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On Method


By ppk147 - Posted on 13 April 2008

Integralist Method 

Pitirim A. SorokinA most excellent statement of the method used by Sorokin in what he calls his "Integralist Sociology" is to be found in his Sociocultural Causality, Space and Time. There he envisions for the social sciences a method that is at once intuitional, rational, and empirical—all three—and therefore, in his own terms, an integralist method.

It is intuitional, in his words, "first of all, for the reason that some kind of intuition is at the very basis of the validity of the systems of truth of reason and of the senses" or because, in other words, real cognition is creation, not a mere anticipation or reflection of nature in the empiricist sense. It is intuitional, secondly, "because intuition . . . has been one of the most important and fruitful 'starters' of an enormous number of the most im­portant scientific, mathematical and philosophical discoveries and technological inventions"; thirdly, "because a variety of religious and aesthetic intuition has been the main source and the main force for the creation of the greatest artistic, religious, and ethical systems of culture"; and fourth, "because there is a sufficiently large body of the testimonies of the great thinkers, creators of religion, of art values, of science, demonstrating the reality, the functioning and the power of this source of truth" (Social and Cultural Dynamics vol. IV, pp. 747-764).

This links closely with the idea that there is "superrational" and "supersensory" aspect of man and society and that reason and the senses, needful though they are, are not completely adequate to understand and to know this aspect of reality. This supersensory, and superrational "phase of sociocultural reality, in­cluding man himself, must be apprehended through a supersensory, superrational, metalogical act of 'in­tuition' or 'mystic experience', representing a type of cognition 'sui generis', profoundly different from sensory perception and the logical activity of reason" (Sociocultural Causality, p. 228).

Toynbee on Sorokin's Methodology

Toynbee points out that statistics, developed over the past century and a half, has generally dealt with phenomena in which there are enormous quantities of incidences to analyze. In these limited fields they have been employing more and more abstruse mathe­matical devices. Sorokin, on the other hand, has had "the temerity to try to open up wider territories with simpler tools ..." Hence the English historian feels that Sorokin, by adventuring not only into new fields but by new methods has inevitably laid himself open to numerous attacks by "the professional censors in the fields of statistics ..."

In Toynbee's opinion, the use of statistical methods, in analyzing the phenomena of war, by Sorokin is still within the currently accepted methodological safety zone. Statistics on internal disturbances are "near the fringe". But his numerous further tables on statistics of fluctuations of such things as ethical and philosophical systems, types of art and personality, and so on, make Sorokin vulnerable. Since "Sorokin has seized the initiative", "furious specialist pursuers" will "come pounding after him into fields that they would perhaps never had trodden except in hot pursuit of a heretic". Nevertheless Toynbee feels that "Sorokin will come out strategically victorious from any number of tactical defeats". The "result will have been a solid gain" in "the drive to increase human knowledge. . . ." "

This intellectual service far outweighs Sorokin's [possible] statistical errors . . .

Sociology as a Science 

In  Contemporary Sociological Theories  Sorokin takes a panoramic walk through what he described as the forest of sociological theory. As in any forest, one finds sterile flowers, weeds, strong trees, healthy plants, and beautiful flowers. The wily sociologist should seek and use the beautiful, healthy, and strong forms while avoiding their barren or uncultivated counterparts. Sterile flowers are theories that exhaust themselves on questions such as these: What is sociology? What should it be? What is progress? What is the relationship between society and the individual? What are the differ­ences between cultural, social, and psychological phenomena? Many scholars spend entire careers in these "antechambers of sociology" and mistake them for the whole building. They pile words upon words without producing any genuine understanding of the social world. In Sorokin's mind these theorists were partly responsible for the anti-sociological sentiments of many intellectuals. Critics of sociology right­fully said, "Instead of a long and tedious reasoning of what sociology is, show it in fact. Instead of a discussion of how sociology ought to be built, build it. Instead of 'flapping' around the introductory problems of a science . . . give us a single real analysis of the phenomena." The sociological forest also abounds with weeds. The most trouble­some and damaging among them is the "sociological preacher," who is concerned with what is good or bad, how to save the world from evil, and how humans should best progress in the modern age. Practitioners of this style have pretended to be omniscient doctors who know how the world is to be saved and give their "prescriptions" about war eradication, birth-control, labor organiza­tion . . . and so forth. In this way, all kinds of nonsense have been styled, published, circulated and taught as "sociology." Every idler has pretended to be a sociologist. Shall we wonder that this again has discredited sociology greatly.Other weeds in the forest are those who overgeneralize from their find­ings, insufficiently study existing facts, are ignorant of past knowledge, and use sloppy logic combined with carelessness in testing and verifying hypotheses. These practices and the scholars who use them create major problems for the acceptance of sociology by serious scientists. Such underbrush must be cleared away so the strong plants and beautiful flowers of scientific sociology can bloom and replace the forest with a well-tended garden.To coun­ter this unfortunate tendency, Sorokin offered an operational approach to the discipline. Sociology is a study, first, of the relationship and correlations between various classes of social phenomena, (correlations between economic and religious; family and moral; juridical and economic; mobility and political phenomena and so on); second, that between the social and the nonsocial (geographic, biological, etc.,) phenomena; third, the study of the general characteristics common to all classes of social phenomena.All of the general schools concern themselves with different aspects of this definition. Whether sociologists like it or not, such seems to be the real subject matter of their discipline.More on Sociology in Presidential address “SOCIOLOGY OF YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW” 

“Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin: a giant of 20th century sociological thought" Robert K. Merton