Methodology, Content, and the Interconnectedness of Disciplines

Management: Final exams ended up tearing me away from working on new posts, but I didn’t want to leave the blog unattended for too long, so here’s this abridged version of a thing I had to type for my class on religion and politics you can read. It’s not about anime per se, but hopefully me laying out my epistemology to academics, the methodology and content I approach political science and other disciplines with, might be interesting.

Perhaps it might be useful approach for digesting media such as anime. Perhaps it might be useful for digesting life. I don’t know. That’s up to you. Also, it’s laying the preliminary groundwork for a piece I’m later planning to do.

It is part of the social sciences, and in a way, the discipline of political science is much a science as physics, chemistry, and biology. Political scientists are supposed to apply the scientific method. Political scientists attempt to explain how people tend to act and react whenever they respond to a particular stimuli socio-politically. When faced with a scenario characterized by specific conditions and circumstances, we attempt to observe, analyze, and illustrate how the specific conditions and circumstances a people face lead them to form, interact with, and topple the governments that they do. We study governments because of their ubiquity throughout much of human history and the impact their policies have had on human society. We formulate a hypothetical model of thought based on the results of the scenario observed. We then attempt to apply it to other scenarios similar, if not quite exact to, the original scenario.

In the application of this model of thought to other scenarios, we seek to discover whether or not the results of the original scenario are comparable to the results of other scenarios. We attempt to pick out trends and patterns from a comparison of these results. We develop theories based on these trends and patterns. We determine whether or not these theories hold to socio-political reality by testing whether or not these trends and patterns are simply correlations or also causations. If the trends and patterns are determined to be causations, then at the very least, these theories appear to be more indicative of how the socio-political world operates than other theories within some combination of these conditions and circumstances. We attempt to sift mere correlation from actual causation by pitting these trends and patterns against the results of scenarios that treat one or some conditions and circumstances as variables. All other conditions and circumstances are treated as constants.

By the scientific nature of the methodology laid out, one might assume that, just like in the physical sciences, replicable certainty of specific observable trends and patterns can be achieved. The assumption is that in absolutely all cases, specific conditions and circumstances combined will always produce this particular result, this particular trend, this particular pattern. So long as we have faith in the results of the scientific method, we can use these results to effect control over the uncertainty of human life. No so with political science. Political science is a social science, and unlike the physical sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology, the specific social conditions and circumstances people observe within given scenarios are subject to a large degree of interpretation. All told, it is less observation than perception. It is difficult, if not impossible, to run experiments in social environments that can neatly control for every little variable of possible significance outside of the ones we want to test exclusively. Perhaps there are social experiments that people can artificially engineer to fit the experimental criteria they want, but many of those social experiments run into issues concerning ethics.

The social world is fluid, and human beings are diverse and complex. There always seem to be exceptions and discrepancies to social trends and patterns we might have otherwise accepted as fact. In our struggles to identify fact from fiction, we reinforce, amend, or reject our expectations accordingly. The process, however, is flawed, human ignorance and prejudice withstanding. We attempt to isolate nuggets of common truth about human behavior and nature, but those nuggets can be difficult to definitively ascertain. Even when we grasp something that appears to be truth, it might not be true at all, or it might merely be true within certain contexts. The nature of the social world and the nature of our flawed human selves ensure that the scientific method is, by no means, a sound measure of determining what is knowledge and what is not. It is, however, the soundest measure that social scientists – including political scientists – can come up with.

Having already covered the similarities and differences between the hard and physical sciences and the soft and social sciences, particularly when it comes to the uniform use of the scientific method and its not-so-uniform results, there is the matter of comparing the nuances between one social science to another. Public health science and psychology are two examples of scholarly disciplines that blur between the lines of physical and social. On the physical side, both disciplines encompass studies that observe concrete evidence from the natural world. On the social side, both disciplines contain studies that perceive abstract constructions from the social world.

On to even deeper social ground, there is sociology, the study of group behavior. There is economics, the study of the production and distribution of goods and services. There is anthropology, the study of culture, and there is history, the study of the past. From anthropology and history, the spectrum of disciplines start blurring between the social sciences and the humanities. One starts getting into the disciplines of literature, linguistics, philosophy, and theology. By the end of the day, political scientists should realize that while their discipline of specialty caters around a particular perspective, all disciplines are ultimately connected with the other. Even mathematics hosts a field of study called statistics that provides political scientists, among other disciplinarians, with useful ways to measure what we perceive. All disciplines inform the other in some manner, albeit some more closely than others. Socio-political behavior cannot be fully understood without some understanding of the other social sciences, cannot be really appreciated without some understanding of the humanities, cannot be quite accounted for without some understanding of the physical sciences.

In addition to informing the perspectives of other disciplines, disciplines are also connected in the way they inform us and call us to action. They help inform us in how we view ourselves, how we view the world, and how we view our place in the world. They help shape our moralities, and morality is crucial to how we act and react to a particular stimuli. This informing and calling is the particular specialty of the humanities. As opposed to the social sciences, where focus concentrates around the analysis of belief and behavior behind the construction of social narratives, the humanities concentrate its focus on the art of social narrative construction itself. With the humanities, we begin dealing with the nitty gritty of human experience through personal stories that move and personal questions that confound: Who am I? Why am I alive? What is my purpose in life? And then we come to religion, which provides the most mythic of stories and answers the biggest of questions and plays a major role many of today’s contemporary conflicts.

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2 thoughts on “Methodology, Content, and the Interconnectedness of Disciplines

  1. This could become a nice introduction to someone who want to learn about political science. Also, do you mean that physical sciences and social sciences are fundamentally different from each other, or are they are just merely the different faces of one science?

    • There are fundamental differences between the two. The physical sciences are concerned with concrete matters, and the social sciences are concerned abstract ones. There are major similarities however, the most obvious one being that both utilize the scientific method. Then you’d have to ask what is scientific method for? The scientific method is a tool scientists use to produce sound, certain, reliable, and replicable evidence for some process or pattern, given a specific set of conditions and circumstances. One scientific method for the study of two different realms. Despite being concerned with different realms of study, the ultimate aim of the two is to make sense of the world people live in by finding constants via rigorous scientific-style vetting.

      When it comes to the social world, though, finding constants is a lot more complicated.

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