How does it work (preparing for appointment with Len)?

St 28 prosince 2005

Len asked me to explain him how should all these theories I quote in my dissertation proposal work together and how I am not creating yet another Great Sociological Theory.

Of course, that this question hits on the most complicated part of the question. How does it all fits together? Am I not creating just another grand theory which has answer for everything but understands nothing? And if I want to get my theories out of data, and not to impose my theories on data, what should I do with the theories which already exist and which seem so close to what I see in my data? And isn’t whole that founding theories only on data more or less humbug, because there just are plenty of theories around and research cannot (and shouldn’t) just ignore them?

Somehow it resembles a denomination which is based “solely on the New Testament” and they “purged their teaching of all human inventions” (I have actually met a pastor who told me these two things about his denomination; needless to say, that I have run out of his church immediately :-)) — these are usually the most dogmatic and legalistic church groups, whereas those Christians who just do not care that much about purity of their teaching tend to be quite often most relaxed, loving, and free. Isn’t best research also the one which is not that much concerned about purity of methodology? Of course, one shouldn’t go to the other extreme (in the Church context it would be liberalism), and to throw away all good rules, which generations of scientist found, as good preventive measures how not to fools themselves.

Back to the main question of how to deal with my different theories and my data. The basic idea I had was that there are many streams of thought which seems to lead to the similar conclusions, although sometimes the theories go from very different and strange angles. So for example, both Braithwaite (criminologist and founder of the theory of reintegrative shaming) and Charon (introduction to the symbolic interactionism) mention as an important factor how symbolic interactionist perspective does not include static concept of personality, which is a static result of our past experience (or it is inborn and thus even more static) determining our present action, but it accept that past experiences influence our present action through definition of self based on our reactions to the past experiences. When I read this for the first time, I was shocked. In that time I was just discovering (through a church-based program of inner healing) how much my understanding of myself very much determined (quite often not for good) my behavior, and how much I need to learn (and be told) who I am, so that I could see world differently and hopefully grasp more of the life. I didn’t expect much that I could find in (then still rather dry) sociology something corresponding to this very personal experience and new understanding, which seem to be too churchly and far from secular science. And yet, this was exactly what I read in this criminological textbook!

And when I was reading many newspaper articles about crime in Boston, I could see struggle of Black Bostonians to grasp self-image of “the ordinary citizen” and to persuade everybody that they are such. I could believe that actually Black pastors stepping into this self-image and BPD switching their approach of Roxbury & co. from “enemy battlefield” to “part of our city, where our fellow Bostonians need help” (my own terms, not quotations), that these steps could help to empower and mobilize Black communities of Boston to help eliminate crime in their midst. And this effort could clearly explain quite angry opposition of Rev. Rivers against Jessie Jackson’s trashing of Boston as racist—not only that Jessie offended his friend in the effort to improve position of Blacks in Boston (both Mayor Menino and BPD representatives), but he also directly attacked this new self-image of ordinary citizens and pushed them back to the image of poor underserved oppressed Blacks.

Unfortunately, the story continues, this business of changing self-image is very long-term process — actually this is just part of the process of overcoming Black slavery which (with interruptions) has been continuing for past hundred and fifty years and it is far from being finished. When the first effort made a huge difference, because improved cooperation between BPD and the Black community of Boston made a huge difference in the crime statistics, people in power of the City of Boston lost interest in supporting this process and it collapsed on insufficient funding (totally unsupported hearsay claims that the Boston Ten Point Coallition is broke and relations among participants of TPC are falling apart). Now, the only hope is that Mayor Menino & co. will get afraid again from the Black crime and will find some resources to support programs in Roxbury.

Moreover, not only that this example very well works in this psychotherapeutical-SI context of self-image, but it seems to be very nice example of how the theory of reciprocity describes that “[people] perceive that others are behaving cooperatively/shirking […] they cooperate/retaliate.”

All this is nice, but obviously this kind of anecdotical thinking is an exact example of all wishful thinking which would be rightfully trashed by Bernstein & co. And qualitative and interpretative research being what it is, I do not see any way how to make this into testable theory and how to eventually prove it.

Category: research Tagged: dissertation BostonMiracle