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abstracted empiricism

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A term coined by C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination (1959) to refer to the work of those sociologists who equate empiricism with science and make a fetish of quantitative research techniques. Whilst Mills accepts that there is a place for numerical data and statistical analysis in sociological reasoning, he insisted that they are not sufficient for sociological analysis. Indeed, in the absence of the theoretical categories and comparative historical analyses that give such data their sociological meaning, he also insists that no conception of social structure is possible. This is because of the psychologism that he regards as intrinsic to all methodologies that restrict what is allowable as legitimate data to those which are produced by sociologists themselves by means of surveys and the like. A fascinating historical account of the origins of abstracted empiricism will be found in R. Bannister, Sociology and Scientism: The American Quest for Objectivity, 1880–1949 (1987).

Subjects: Social sciencesSociology

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