Conflict Methodology

No. 017

Conflict Moments in Critical Methodology

T. R. Young

Colorado State University
Fort Collins

Richard B. Howard
Robert M. Christie

California State University
Dominguez Hills

Feb., 1977


Distributed as part of the
TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.


redfeth.gif (6856 bytes)ARCHIVES

of  the


of the




Conflict Moments in Critical Methodology


Some of the ways in which critical methodology is in conflict with the "normal" assumptions of social research in contemporary sociology are explored and explained. The moments of a critical methodology which are in conflict with American sociology begin with a criticism of the epistemological assumptions and end with overt conflict with the officers of the ASA and its various publications. In between are moments of conflict with the "alienation of sociology," with sociology as commodity, with sociology as techne, with the values of contemporary sociology as well as its meta-scientific assumptions. Critical methodology is opposed to ideological hegemony as well as to mono-paradigmatic methodology found in contemporary sociology. Critical methodology also moves from the sphere of conflict in pure science to conflict against the structures of domination erected by elites. All those and more place critical methodologists in conflict with established methodology and with American sociology as it becomes midwife to the managed society.

In stratified societies, consensus methodology tends to reproduce existing relations, to establish an ideological hegemony about what constitutes proper science--theory and methodology alike, and to discourage public account ability of the scientific product. A critical methodology, on the other hand takes as its appropriate moments of conflict the stratification system itself, the ideological hegemony which stratification requires and the scientific values which are given forth as justification for that monolithic vision of science. In other papers, the authors have discussed the issues in the philosophy of science which 1nform critical methodology, some theoretical foundations of conflict methodology, the political economy of American methodology as well as some specifications of what a conflict methodology is like.

In this paper, we would like to give more attention to the latter point and try to lay out for those interest in the politics of social research some of the specific points of conflict for a critical methodology in th1s historical setting. Before we do that we would like to repeat from earlier papers what conflict methodology (CM) is and 1s not. CM is emphatically not research technique per se. It is not an attempt to encourage research on conflict situations as many conservative sociologists take it to be. Nor is it an attempt to use sc1ence as a means to resolve conflict within the existing social paradigm as many on the left have argued. Rather, CM is a self-conscious attempt to transform American sociology from a profession of technocratic elites to a human science founded on critical consciousness and designed to restore control over soc1al forms by human communities. Others have spoken of the alienation of work, alienation of religion, alienation of state and the al1enation of self. Here we speak of the alienation of sociology. By this phrase we mean and have said that sociology alienates its research subjects in any number of ways: (l) by its reduction to individual cases and the neglect of the total social framework, (2) by constituting the basic technology of management and thus defeating the capacity for praxis in its subjects, (3) by divorcing itself from its research subject and thus assigning to itself the social power which supports it. (4) by converting sociology 1nto a commod1ty to be purchased by those with ready cash. (5) by joining with other rational-purposive institutions as an alien force used aga1nst the human 1nterest in change end renewal 1 and (6) by enjoining its own practitioners, sociologists themselves, to stand apart from the suffering, anguish, and outrage mounted by the users of commodity science--factory owners, land developers, the police state, public relations firms, politicians, school administrators and professional managers. The division of labor in the production of social research and the one-sided consumption of social research violates the requirements of participation theory (Young, 1975); that the masses must not be excluded from the process by which any form of culture is produced. At the same time, such a division of labor, under the banner of objectivity and technical expertise, constitutes a scientific elite on the one hand and a mass society just that much more the poorer by such exclusion.

It is against such an alienated sociology that critical theory takes as its major point of conflict and opposition. It is against that kind of alienated social research which conflict methodology takes as its major target of conflict.

Specific Moments of Conflicts: The Epistemology of American Sociology. Conflict methodology opposes the hegemony of logical empiricism in statistical analyses. We agree with other critical theorists that the ways by which human knowledge is acquired are manifold. While logical-empiricism has some limited usefulness especially to those interested in prediction, control and in a mechanistic world-order in which these can be found, still there are other forms of knowledge and other kinds of social worlds in which logical-empiricism is useless. To the extent human behavior is creative, to that extent it is unique. As such it does not lend itself to regression analysis or to measures of association and correlation. The mechanistic model of causality which is implicit in logical-empiricism simply does not apply to the world of intending humans who can work with missing elements in a given causal matrix; who can construct and dismantle social reality with, judgment rather than as a consequence of "external" causes; who can invert, improvise oppose, and subvert those devices which bring order, predictability, and manipulation into the human sphere. Rules, laws, orders, sanctions, and suppression underlie what predictability and control is found in the human experience. These can be reified by means of legal coercion; by means of technical control; by means of persuasion or by scientific fiat about what is "natural," coexistent, or causally significant.

To the extent scientific fiat is used as a technique of domination based upon the improper reification of social relations under the guise of "correlation," "significance," "strength of association," "accounting For the variance," or other code words, the world of the absolute and the eternal tends to replace the actual world of seething, changing, interpreted human activity. The critical methodologist has no great political bias against order, predictability and regularity in the affairs of human beings. We raise the question of how that order is obtained. We oppose the use of scientific fiat as a solution to the problem of order just as we oppose the use of the police state as a solution to the problem of order. We take as a point of departure an assumption that order should be normative and that it should be a product of cooperative human beings. he oppose as a mystification scientific dictates which purport to generalize and eternalize a social order in constant turmoil, conflict and change.

We agree with Habermas (1972) that there are at least three different kinds of human interest in three different kinds of knowledge requiring at least three different kinds of methodology The human interest in prediction and control is well served by logical-empiricism and provide positive knowledge of what social structures are being produced as a matter of routine as well as the consequences of such structures. The human interest in intersubjective understanding cannot be served by a logical-empiricism since social facts are the product of intending human beings and do not exist ontologically apart from inter-subjective agreement among communicating humans. Nor is any research methodology founded upon a mechanistic model of causality appropriate for gaining knowledge about intersubjective states.

Intersubjective states (social relationships, social meanings, social occasions, and social identities) have an internal causality based upon the transaction toward meaning which confounds a methodology geared to establish external cause. Intersubjective states assume, tolerate, and require "counterfactuality;" an understanding that things prophesied as true are not really true but may become; should become true in some future state. Thus truth is not always the object of scientific research but rather the folk methods (ethnomethods) by which social truth is brought about.

While the positive knowledge produced by logical-empiricism; quantification and inference about statistical regularities and association serves the human interest in order, and while scientific studies in phenomenology, ethnomethodology and dramaturgical analysis serve the human interest in intersubjective understanding, a third human interest informs critical methodology; that human interest in change and renewal--in resistance, rebellion and revolution.

Conflict Moments: Objectivity: A critical methodology rejects the dogmas of science which detach research from the struggles of workers, students, minorities, and from the oppressed everywhere. Such detachment is expressed in the values of objectivity, value-neutrality, and professionalism. Critical methodology is in conflict with those values. The objectivity claimed by social research is a spurious objectivity by which the sociologist evades accountability for the kind of methodology s/he uses and the consequent use to which knowledge produced by that methodology is put. We can see whet rough beast is born by consensus methodology and we name it oppression. Survey research is used to gull the consumer; polling is used to manipulate the voter; attitudinal research is used to identify the rebel and to manage the discontent.

Such a sociology; one geared to a managed society, must be placed in an historical context or else it is, itself, stripped of its sociology. The socio-historical context in which we place consensus sociology is one in which, over the past four hundred years, science has been replacing religion as the control apparatus in the natural world and, now, in the social life world. As capitalism, feudalism, and slavery required a more formal control mechanism thin religion.... police, law and court systems evolved as auxiliary control mechanisms. With the revolution toward popular democracies, social science is useful in controlling the alienated masses. Police brutality, stratified legal systems, and equality before the law are difficult to maintain in their contradiction. Sometimes capitalists go to jail, presidents are impeached, and workers get organized to fight against police violence. All in all management science is the preferred control apparatus in advanced capitalism to solve its problems of prediction and control of consumers, voters, students and the surplus population.

Critical methodology attempts to make visible the flaws in such a poorly designed social life world; it attempts to raise into the public realm for examination and for transformation the structures of oppression and domination. CM Is interested in creating worlds which have never been in addition to describing social life worlds as they are or have been. As such critical methodology is self-consciously value-full and its values are, themselves, subject to public discourse and determination.

By thus opposing the epistemology of American sociology in its present form and by thus opposing the values of professional sociology, critical theory is in conflict with the myth of consensus at the meta-scientific level.

Conflict Moments: Information Acquisition
Conflict methodology is also interested in breaking the link between established power and scientific practice. Where there are barriers to the generation of adequate information about the day-to-day operation of social institutions in the public or "private" sector. conflict methodology reserves the right to make reasoned ethical and scientific judgment about access to data where the public interest is at stake. The public interest stands in conflict to the special interest of organizational elites in secrecy. To abide by a code of "ethics" which safeguard bureaucratic rules of secrecy in business, military, governmental, or educational agencies reduces the sociologist to the servant of power. CM takes as its only client the human interest in informed critique and collective change. Thus we affirm the emancipatory interest as the central ethical criterion for the guidance of social research. The goal which informs the emancipatory interest is always the creation of community and the enhancement of praxis. 2

We are in opposition and overt conflict to spurious claims of "privacy" for the powerful organizations as well as the practice of doing research on powerless individuals without their informed consent. As we oppose coercion and intimidation as well as management and manipulation, we oppose the invasion of the privacy of the individual. We subscribe to the principles of compelling cause and due process for the protection of personal affairs. We do not confuse between personal affairs and public affairs however and use the one as cover for the other.

Generally we oppose research centered on the individual and support research centered on the various forms of social organization, especially the large and powerful corporations which dominate public life in the production and consumption of material, ideological and political culture.

Conflict Moments: Praxis Sociology
Critical Methodology is in conflict with the practice of sociology as a technical specialty. While consensus methodology leaves the larger questions of purpose, place, and design to the purchasers and contractors of commodity science, conflict methodology is an active, combative praxis (Markovic, 1975) for all social research. While we intend to explore and expand the relationship between praxis and conflict methodology in a future paper, at present we would like to emphasize the contrast between the two theories of method implicit in sociology as techne and sociology as praxis.

Sociological praxis, in this context, has several attributes: first and foremost, it is social in that it is pointed at a social life world in which human relationships are strong, warm and mutually supportive. It is social in that the research client is an active partner in creating the research objectives, research design, analytic strategies, and is the beneficiary of the research. It is social in that a praxis sociology helps contribute to the capacity of human beings to create culture. It is social in that it stands with the poor, the oppressed, the exploited and the alienated against those systems which diminish the human condition including sociology itself.

It is intentional in asserting that one is an active agent in selecting categories of analysis as well as choosing the social paradigm out of which one works. It is creative in that its techniques are modified or transcended in a given historical research occasion. It is rational in that the practitioner has conscious social goals which the research is designed to advance and, finally, it contributes to self-realization of the sociologist as scientist and as fellow-man by the embodiment of the full potential of one's art, craft, genius, and effort in the service of other human beings. One combative moment of conflict methodology is pointed to overt, sustained and critical opposition to restriction of science to techne.

Conflict Moments: Specialization
Critical methodology is in conflict with the increasing specialization of sociology, steadily narrowing fields of inquiry and producing a growing isolation between sociological specialties. Such a process fragments human knowledge and thus impairs the ability to gauge the effects of specialized knowledge on the total social fabric. Such specialization impairs a quest for a complete, holistic understanding of society and thus, reduces our ability to master and to transform the world in a coherent, purposive way. The reintegration of sociology is necessary that it may be critically evaluated and itself transformed. This means that graduate schools must be radically changed. Not only the narrow specialization (centered on techniques) must be subordinative to more general and substantive content but sociology education must establish linkages to philosophy and to economics as well as to psychology in order to repair the harm done to an inbred and distorted sociological profession.

Conflict Moments: Graduate Education
The temptation to mass produce sociologists in capital intensive modes is also to be opposed. Education is labor intensive: small classes, prolonged relationships, intimacy and mutuality in the relationships between students themselves as well as the relationship between students and faculty. The ancient utopia of Plato in which educated persons were to study the various arts and sciences until age forty must be modified such that study continues apace even after "certification" without infantilization, domination or exploitation. There is simply too much to learn in the too few years allocated to graduate study and, for the most part, trivial things are taught at the expense of the important things.

It is a truism that sociologists are "narrow specialists" embarrassingly ignorant of everything outside his/her own field. The pursuit of sociological knowledge can be a joy and an exercise in profound ecstasy or it can be a drudgery. Ideally it is comprised of 90% ecstasy and 10 percent drudgery. Modern graduate education in sociology has reversed those ratios. Graduate students, organized to compete as individuals are embarrassed and dismayed by the sheer stupidity or complicity of a faculty more interested in personal aggrandizement than in sociological imagination. Petty jealousies, petty pride, petty politics degrade and disillusion the graduate student. To these a critical science is opposed. We are in conflict with the curricula and with the mode of organization of graduate study in American sociology.

Conflict Moments: Monolithic Science
Critical theory embraces a conflict moment in its opposition to a monolithic paradigm installed as "true science." We advocate and insist upon critical pluralism in sociology. We recognize that given social paradigms inform and produce different scientific paradigms. We reject the position (Stinchombe 1971; Homans, 1969) that paradigmatic conflict in science implies a pre-scientific era and that; a uniform, consensually accepted mono-paradigmatic will evolve as sociology "matures." the position of critical methodologists is that conflict and pluralism are to be regarded as the "normal" condition of sociology. We retain pluralism as a theoretical foundation for revolutionary science and the continued development of sociology as a human enterprise. The dialectic between different methodologies promises not only to produce qualitatively new techniques but also qualitatively new paradigms which then may enter back into society in the service of human liberation. A monolithic vision of methodology aborts the dialectic in the moment of its institutionalization and reduces the self-transforming character presumed to be intrinsic in both theory and method.

Conflict Moments The A.S.A.
As a matter of practical necessity, critical methodology is in conflict with the present custodians of American sociology. In particular, the advocates of conflict methodology are in conflict with the President of the American Sociological Association and the officers of the Program Committee as well as the functionaries in the Washington office of the ASA. With the exception of William Goode, every president of the ASA since 1970 has declined to add a session on conflict methodology as the annual meetings. While Blau can see no merit in the idea and Hawley finds conflict methodology to be incomprehensible, others find technical reasons for declining a request to add a session (Blau: 1973; Hawley, 1977). Some, as for example Yinger, simply do not respond to the request. We do not suggest any organized conspiracy for the singular resistance to requests for sessions on conflict methodology--only a professional blindness to critical theory and its everyday manifestation in social research. Good, gentle, kindly sociologists living in a well ordered and rewarding milieu do not see the need for a critical, combative methodology.

As the crises in American capitalism continues to erode the tax base, to withdraw resources from sociology departments and research projects, as the number of surplus sociologists grows, as irrationality of American capitalism continues to be revealed in the various quality of life variables, American sociologists as individuals and as a professional group will no longer live that quiet, comfortable life of the research entrepreneur or that of commodity scholarship. Insulated as we have been from inflation (by yearly salary increase,, from crime (by judicious choice of residence), from unemployment (by government subsidies to universities and by research grants), and from the anguish of the surplus population (by our choice of scholarly endeavor), we American sociologists have benefited from the affluence of American capitalism as it extracted the surplus value of labor from workers at home and abroad.

But the happy days of academic prosperity are over. The markets of American capitalism are captured by German and Japanese capitalists. the socialist liberation movement has removed millions from the market place. The need for a huge and costly military apparatus preempts the federal budget. Deficit spending has its limits and its results in inflation. All such developments in the political economy will eventually be felt in the profession ant the orientation to a critical methodology will come to have merit and make sense to future generations of American sociologists. Until the time that there is a sufficient base of support for a critical methodology as a "normal" part of the sociological endeavor, it is necessary to engage in overt conflict with the officers of the ASA who respond to a like-minded constituency.

Such self-proclaimed "obtuseness" (Hawley: 1977) in the part of ASA officers carries over to ASA functionaries. It is difficult to get announcements of available papers of the Transforming Sociology Series into Footnotes. Attempts to communicate with members of the ASA via Footnotes has met with delaying tactics (Myers: 1976) and by refusal to publish material (Mauksch: 1977).

Conflict Moments: The Journals
Attempts to publish articles on conflict methodology has been met with better if spotty success. Sociological Inquiry and The Sociological Quarterly have published articles on conflict methodology rejected by the "more prestigious" journals. On every level of professional activity and organization, critical methodology stands in conflict with the present custodians of American sociology.

In so much as conflict methodologists reject the scientific monopoly of analytic-empiricism, we also are in overt opposition to the monopoly in sociology journals by quantification and statistical analysis. While these have a place in sociology--an important place--qualitative analysis if done well is also important. That qualitative analysis, by placing positive knowledge in a broader context of historical movements or in generating knowledge of the way in which people experience everyday life can yield more in meaning and in understanding than can the quantitative work by itself. As the founders of Qualitative Methodology say, broad theoretical issues, humanistic concerns and qualitative methods are stifled in professional sociology by exclusion from its Journals.

In the journals, in the meetings, in the graduate departments, in the text books and in the classroom, critical methodology is committed to a permanent revolution in social theory and methodology.

Conflict methodology thus extends the dialectical proposition that the real world is changed by both our theoretical knowledge and criticism of it, to the more organizational proposition that the methods of change may themselves be similar to the methodology of sociological understanding.

Concluding Remarks
Conflict Methodologists then learn about the world in the practical activity of transforming it. The productive life of the sociologist is the life of a society--it's capacity to sustain human life: social justice, adequate material base for the production of culture in its manifold forms, social relationships, praxis, and the dignity of human individuals. The practical activity of the conflict methodologist is to provide the material base for social revolution: positive knowledge, interpretation, and critical analysis of existing social forms in terms of the life-giving capacity of a society. Facts, analyses, critiques, and fictive social worlds become material as they awaken the consciousness of and mobilize the quest for alternative social life worlds by the alienated, the oppressed, the dispirited, and the morally dead. Conflict methodologists need not wait for a general consensus in its professional associations that the world requires radical transformation. The need is there for any fool to see. The size of the surplus population, the rise in crime, the fascist proclivities of the state, the abuse of children at home and the despair of children in school, the growth of the capital corporation in power and control of the market, the militarization of the federal budget, the support of client military states by the U.S. as well as the cost o food, shelter, medica1 care, and transport for the surplus population, all bespeak the crisis in capitalism.

In 1845, in his "Theses on Feuerbach" Marx offered his final and perhaps most remembered methodological thesis: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is, to change it."

In a letter to Ruge, Marx laid the basis for so doing and thus for a critical methodology: We must engage in the relentless criticism of everything existent--this means a criticism of consensus methodology for those interested In the human use of social knowledge and in a sociology geared to community and to praxis rather than to management and domination by an elite.


1. The term rational-purposive institutions here refers to those institutions which effectively control the alienated elements of the population through the principles of a management science founded upon commodity psychology and sociology. They include educational and welfare bureaucracies, prisons, military, the police as well as that part of medicine using chemotherapy, behavior mod, electronics and its authority to control those persons whose behavior is not rational; i.e., predictable and manageable in terms of the goals determined by class elites. Return

2. The marxian point of departure here is that human beings create themselves as humans as they create those social relationships in great variety which comprise community. . .that as human beings, praxis is necessary else the human subject is reduced to passive objectivity. Return


Blau, Peter M.
1973 "Correspondence on conflict methodology between Peter M. Blau, ASA President and T. R. Young, Director: The Red Feather Institute." Footnotes l:9(December):5.
Christie, Robert M., and Richard Brandt Hovard
1975 "The State and Future of Conflict Methodology." Unpublished proposal submitted to the American Sociological Association.
Christie, Robert M.
1976 "Comment on Conflict Methodology: A protagonist position." Sociological Quarterly 17:4 (Fall).
Christie, Robert M., Richard B. Hovard, and T. R. Young
1977 "The Rise of Conflict Methodology and the Transformation of American Sociology" The Red Feather Institute, Transforming Sociology Series.
Collins, Randall
1969 "Sociology-building." Berkeley Journal of Sociology 14:73-83.
Crocker, David
1976 "Markovic on Marxian Methodology." The Red Feather Institute Transforming Sociology Series.
Habermas, Jurgen
1971 Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hawley, Amos
1977 Correspondence with T. R. Young
Homans, George C.
1967 The Nature of Social Science. New York: Herder and Herder.
Hovard, Richard B.
1971 "Theoretical reduction: The Limits and Alternation to Reductive Methods in Scientific Explanation." Philosophy of Social Science. 1:83-100.
Lehmann, Timothy and T. R. Young
1974 "From Conflict Theory to Conflict Methodology: An Emerging Paradigm for Sociology." Sociological Inquiry 44(1):15-28.
Lowry, Ritchie P.
1972 "Toward a Sociology of Secrecy and Security Systems." Social Problems 19:437-50.
Lundman and McFarlane
1976 "Conflict Methodology: An Introduction and Preliminary Assessment." Sociological Quarterly 17:4 (Fall).
Markovic, Mihallo
1974 From Affluence to Praxis. Ann Arbor Press
Mauksch, Hans
1976 Correspondence with T. R. Young.
Myers, Alice.
1976 Correspondence with T. R. Young
Ravetz, Jerome R.
1971 Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems. New York Oxford Press.
Schaff, Adam
1970 Marxism and the Human Individual. New York, McGraw-Hill
Stinchombe, Arthur L.
1971 The Organization of Explanation in Sociology. Del Mar, California: CRM Books, Inc.
Warwick, Donald P.
1974 "Who Deserves Protection?" The American Sociologist 9:158-159.
Young, T. R.
1971 "Goffman, Gouldner and Garfinkel: The Politics of Science." The American Sociologist. 6:4.

1976 "Theoretical Foundations of Conflict Methodology." Sociological Inquiry. 46:1.

1971-1977 Correspondence with various S.A. Presidents, Committee Members and Functionaries.

1975 "Some Principles of Participation Theory,'' The Red Feather Institute.

Logo.gif (1562 bytes)