Challenging Substantialist Orthodoxies in Value Research: Why Values Are Less Important Than They (Are Made to) Appear

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Zoltan LAKATOS, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest, Hungary
Relational sociologists regard the culture-economy dichotomy as empirically meaningless. In contrast, mainstream value research―which includes Hofstede, Inglehart, and Welzel―rests on the scholastic fallacy that conceives of the symbolic and material aspects of agency as self-subsistent entities. Stemming from Cartesian epistemology, this school of thought consists, in effect, of inquiries into substances and their impacts on each other. Their divergences regarding the primacy of either the "material" or the "cultural" notwithstanding, these currents share in their advocacy of "noble" substances (e.g., "achievement motivation", "Confucian dynamism", "cool-water condition") as catalysts of outcomes that the investigator deems desirable.
Challenging this school, this empirical study looks at religiosity, authoritarianism, and materialism from a field analytical perspective, applying four considerations that are common to all relational approaches. First, regarding their ontological status, relational sociology suggests that values function primarily as "cognitive simplifications" (Martin 2003) as opposed to the tendency, informed by a misreading of Weber's Protestant Ethic thesis to consider them as imperatives that "drive" behavior. Second, to unravel the structure of values, as well as their embeddedness in the social fabric, the focus shall shift from the variables to the units of observation, preferably by using non-linear methods (e.g., multiple correspondence analysis, as in this study). Third, explanation involves a higher level of generality than what is conceivable in mainstream value research, preoccupied with maximizing explained variance. Fourth, and summing up the previous points, against the substantialist proclivity to view values as "disembodied" codes of conduct, empirical research shall flesh out their inherent materiality. As an illustration, I discuss why the three values presented in this study may be no more than cognitive simplifications of the principle that, according to Bourdieu, underlies all cultural practices―namely, the distance actors take from the open expression of material interest.