nico wilterdink v. andrew abbott

In the August 2018 Theory and Society, sociologist Nico Wilterdink takes issue with Andrew Abbott’s recent book, Processual Sociology. The highly critical review goes through many of Abbott’s major claims and to argue that Abbott is either sloppy or is covering things that are already well established.

Perhaps the most cutting passage from the review is this one:

Originality is of course an important value in sociology, like in any scientific field. But because of the low degree of consensus in sociology about the basics of the discipline and, moreover, the problematic relation between sociological knowledge and lay knowledge, originality in sociology (as in other social sciences and large parts of the humanities) often comes down to what I would call quasi-originality. This may take the form of introducing new terms or proposing new conceptual distinctions that confuse rather than clarify or of advancing an idea that radically contradicts a mainstream view but is in no way more adequate than its opposite. Quasi-originality is innovation insufficiently checked by serious scientific (i.e., sociological) considerations. Yet it may acquire a degree of recognition among colleagues. Insofar as this is the case, it will contribute to theoretical pluralism but hinder rather than stimulate theoretical progress. Abbott’s book, I regret to write, contains various examples of this all-too-common sociological anomaly. I discuss some of them here.

Ouch. Harsh, but Wilterdink is really onto something. It is often the case that I will pick up a book and notice that it ignores a literature that I am familiar with. Abbott is treading dangerous waters here. In social theory, there is a long tradition of process oriented analysis and also a ton of people who are anti-positivist, humanist sociologists. Unless I had some obviously amazing innovation in this area, I’d probably steer clear.

Wilterdink is also to be commended to picking up on careless analogies. One of my pet peeves is the analogy from mathematics. In other words, a writer may pick up on some idea from mathematics and then claim that it is a good fit. Perhaps, but a lot of work has to go into showing that it is appropriate. Wilterdink critiques Abbott for pushing the fractal analogy when it isn’t helpful.

Bottom line: “One does not simply walk into processual sociology…


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Written by fabiorojas

September 18, 2018 at 4:47 am

Posted in uncategorized

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