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Susquehanna University Press

     

 

A Schema for Unifying Human Science: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Culture
Author: Rick Szostak
ISBN 1-57591-060-8

This book develops a schema, consisting of phenomena of interest to human scientists, and the causal links (influences) which exist among these. The value and validity of the schema are illustrated by studying causal links to and from cultural phenomena. Six broad lessons are drawn from this unique approach for research and teaching in the area of culture.

A mixture of deduction and induction are used to derive the list of phenomena. The author strives for logical divisions of phenom-ena into their constituent parts ("unpacking"). The author also read extensively across all human science disciplines and ensured that all phenomena encountered found an appropriate place within the schema. Often, though not always, a considerable degree of scholarly consensus exists on how best to unpack certain phenomena. Where consensus does not exist, the author discusses the advantages and disadvantages of his preferred classification.

The schema can be justified philosophically, especially with respect to the realist philosophy of Bhaskar. It also provides an answer to postmodern concerns about the complexity of human societies, but an answer that avoids the despair of some postmodernists that enhanced understanding is impossible. And the schema can form the basis of a powerful response to several modern critiques of the Liberal Arts. In particular, it allows us to argue that there is an integrated core of knowledge at the heart of the Liberal Arts, and one moreover in which concerns about cultural diversity and social structure are front and center.

The first broad lesson for the study of cul-ture is that we can only comprehend the role of culture in human societies by unpacking culture into its constituent phenomena. Un-packing also allows us to sail between the twin dangers of cultural bigotry (where one argues that one's culture is superior to an-other) and cultural relativism (where one es-chews criticism of any cultural element, even cannibalism or wife beating, in any society). The second lesson is that a full understanding of culture requires the study of hundreds or thousands of causal links. It is folly to think that any one theory or method can guide us. The approach taken in this book brings this point home forcefully. The third lesson fol-lows from the second: while unifying theories or methods are attractive due to a false promise of simplicity, they inevitably guide us to ignore much that is crucial to our understanding. The fourth lesson is that cul-tural phenomena both influence and are influ-enced by other phenomena: the all too com-mon practice of treating culture as only cause or effect is thus inherently misguided. The fifth lesson is that our schema serves as a cru-cial antidote to the siren song of grand theory and oversimplification. And the sixth lesson is that the schema serves an important pedagogi-cal role: it allows instructors to cover a wide range of material and students to integrate this into a coherent whole.