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Epistemology of Social Inquiry

Tayyab Mahmud

Seattle University School of Law - Center for Global Justice

Summer 1980

Scrutiny, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 29-46, Summer 1980

The contention of this critique is that the tools of inquiry forwarded by the dominant methodological tradition of mainstream social science, i.e., logical positivism/ empiricism (LP/E) have limited utility for any study which tries to relate understanding of social phenomenon to the historical, political and socio-economic settings which produce it, and give it meaning. LP/E rests on a particular implicit meta-theoretic understanding of the context of social reality which retards a comprehensive understanding of the same. These meta-theoretic assumptions are pregnant with political implications, which remain implicit and unacknowledged. Indeed these methodological tools are incapable of deciphering these implications. This paper argues that means and modes of enunciation and knowledge production operate within the fabric of social ideology, dialectically related to the economic and political structures of a social formation. There is no epistemological approach which is value-free and neutral. An alternative approach is suggested that sees ontological and epistemological questions as having a direct bearing upon each other. This approach rules out any fundamental division between empirical and normative theory. It proposes that data of social phenomena are constituted by the manner in which we interpret reality, and concepts derive their meaning from the rules which emerge out of the political, economic and ideological contexts in which they are used. Such an approach forces us to politicize the word/object relationship, by explicitly examining the context of their deployment. It calls for deciphering the normative and evaluative advocacies embedded in the conventional theories which are presented, and are generally accepted, as value-free and neutral scientific explanations. The world view and the pre-theoretic conceptual constructs on which social theories are based become potential areas of investigation.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 18

Keywords: Social inquiry, social theory, logical positivism, empiricism, epistemology

JEL Classification: C1, C8

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Date posted: July 20, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Mahmud, Tayyab, Epistemology of Social Inquiry (Summer 1980). Scrutiny, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 29-46, Summer 1980. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1436530

Contact Information

Tayyab Mahmud (Contact Author)
Seattle University School of Law - Center for Global Justice ( email )
901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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