathers, but now true no longer. (shrink)
In conflating opposing meanings of the term “ritual,” arising from historical Western cultural conflicts regarding church and state, this target article begs fundamental questions. Its appeals to cognitive science concepts such as “working memory” are poorly informed and obfuscate what could have been a far more penetrating and less biased discussion of stereotyped human action. (Published Online February 8 2007).
We propose that sociological theory should comprise a series of elementary and abstract principles on the operation of distinctive and generic social processes. These processes intersect and interact in varying combinations to create diverse social forms, including stratification. Six elementary principles, stated as simple equations, are developed for the social processes implicated in societal stratification.
The human brainstem, which comprises a multitude of axonal nerve fibers and nuclei, plays an important functional role in the human brain. Depicting its anatomy non-invasively with high spatial resolution may thus in turn help to better relate normal and pathological anatomical variations to medical conditions as well as neurological and peripheral functions. We explored the potential of high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 7T for depicting the intricate anatomy of the human brainstem in vivo by acquiring and generating images (...) with multiple contrasts: T2-weighted images, quantitative maps of longitudinal relaxation rate (R1-maps) and effective transverse relaxation rate (R2*-maps), magnetic susceptibility maps, and direction-encoded track-density images. Images and quantitative maps were compared with histological stains and anatomical atlases to identify nerve nuclei and nerve fibers. Among the investigated contrasts, susceptibility maps displayed the largest number of brainstem structures. Contrary to R1 maps and T2-weighted images, which showed rather homogeneous contrast, R2* maps, magnetic susceptibility maps and track-density images clearly displayed a multitude of smaller and larger fiber bundles. Several brainstem nuclei were identifiable in sections covering the pons and medulla oblongata, including the spinal trigeminal and the reticulotegmental nucleus on magnetic susceptibility maps as well as the inferior olive on R1, R2*, and susceptibility maps. The substantia nigra and red nuclei were visible in all contrasts. In conclusion, high-resolution, multi-contrast MR imaging at 7 Tesla is a versatile tool to non-invasively assess the individual anatomy and tissue composition of the human brainstem. (shrink)