Adorno T Sociology and Empirical Research

Sociology studies a number of objects, the individual, the social, sub-systems and so on. Its methods include empirical research or speculative theory. The main point of social theory is to find out what really holds societies together, in a suitably disenchanted spirit rather than philosophical sense. However, this is denied by empirical sociology which is positivist. Or social theory needs is a new relation to experience rather than some regimented method, in order to grasp the concept of totality. It also needs to avoid dogmatism, requiring a transformation of its theoretical concepts  'into those which the object has of itself' (69)  [strongly reminiscent of Bourdieu and his notion of understanding].

Social events express  'a field of tension of the possible and the real' (69)  [so there are  'methodological' reasons for social theory to be critical --  'methodological' being used here in its sense of being adequate to the object]. Social events cannot just be used as data to generate hypothesis and predictions. Such an approach would gain in concreteness but lose penetration. The proper sense of totality is lost by generalising from the concrete into classificatory higher concepts. These can simply be too abstract, as when the concept of political economy fail to grasp the real nature of capitalist society. Nor is a solution to be found in some technical systematisation of levels as in Parsons. What's required is an insight into the essence of social life rather than empirical contributions. The tensions between the theoretical and the empirical are to be 'brought to a head in a fruitful manner' rather than naively harmonised  (70).

The empirical level is now considered to be prime because it is useful to do so. However, subjective pre-scientific judgements are still involved, empirical methods are allowed to swamp and dominate the object, and the focus is on the [bourgeois]  individual rather than on social objectivity. Empirical sociology can be openly tied to the interest of administration or control. As usual, the assumption in such work is that the individual consciousness will somehow give immediate access to the social. This permits a quantitative sociology, but one which is indifferent as to the effect of social power -- a humanist anthropology. The methods used promise to guarantee objectivity rather than being aimed at fully grasping the object. Methods rapidly become procedures which pre-define the object. The initial definitional problems are then forgotten in the drive to clarity and purity.

Society itself is too complex for the employment of natural scientific methods. This is not just because a certain  'subjectivity' remains. Far from it, since social life itself reduces humans to objects, and sociology's methods merely mimic this process: in this way they are actually more adequate than interpretive sociology! However, sociology is unaware of this process and takes the epiphenomenon as the object itself. In this way, positivist sociology presupposes reification.

The categories in questionnaires often do relate closely to what people actually think about themselves, but the problem arises when these are seen as natural or final opinions -- how they become natural is the real issue  (75). It is the genesis of perception, the objectification of meaning that should be our concern. Durkheim was right to associate statistical regularities with social constraint, but modern sociological research just sees such regularities as 'natural' [seen at its best in the claims that the bell-shaped curve is natural? Or in the whole paraphernalia of correlations and tests of significance?].

Sociology needs not just quantitative methods, nor the easy division of labour between quantitative and qualitative which can then support each other, but a recognition that the quantitative and qualitative are linked [by social power -- qualities turn into quantities?], just as the particular and the general are linked  [for a further elaboration of this and several other arguments see Adorno's Introduction]. In the strain towards being systematic  [for sociology and for social life?], necessary tensions are eliminated, so that there is quantification even of the qualitative [best seen in my view in those absurd social psychological tests that offer scales and measurements of things like 'spirituality'].

Preserving inconsistency is crucial, and so is the attempt to describe the complex unity between inconsistent terms -- as in totality. The use of generalisation, abstraction, and the development of higher concepts is not the way to achieve this. Irregularities in the human and social worlds arise from a general inconsistency between the general and the particular, and from the tensions involved in concretisations of particular antagonisms  (77)  [try this on various Marxist attempts to unify what looks like abstract and separate dimensions of stratification such as class and 'race' --e.g. this one]. The notion of individualism is itself a general abstract principle, and such notions fit people in capitalist societies only because there is no real individualism but conformity  (78)  [I think this would work nicely as a critique of the later work of Giddens and the self in modernity].

The splits in social sciences are arbitrary as well. Empirical analysis can correct theory, while the empirical also needs a theory of the whole. Similarly, the social totality is constitutive as is the knowing subject (80). The real is connected to the conceptual just as is the law of exchange -- there are conceptual elements in it [like the concept of  'equivalence'], though it is also independent of consciousness. Equivalence is of course illusory, but the notion itself [and practices based on it] is very real and dominating  (80). It is necessary that sociology pursues a critique of illusions in this way, but positivist science forbids it -- another way in which it maintains ideology. An adequate analysis would grasp wholes and parts, values and methods  [and the discussion here, pp 81 and 82, follows closely to that in the Introduction] and pursue insights as well as dedicated application of methods. Insight in this case arises not as a mere flash, but from attention to experience over a long period, the gradual recognition of its truth.

There is yet no combination available of theory and practice. The idea would be to offer some connection of subjective opinions with social contexts, but sociology operates with shifting categories, stretching from individual institutions of the structure of society, from consciousness to ideology. Empirical findings of the concrete level are still significant, but we need to inquire into the genesis of the empirical and whether there is something essential in social objectivity, something that remains the same (84). This is how empirical enquiry could correct theory and its blind impositions. Such inquiry could also show  that appearances are not simply the result of an illusion, but appearances of an essence, which has undergone certain modifications. To take an example, a worker is still a worker  'objectively' even if he sees himself as not a worker: we must modify the concept of the worker to explain this.

Any given sociological facts are mediated through society. They are never final but affected by societal conditions:  'For the findings of what is called... opinion research... Hegel's formulation... is generally valid: it deserves to be respected and despised in equal measure' (85). In other words, the results might be right, but the conditions that produces these opinions are concealed. However, it is simply assumed that truth is the same as quantitative measures of agreements or consensus, and is better than some notion of real opinion  [see the sections in the Introduction on the jazz subject]. Inconsistencies of opinion is the issue, and these can be detected best through immanent critique and external criticism. Thus  'opinions' are not to be despised in terms of some absolute concept of Truth  [as in denunciations of false consciousness?] but explained as the result of an untrue society. Thus  '... [for] human subjects... their being as subjects depends on the objectivity upon mechanisms they obey and which constitute their concept' (86). This is the way to correct positivist sociology's view of subjective opinion as simple truth. 

[The whole discussion in the last few paragraphs reminds me of later work, such as that of Poulantzas, which try to explain how despite countless surveys showing an absence of class consciousness, some sort of Marxist class system can still be defended. As with the examples of  'race'suggested above, the argument seems to be that the class system also produces a variety of apparently separate stratification dimensions, and an ideological understanding of them. On another tack, I am sure that white working class racism in the UK could conceivably be explained by marxists in the same way. However, many of the more 'right on' ones prefer straightforward moral condemnation.]

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