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Researching social problems: Putting the cart before the horse?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr. Juliet Foster.

What do we gain in defining and researching social problems as ‘objective’, ‘quantifiable’, and ‘measurable’ phenomena? In his influential 1971 paper, Herbert Blumer critiqued the social sciences for chasing what is usually taken as the ‘objective’ aspect of social problems. Guided by their objective, quantifiable formulation, we often purport knowing what a social problem is before we begin researching it — in other words, we put the cart before the horse. Using my research on poverty as an example, I will logically examine both realist and constructivist approaches to the study of social problems and point out some common errors in each. I will argue that in researching social problems, psychology has come to suffer from what Francis Bacon called the idola theatri — the dogmatic tendencies of research borne out of wrong laws of demonstration.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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