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Tarde’s idea of quantification

Latour, Bruno Paul Louis (2010) Tarde’s idea of quantification. In: Candea, Matei, (ed.) The social after Gabriel Tarde: debates and assessments. Routledge, London, 145 - 163. ISBN 9780203876312

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Identification Number: 10.4324/9780203876312


Numbers, numbers, numbers. Sociology has been obsessed by the goal of becoming a quantitative science. Yet it has never been able to reach this goal because of what it has defined as being quantifiable within the social domain. The work of Gabriel Tarde has been resurrected for many reasons. One of them, to be sure, is an acknowledgement of the diminishing returns of “social explanations.” In my view, however, it would be wrong to limit Tarde’s contribution to the theme of the “end of the social” (Latour 2002; Toews 2003). If he has become so interesting, if he is read with such great avidity today, it is also because he engaged sociology, and more generally the human sciences – history, geography, archeology, social psychology and above all economics – with a different definition of what it is for a discipline to be quantitative. (He also had an alternative definition of what it is to be a science, but this is another subject.) In the twentieth century, the schism between those who dealt with numbers and those who dealt with qualities was never bridged. This is a fair statement given that so many scholars have resigned themselves to being partitioned into those who follow the model of the “natural” sciences, and those who prefer the model of the “interpretive” or “hermeneutic” disciplines. All too often, fields have been divided between number crunching, devoid (its enemies claim) of any subtlety; and rich, thick, local descriptions, devoid (its enemies say) of any way of generalizing from these observations. Many domains have abandoned the hope of proving any point by transforming quantities into qualities, and qualities into quantities. Many in history or anthropology, as well as in sociology or psychology, have tried, but, at every occasion, the difficulties of reconciling the two types of proof have been so great that it is impossible to transition smoothly from one to the other. Many have despaired, as a consequence, of ever being able to develop a scientific social science; while others have claimed that this goal is no longer desirable, that the best that can be hoped for is to obtain some political or literary effects on readers.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: © 2010 The Editor
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2019 18:06
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2024 17:06

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