A working philosophy of social science

For the past seventeen years I have clumsily staggered toward hopefully answering—at least partially—two big questions about social and political change:

  1. What will work? (i.e. In pursuit of building a more socially just, ecologically sustainable, compassionate, and participatory world, what will be effective? What can get us from Point A to Point B?)
  2. What’s in the way? (i.e. What constraints do we face, both inside our groups and movements and in relation to larger structures and society?)

The first question has led me toward a framework of hegemonic contestation (in concert with capacity-building operations). The second question has led me to a long list of overlapping pitfalls. Both questions have led me to study political behavior. A study of political behavior demands a deeper study of human behavior itself, and has predictably led to many more questions: What are key patterns of human behavior, in groups and as individuals? What motivates us? How and when do our motivations and actions become politicized? What are the relationships between groups, identities, and solidarities? How and under what circumstances do different solidarities become compelling?

I have long been fascinated by the internal dynamics of groups — particularly of social movement groups, but really I am fascinated by all kinds of groups. I want to understand what goes on under the surface. A social change organization’s stated purpose may be the achievement of X objective, but its members may stay motivated for the long haul at least as much because of feelings of belonging and other social benefits. I want to better understand the whole picture of human behavior: the verbalized, the conscious, the preconscious, the primal, etc. Continue reading