I’m going to be in the Boston/Cambridge area from March 18 to March 28. I’ll be visiting Harvard University’s archives and presenting a brand new paper at the Eastern Sociological Society Meetings. Leave a comment or send me an email if you’re going to be in the area and want to meet up!
Here’s the abstract and title for the ESS talk, based on a paper co-authored with Isaac Reed:
On the Formation of Social Kinds:
Expanding the Causal Repertoire of Sociological Research
Current understandings of causality in the social sciences suffer from an unnecessarily monolithic definition of “cause.” Building on Reed (2011)*, we offer a new typology of causation. This typology distinguishes forcing causes from forming causes. Forcing causes describe the relations between existing social objects that produce, determine or explain why a process has a certain well-defined outcome rather than others. Forcing causes coincide with existing definitions of causes in the extensive literature on causal inference, and some of the literature on social mechanisms. Forming causes describe how objects and outcomes in the social world are shaped or reshaped, or in extreme cases, brought into being. We argue that some of the literature in historical and cultural sociology has been misidentified as ‘merely’ interpretive or descriptive rather than causal because it deals with forming causes. Additionally, we argue that confusion results when scholars conflate questions about forcing and forming causes. We illustrate these claims with two short examples from very distinct literatures: the historiography of the French revolution and the debates over the performativity of the Black-Scholes-Merton options pricing model. We close with a brief discussion of how adopting this distinction can help initiate a conversation about making rigorous claims about formal causes.
The talk is part of what rates to be an excellent collection of six panels on Comparative Cultural Sociology. Stop by and check it out!
*If you haven’t read Isaac’s book, and you want to learn more about the role of meaning and interpretation in the production of social knowledge, you really should.