- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave; New Ed edition (25 Nov. 1982)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0333280725
- ISBN-13: 978-0333280720
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 939,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Rules of Sociological Method: And selected texts on sociology and its method (Contemporary Social Theory) Paperback – 25 Nov 1982
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By way of providing a speculative contemporary illustration, it has been reported that suicide rates among American soldiers in Iraq are higher than in previous conflicts. Could this be due to the the fact that the character of individual soldiers has changed such that the one's fighting in Iraq are less capable of withstanding the merciless stress of combat than soldiers in earlier wars? It's possible. But can we think of a plausible, in principle testable, alternative explanation that is social in character and does not rely on reference to individual traits?
The war in Iraq is unique in that National Guard and Reserve units comprise 40 percent of the total fighting force. With the exception of the very beginning of the Korean War, the National Guard and Reserve have not played a combat role in past conflicts, being kept at home for domestic duties. When compared with the regular army, National Guard and Reserve units are poorly trained, lacking in discipline and conditioning, very short on experienced officers and non-commissioned officers, and commonly use obsolete, poorly maintained equipment.
Because of these deficiencies, when National Guard and Reserve units are thrown into combat, they perform ineffectively, with high casualty rates and little success in attaining their assigned objectives, which may be ambiguous to begin with. As a result, instead of becoming a more unified and cohesive fighting force with close interpersonal ties and a shared culture of effective combat, the units tend to disintegrate. Their experience is characterized by cultural chaos and loss of social anchorages; a shared set of experientially determined norms of combat does not develop. In other words, to use concepts taken from Durkheim, the National Guard and Reserve units tend to be anomic (culturally deregulated) and egoistic (devoid of a sense of belonging).
All this, including higher suicide rates, anomie, and egoism are the opposite of what one would expect of an effective fighting force. Instead, we would expect an experientially determined culture of effective combat to be shared by the members of such a unit, and strong interpersonal bonds of membership would be forged among them.
Durkheim's own empirical research demonstrated that groups characterized by dysfunctional levels of anomie and egoism were also characterized by comparably high suicide rates. Varying levels of anomie and egoism were the social forces. Comparably varying suicide rates were the social facts. Anomie and egoism as social properties cannot be reduced to individual characteristics, because they are properties of social systems. These inherently social properties are manifest in social facts, such as suicide rates which vary in predictable ways.
Too much, I think, has been made of the inherently positivistic character of Durkheim's perspective. Yes, it is positivistic to the core, relying on good quality measurement an sound statistical analysis. But all that just puts it in the mainstream of American sociology. Besides, even the most stringently positivistic research requires interpretation, and Durkheim's interpretations, following from his preliminary theoretical work, are simply brilliant.
As an addendum, since I wrote this review, I have been informed by current members of the Guard and Reserves that my take on typical deficiencies of units to which they belong is informed too much by things I saw when I was drafted in '65 and too little by a much improved current state of affairs. As a result, it seems best to take my characterization of Guard and Reserve units as hypothetical, as in IF they were as described ... For those now serving, I apologize for being stuck in a decade long past.