More theory to make social sciences more interesting

Richard Swedberg urges us to theorize more to make social sciences more interesting. His recent article in BJS summarizes Swedberg’s 2014 book in a short and accessible manner. While we’re more used to seeing the article first followed by a longer book, I’m happy to see this article as Swedberg’s message deserves to be heard. Contrary to what I chose as the title of this post, Swedberg actually doesn’t call for more theory as such, but for more of the right kind of theory. Good theory isn’t abstract and empirically irrelevant (i.e. much of what passes as ‘theory’ today). Interestingly Swedberg focuses on observation and creativity, and not formal modelling as it is done in economics (which he regards as mechanistic).

Swedberg, Richard. 2016. ‘Before Theory Comes Theorizing or How to Make Social Science More Interesting’. The British Journal of Sociology, February. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12184.

Swedberg, Richard. 2014. The Art of Social Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

An Analytical Core for Sociological Theory

Herbert Gintis and Dirk Helbing present an analytical core for sociological theory. Readers of Gintis’ Bounds of Reason will find many familiar passages and arguments. What I liked about this particular paper is that they begin with the social equilibrium and work their way backwards to disequilibrium. Efforts to unite the different disciplines of behavioural sciences are certainly laudable, but I guess a much wider (and concerted) effort would be needed.

The tools have been out there for a while (game theory, other-regarding social individuals, correlated equilibrium, etc.), and it’s good to see work to bring it all together. How this can spread, however, is another story — just look at the bewildering diversity that exists at the moment, seemingly in parallel universes.

Gintis, Herbert. 2014. The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gintis, Herbert, and Dirk Helbing. 2015. ‘Homo Socialis: An Analytical Core for Sociological Theory’. Review of Behavioral Economics 2 (1-2): 1–59. doi:10.1561/105.00000016.