Reflection on the Textual Foundations of Social Science: Narrative as an Explanatory Scheme of a Sociological Knowledge
Centre for Fundamental Sociology State University - Higher School of Economics Moscow, Russia
Since its appearance, sociology has justified its status as a discipline providing a unique body of knowledge. In the beginning it had to constitute its identification through the opposition of the objects «Natur vs. Geist» and «Natur vs. Kultur» or through the opposition of the methods «erklären vs. verstehen», later presented in different terms («hermeneutical vs. positive methods» or «interpretative vs. explanatory science»).
But the breakthrough in the philosophy of knowledge, accomplished by Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, has shown that all the previous debates about methods and objects can be considered as changing paradigms, resulted from the scientists' consensus. It has become obvious that there are no universal oppositions for constituting science?s identity. Thus social science needs to develop a new philosophy to make clear foundations and emphasize its uniqueness as a science, explaining "the social".
The aim of this paper is to focus on the discursive and textual peculiarities of sociology, on the way the language and its rules structure the meaningful entities of a scientific knowledge. According to this approach (shared by social scientists and philosophers of different schools as J. Alexander and I. Reed, M. Foucault, H. White and others) scientific knowledge is presented as a language manifestation, taking the form of texts, performances and enunciations. The language theory of science is fruitful, and plenty of concepts aimed at analyzing knowledge could be developed.
However in the paper I propose a broad explanatory scheme for social science that is narrative in its foundations. In the base of this approach lies the assumption that sociological research can be reduced to a plot building. The narrative model focuses on such inner characteristics of knowledge as meaning, coherence and causality. The conceptualization of narrative is developed via theoretical tools: "meaningful configuration"; "emplotment" (P. Ricoeur); "narrative sentences" (A. Danto); "narrative explanation" (R. Aron).
A particular attention will be paid to the processes of sociological explanations of social events and actions which make the application of narrative obvious. Thus providing a relevant conceptual scheme and empirical examples the paper will point out a possible philosophical approach towards social science.