The Scandal of Generic Models in the Social Sciences
Abstract: Despite overwhelming evidence that many aspects of human cognition are highly context-dependent, generic (that is models that are supposed to hold across different contexts) abound, including: most models of rationality and decision making, and most models that are based on statistically fitting equations to data. Context itself, especially social context, has been systematically by-passed by both quantitative and qualitative researchers. Quantitative researchers claim to be only interested in those patterns that are cross-context. Qualitative researchers only deal with accounts within context. Neither tackle the nature of context itself: how it works, in what ways it impacts upon behaviour.
Dealing with context is notoriously hard: the concept is slippery and its effects hard to identify. However, I claim it is not impossible to research. A combination of rich datasets and newer computational methods could help (a) identify some social contexts and (b) relate what happens within a context to how contexts are collectively constructed. Such a step could help relate quantitative and qualitative evidence in a way that is better founded and hence, perhaps, open the way to the unification of the social sciences as a coherent discipline.
Slides available at: http://www.slideshare.net/BruceEdmonds/scandal-of-generic-models-gronigen-v3