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Elaboration and social science

Booth, M.A. (1988) Elaboration and social science. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Social science is in jeopardy, both from attempts to make it like other sciences, and from the emphasis on human creativity and meanings, which would embed studies of society within the humanities. The multiplicity of theoretical positions within the social sciences, along with that multiplicity which is present in any person's social understanding, needs analysing in terms neither of 'meaning', nor of 'context', but through an understanding of the process of 'elaboration', by which multiplicity develops. Rather than awaiting a new theoretical 'paradigm', permitting the integration of systematic knowledge about human society, social scientists need more mutual recognition of their already shared approach to understanding. Elaboration in intellectual work is, like the secondary process of Freud, a process utilizing both the heterogeneity of past understanding, and an awareness which goes beyond any previous interpretation; the interplay of these in elaboration brings together and articulates a new aspect of multiplicity.

Accounts of consciousness, and of epistemology and ontology, which do not lead to any sense of elaboration except that of the increasing of complexity by the adding of further details, are contrasted with the duality - in terms of the discrete and the holistic - which recent attempts at modelling brain functioning have suggested. By linking these to Freud's argument about the theoretical complexity required by any conceptualization of consciousness, the understanding of elaboration is developed and then traced in examples of recent usage.

Processes of fragmentation and integration occur in social change, as well as in the development of social understanding. In neither case is their 'truth' an appropriate criterion for responding to these elaborations. Evaluating their 'scope', and so taking account of the comprehensiveness of the elaborations, is more useful in the human condition of multiplicity. Judgments of scope are a basis for comparing positions that are incommensurable, i.e. relativism as an epistemological problem is replaced by the practical methodological issues introduced by considering the discrete and holistic aspects of any elaboration. The ontological interplay of discrete and holistic processes in social practices and institutions has been elaborated recently in ways invoking Freud's terminology; construing this as elaboration provides a way of conceiving the duality of social structure. Elaborating social understanding in terms of this way of representing structural and intellectual change underlines the importance for social science of criteria for evaluating the process of elaboration.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hill, Brian
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