May 13, 2008

· Personal · Reading List · Sociology

While at a conference in Germany over the weekend, I was initially quite chuffed by the greeting on my hotel-room TV:

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But I quickly learned I am quite unable to compete on this front:

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Somewhat more substantively, the conference, on norms and values, was attended by a bunch of interesting philosophers and political science types of a generally soft rat-choice disposition. As it happens, this week Aaron Swartz is writing about Jon Elster’s recent book, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Aaron likes the book a lot. I haven’t read it, but now I’m curious to do so. Elster’s early work laid out an ambitious agenda for social science and its critical edge did a lot to kill off some styles of social explanation that were prevalent at the time. But then the prospects for achieving the more positive side of the research program seemed to recede in the face of efforts to achieve it, to the point where Elster became highly critical of work that might well have been inspired by Ulysses and the Sirens or Sour Grapes. The most recent book seems to be a comprehensive expression of late-Elsterian pessimism about the possibility of a general science of social explanation.

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I am Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center. Learn more.

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