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Failure to do so would indicate that a criterion is either missing from or misplaced in the decision-making tree. As a product of inductive reasoning, the tree makes predictions on the basis of probability and takes account of local values and decision-making criteria. One can thereby test and substantiate a relativistic hypothesis through the inductive reasoning of probability.

Again, this model of ethnographic decision trees works well in some instances. It apparently holds in particular for small-scale farmers and their choices of which crop to grow and when. Stated differently, it seems to work in settings of small homogeneous groups with decisions of seasonal regularity. The individuals there are not homogenous in their responses, and it seems that the decision to move camp is not considered an instance that can be looked at through the lens of probability but rather only in personal terms as it were.

Instead, I asked what locals thought about attending secondary school, which for them means moving away from home, attending boarding school, or staying with distant family. There was no problem in eliciting an ethnographic decision tree. Everyone agreed that secondary education was important and that children should take this opportunity if they had found someone to pay their fees, buy them a school uniform, and offer them a place to stay.

There was also agreement that discrimination by teachers or fellow students, food shortage at the place one was staying, or similar problems should not be permitted to make the children quit school. Despite this consensus, however, individuals constantly, and often for highly idiosyncratic reasons, deviated from the outcome predicted by the model. It emerged in this research that the social agents concerned refused to see major personal choices such as moving away from home to attend school as decisions to be taken from a perspective of nowhere in particular.

The agent was not regarded as replaceable by anyone else. This personalization of decisions applied to the manner in which the agent is perceived, the fact that a decision is seen to be analogue rather than digital, and the degree to which individual decisions are seen as incongruent with those of others.

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In the following paragraphs I examine these aspects in more detail. First, the San place a high social premium on allowing individuals to make their own decisions, and this applies to children from an early age.

Parents leave it to their children to choose whether or not to go to school. The teachers, who are exclusively from other ethnic groups with a farming background, tend to be outraged about this practice and shake their heads. She [He] is sitting right here. Even if one is generally in favor of schooling, this preference is trumped by the self-determination of the individual for his or her own life.

Second, San parents and children alike strongly emphasize the need to be able to revise decisions. This characteristic, too, clearly surfaces in intercultural contact when understanding breaks down. Employers and anthropologists for that matter who think they have struck a medium- or long-term agreement that, for example, obliges local people to produce tools in exchange for money or to attend school for an extended period are constantly frustrated.

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The local people often decide to abandon the plan or their cooperation halfway through, even if it means that they do not receive the money or diploma they had originally envisioned. This frustration by outsiders has been translated into a stereotype casting San people as unreliable and unstable.

From a San perspective, however, it is a consequence of avoiding decisions that cannot be revised in the light of new information and events. They do not wish to make a decision once and for all at the beginning of an action but rather only once the action has been completed. Third, social agents in the San cultural settings seem to be aware at all stages of the decision-making process that they are living only that one life and that decisions such as splitting up or joining up again are not repetitions of one another, although they may occur frequently.

In discussions of past or future decisions, there is a preoccupation with particulars. Even if everyone has agreed in principle on the criteria for a sound decision on schooling, for instance, the underlying assumption is that one small thing can be sufficient to allow the shared hierarchy of criteria to topple.

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A minor thing of this sort could be, for instance, a brief exchange of words with a teacher or another student, some insult, or some minor problem with food. What seem to be excuses to the outside, such as the fact that one had no soap with which to wash, no shoes to wear, or no decent food that morning, are acceptable contingencies that distinguish one decision from another. Just as personal lives are ultimately unique because they are subject to particular differences, so are individual decision-making processes see, Widlok, b , for a discussion of moral decision-making.

Decisions may be faulty with respect to principles but comprehensible and justifiable in terms of the particulars. Given the high premium on individual autonomy, a stance representing a probabilistic model of reasoning becomes inimical to understanding the personal and situational aspects of the decisions in this ethnographic case. Arguably, the decision to move is felt to be a personal, not a rational, one if the term rational decision is understood to mean a choice arrived at from no particular perspective that allows one to weigh aims and means in a detached manner.

By contrast, the default assumption is that the decision to move is made at a particular time by a particular person in a particular evolving setting. I thus realized that there would always be cases unaccounted for by any of these decision-making trees despite a degree of agreement on the criteria for the decision to move from one location to another. These decisions are seen as uniquely affecting personal lives, so people refuse to judge them aloofly as being instances of a general type.

Instead, they highlight the personal, ultimately unique setting. A calculus of probability does not work, for the underlying presupposition of such a calculus is that one such decision is interchangeable with other decisions of the same type and that the two alternatives can be weighed against each another. However, one should be cautious to treat this observation as evidence of the rare or exotic nature of decision-making in this particular group of foragers. In fact, many observations in modern western settings also fit the description of personalized decisions Fuchs, , p. At this juncture I take the opportunity to recapitulate the two models presented so far for understanding forager mobility.

Optimal foraging theory is generally used as a deductive model that underlines the necessity to move, that is, the assumed exigencies that ultimately dictate the decisions that foragers make. Ethnographic decision tree modeling, by contrast, has been employed primarily to generate inductively whatever local models of decision-making may exist to offer agents and observers probable outcomes and probable criteria that constitute a decision-making process.

Optimal foraging theory, one could say, links all rationality to outcomes, whereas ethnographic decision trees separate out different rationalities and their resulting actions. I have suggested that neither of these models can fully account for the ethnographic evidence of forager mobility. There appear to be patterns in the ethnography, but the arguments involved are neither those of necessity nor of probability but rather of plausibility. The need is for a less problematic model that links rationality and action in a procedural view of rationality. I suggest going beyond the traditional models of strict deductive or inductive logic, strict in the sense that they claim truth outside the conversations and interactions that unfold in the social context of the reasoning in question.

The Nature of Social Research

As a first step it is important to have an idea of what the social context looks like in this case. Decision-making in a forager group such as the San of Namibia does not follow quasi-legal or rigid procedures. Instead, participants and observers alike can derive decisions only from the continuous discourse that allows them to make decisions based on plausibility.

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Their conversational and interactional style is a particular one of repetitions, overlaps, and echoing in everyday talk. Consensus is achieved as the interlocutors repeat and echo some opinions or arguments and leave out others. This kind of exchange enables people to make intelligent guesses about what they and others will be doing next. The strategy requires that everyone be allowed to join in the conversation while avoiding prominence and exposure as an individual voice of authority. Similar strategies for achieving consensus have been observed elsewhere, as in Aboriginal Australia Liberman, , p.

The following excerpt is one of the best known examples from the! Among the San, people often talk in parallel, and there is no formal conclusion to this talk. Apart from this feature of particular conversational forms, the reasoning involved allows for unpredictable events in that nonhuman and apparently nonanimate features of the environment are expected to come in as well, influencing the direction that a decision may take. When people in this community refrain from long-term planning, it is not that they are incapable of doing so but rather that they allow the state of the environment or of other persons to prompt or trigger their decisions at certain stages of the process.

Detailed studies on the process of tracking animals have shown that anticipating and predicting the movement of an animal that one is pursuing involves a continuous creation of new hypotheses in the light of new information added to the incomplete picture of tracks and other signs on the ground. This activity also involves a constant dialogue between trackers who are allowed to maintain their diverging views as events unfold Liebenberg, , p.

Making decisions about moving or indeed any other decision entails a similar process of encouraging heterodoxy in views, keeping the decision open until very late in the process and ultimately always allowing individuals to maintain their own diverging view. Having briefly described the mode of reasoning ethnographically, one may now ask whether there is a more general model that can help reintegrate these observations into a comparative theory on rationality and action. It turns out that the plausibility mode of decision-making that has been observed in field research with foragers appears to have its counterpart in current strands of the theory of reasoning.

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In other words, there is at least a third form of reasoning that is both widespread in everyday decision-making and capable of accounting for the complexity of decision-making among mobile people. Abduction is the generation of hypotheses based on the evaluation of alternatives Walton, People witnessing a surprising event e.

When the light goes out, one works backward as it were, usually first suspecting that the bulb is burned out. If all light bulbs are observed to have gone out, one may plausibly infer that a fuse has blown. None of these inferences is necessary, deductively valid, or probable in a strict sense. There are many possible reasons for the light bulb s having gone out, and some may have the same estimated probability e.

What people do when reasoning abductively is tap into their background knowledge and select the most plausible explanation in a procedural fashion. Given the premium that the San place on personal autonomy, a forager of that community is constantly prompted to make sense of the sometimes erratic movements of other elements in the environment, whether fellow foragers, game animals, or erratic rainfall.

The decision by the forager to move or stay rests on the background knowledge of persons and places that he or she has encountered. It is a type of reasoning that does not follow strict rules of necessity, the regularities of majority rule, or predictable seasonality but emerges by deleting the less plausible alternatives in the course of protracted social decision-making.

Abduction is, of course, a prevalent form of reasoning. When making sense of actions, humans usually combine deductive, inductive, and abductive arguments—each type of logic having its distinct function Walton, , p. They all feature in scientific explanation, including that in the natural sciences see Agar, But unlike deduction and induction, abduction reminds one that explanation and knowledge formation as a whole are dialogical and procedural.

Processes of knowledge formation do not follow a fixed set of linear rules. Selection of the most plausible hypothesis is a process of dialogue with both objects that play a role e. For a long time, abduction was taken to be a defective form of deductive reasoning, for it was frequently defined as a case of affirming the consequent e. The idea of abductive reasoning seems to have been marginalized together with everyday cognition Lave, as exemplified by the reasoning of foragers Liebenberg, But the strength of abductive inference is evidently not in an isolated statement a syllogism but rather in a creative and explanatory mode of logical reasoning that establishes the best available hypothesis at a certain point in an open, explanatory dialogue that invites additional testing and evaluation.

In other words, this strength is less likely to show up in experimental isolation than in ethnographic cases.

Notes and Queries in Anthropology