The 'Case' and the Sociological Imagination: Toward a Critical Reconstruction
Center of Excellence 'Cultural Foundations of Integration' Universität Konstanz Konstanz, Germany
The proposed paper, giving insight into an ongoing research project, explores the institutionalization and the effects of sociological research labelled "qualitative". In particular it addresses the category of the "case" as encountered in sociological theory, methodology, and contemporary diagnoses in the second half of the 20th century. Its aims and perspectives are threefold:
(a) to apply the instruments of critical historical reconstruction, as they have been applied to the quantitative branch of sociological research, also to qualitative methodologies in which the notion of the "case" plays an important role. While the history of the social sciences has already turned its attention systematically to the emergence of statistical methodologies and survey instruments in (early) modern Europe and the United States (Alain Desrosières, Joshua Cole), it has so far not done so in regard to qualitative methodology. Here the project borders on epistemological research in law and literary studies on the history and genealogy of categories like "case", "example", "exemplum", etc.
(b) to reconstruct the relationship between case methodology and the imagination of modern societies. That there is an intimate connection between imaginary understandings of modern society and social science methodology has been profoundly demonstrated, for instance, with respect to the emergence of the "the average American" through quantitative survey research in the US (Sarah Igo). Has case methodology had a comparative effect? This question will be addressed through a discussion of professionalism that hinges sociological theory with social practice, where the notion of the "case" figures prominently.
(c) to discuss the relation of case methodology to symbolic power and domination in contemporary societies. A common critique of statistical methods has it that they are aligned with the "regulation" of modern societies. Yet, it remains to be asked whether case methodology has not been implied in regimes of domination, too. This might in particular be true for contemporary constellations of social control, in which the regulation of a normalized population is supplemented by a "case-sensitive" disciplining of deviant figures.