On Theorizing: C.S. Peirce and Contemporary Social Science
Department of sociology
University of Copenhagen
Social theory is generally seen as a necessary part of social science. It is institutionalized as a specialized area of research competence (e.g. conferences, working groups and networks, journals and positions) and plays an important role in the education of students (compare the amount of textbooks in social theory). However, the issue about how to theorize is only rarely explicitly addressed in the academic community. Social scientists discuss the content of theories, on the one hand, and empirical research methods, on the other. They only seldom discuss theory construction, that is, the logic or the methods of theoretical research. This paper aims to answer questions like: What do social scientists actually do when they theorize? How do they proceed when they construct theories? What does theoretical research involve? What makes theorizing scientific? Do we need methods in theoretical work? Is there a specific logic of theorizing on which such methods could be based? In the first part of the paper, Peirce’s theory of scientific inquiry - in which he distinguishes retroduction from both induction and deduction - will be used as a point of departure. The conception of retroduction will be seen as especially relevant for understanding the logic of theorizing. In the second part, some influential schools of social theory – Critical Theory, Critical Realism, Poststructuralism, Cultural pragmatics, French Pragmatism and the Social Mechanism Approach – will be investigated and discussed from the Peircian point of departure in order to answer the above mentioned questions.