From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Sep 11 2007 - 16:07:01 EDT
Paul Z wrote: "I must say it is rather disconcerting: there is so much movement in your description that we'd almost seem to have to thrown in the towel." I do need my towel, I haven't thrown it in the ring yet. I worked in statistics for some years, and there you learn - if you didn't know it already - to draw a sharp distinction between a changeable reality that is in motion, and what you can actually measure, in good time. What you can measure, is only an aspect of reality, and you have to be able to separate out constants and variables using categorisation schemes. Sometimes what you use as variable, and what you regard as a constant, might not make much scientific sense, but it makes practical sense, for the purpose of what you try to measure. Suppose you said, "I want to measure the kinship relations (or total families by type) of the nation", which social statisticians in fact want to do. At first sight, the research statistician observes you simply cannot do it, it does not make any sense at all. Bunkum. Wrap the towel round your head or something. Because where those relationship begin and end, is mighty difficult to tell at the best of times. What is your measurement unit? You get to very basic inquiries such as: what is a "family"? What is obvious to everybody, suddenly is not obvious anymore. But the issues aren't "philosophical" anymore either, because now you've got to count them. Okay, grossly simplifying the abstractive process, step one: we measure kinship relations within households only. Step two: define households (again the boundaries can be tricky there). Step three: identify the universe of possible kinship relations. Well there is an awful lot of those, and you simply cannot measure all those. Question arise for example, do you include same-sex relationships with children as families? There are, besides, all sorts of intractable problems of kinship relations, where you don't know if you have got one, or you haven't got one. When is a parent a parent? Step four: design a classification of logically discrete, measurable kinship relations. Step five: design a questionnaire format that will actually collect your data reliably in a way you can process it. Step six: decide on a reliably survey methodology (samples and frames), collect your data, and code it (well really there's a lot of steps to go through here of course). Step seven: apply math, programming and classification principles to aggregate your data and then tabulate it. Step seven: study the distribution obtained, to iron out logical, data and boundary problems, so that your result looks sufficiently credible against what you know already. Step eight: finally store and present your data in a way that is comprehensible to the user of that data, and comparable with previous data, or other data. That is, if you like, a (sort of vulgarised, abbreviated) description of how you might do it. But suppose you have crunched the numbers in this sense, then what is this artifact you have obtained? Can you really say you have measured the kinship relations of the nation? Well, you cannot in truth say that. All you can say is that you have measured some "aspects" or "dimensions" of kinship relations. It is not the total story of kinship relations, and you may not even be able to tell for sure how accurate your measurement is, beyond comparing different data sets. Nothing is easier for an scholar or researcher to come along and buy some data, in order to prove or disprove a theory he entertains about "kinship relations in the nation", but really even after all the work that has been done, there's still not a lot you can validly say about the topic compared to what there really is out there. But there are some things that you can validly say about the data, and so the whole "art" then becomes one of knowing what you can validly claim about the data. Why say all this maybe dreary stuff? Because I tend to think that, if you just accepted these capital compositions and movements as given, THEN you have already thrown in the towel. You don't throw in the towel, if you study what these capital movements actually mean in reality. But that could take years and years of solid empirical and theoretical research, including the question of how I can best go about getting to know this? Theory may provide some quick shortcuts, but in the end, if you really want to understand what you are dealing with, well, it takes a lot of factfinding. Anyway, I am now going to take my towel and dry myself, I am starting to feel a bit wet here, for some reason... :-) Cheers, Jurriaan PS - I often think these days that people have forgotten what theory is, and what its purpose is; "theory" might be more a metaphor to choreograph their lives with. Hell, if I had that salary, I'd be away laughing :-) Actually I didn't not even mention previously that "intermediate consumption" also includes some "faux frais of production" (incidental expenses) which are not (in Marx's opinion) Cc but that is another story.
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