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Pluralizing social science

Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus

The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations (C of I) was not a book that I had any long-standing plans to write. The manuscript did, however, grow out of two related and long-standing frustrations that I had with discussions in Political Science in general and International Relations in particular about research design, causation, and the basic contours of knowledge-production. First of all, people seemed to invariably conflate questions of method or technique with questions of methodology or strategy of inquiry. Thus we had and continue to have rather problematic contrasts between “qualitative” and “quantitative” ways of doing social research as though the decision to use or not to use numbers had any determinate bearing whatsoever on the epistemic status of particular empirical claims. But whether or not one uses numbers is a question of technique, not a question of strategy, and as such cannot have any such profound impact; this means that in conducting these debates about how to do our work, we are working with impoverished and misleading terminology. Second, and related, people drew on extremely thin and partial conceptions of “science” as a way of warranting their positions; this was equally true of scholars contrasting “explaining” and “understanding” as ways of knowing, and of scholars reducing the entire panoply of the philosophy of science to the triumvirate Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos as though those were the only three people to have ever intervened in the de-bate about how science worked. When I taught my Ph.D. seminar on the production of valid empirical knowledge—entitled “The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations”—I tried to allay both of these frustrations by equipping my students with a broader set of conceptual tools for thinking about these fundamental issues and articulating a defensible position with which they felt comfortable. This book derives from that seminar and from the frustrations that animated my pedagogy in that seminar.

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