Mannheim’s Paradox

Út 26 dubna 2005

Reading Carey (1989), I met again the issue of the Mannheim’s Paradox (the author’s name), which is fancy name for finding that social scientists themselves are humans and thus subject of ideological pressure and laws of human behavior, which could influence how they perform as scientists. Or in other words, how scientists being humans and thus not fully rational cannot create purely rational theories and purely rational conclusions not influenced by their personal preferences and prejudices.

Carey suggests that there are currently two main streams of understanding of ideology—he calls them “causal” and “functional” explanations of ideology. The result of both theories is that seemingly irrational behavior is not considered to be what it really is. The first theory tends to explain ideological behavior in terms of social structure, power struggle, and class interests. The problem with these theories is that they are really hopeless in terms of quality of their predictions. People just do not follow their class interests enough to make these theories quite useful. The reaction to causal theories are functional theories, which try to explain ideology as an attempt to restore balance in the society which is perpetually malintegrated. Unfortunately these theories typically produce unbelievably complicated and obscure explanations omitting participants’ understanding. Carey citing Geertz (1973) summarizes this notion in this way:

[…] a group of primitives sets out, in all honesty, to pray for rain and ends up by strengthening its social solidarity; a ward politician sets out to get by or remain near the through and ends by mediating between unassimilated immigrant groups and an impersonal governmental bureaucracy; and ideologist sets out to air his grievances and finds himself contributing, through the diversionary powers of his illusions, to the continued viability of the very system that grieves him (p. 206).

The problem is obviously in the fact, that these theories implies elimination of anything which wouldn’t fit into the rational model of science, namely “the experience itself as some ordered system of meaningful symbols.” Of course, Carey sees as a solution following the tradition of symbolic interactionism and introduce study of symbols and their meaning. He also follows in this Blumer (1969) with the big stress on keeping research close to the data and omitting from data anything which is not convenient for the development of “scientific” theories.

Moreover, one thing which is common to all these theories is that they are really weak on explanation of the links between suggested explanations and observed action. E.g., what is the mechanism by which that wonderful solidarity is created in praying together?

Category: research Tagged: dissertation BostonMiracle sociology