Survival Guide to Grand Theorizing and the Central Dogma of Social Science

Shing-Chung Jonathan Yam


Grand theorizing and empirical (quantitative or qualitative) research are often separately conducted. In this paper, the separation in question is traced from scholars' differential observance of the yardsticks of the philosophical, scientific and literary/historical methods respectively. The philosophical method relies on deduction and develops into grand theorizing by adding assumptions stemming from life experience, leading to conceptual fluidity. Contrarily, the scientific method relies on experiments, which produce more determinable outcomes as asserted by Popper's (1959) falsificationism. The literary/historical method shares this commitment to determinacy by providing in-depth understanding of space time-specific events/meanings. The roles of grand theorizing and empirical research are reviewed: grand theorizing provides categorical schemes, organizes assumptions into perspectives, uncovers hidden assumptions and generates arguments, while empirical research facilitates contextualized comparisons and generates theory. The other side of the story is then presented with the Central Dogma of Social Science, which limits the scope and determinacy of any social understanding with an inverse relationship. The central dogma constrains the possibility of social knowledge and, through institutionalized practice such as the acceptance of journal articles or staff promotion, academic development. For grand theorizing to 'survive', it needs to identify and reembrace its yardstick, which could then lead to confident communication with results generated by other methods.


philosophy of social science; epistemology; sociology of knowledge; scope; determinacy

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Print ISSN 1330-0288 | Online ISSN 1848-6096