I study the work of mathematicians. I don’t call them informants but participants, because “informants” is a horrible word. Some of my participants enjoy being part of the research and take pains to explain and verbalise stuff to make it clearer to me, in the hope that I can then relay it to other non-mathematicians in an understandable way; and that maybe I can even manage to tell them something INTERESTING and NOT WRONG about themselves. Others are sceptical about what sociology can do. Yet others have rather wrong ideas of what sociology is about, so I have to explain. Yet others know about quantitative sociology, but have no idea what qualitative methods can do and why they have some advantages and how qualitative “data” is collected and used. But all of them, even the most polite ones, basically suspect that sociology tends to overcomplicate things, even when things can be simplified (though they do acknowledge that of course there are some things that are complex and need to be discussed in a complex way). I agree with them. In fact, before I started this project I was very disheartened by all the bullshit. This research has given me some of my lost hope in sociology. It has shown me that I’m not crazy or stupid simply because I don’t like bullshit, and because I am convinced that social scientists must be committed to explaining stuff in a variety of possible ways, from the simple to the nuanced, according to what’s most appropriate, and that we must not use more nuance where less will suffice.
So, I think many of the mathematicians would applaud the spirit of Kieran Healy’s article below, called “Fuck Nuance”. It is tongue in cheek, but it makes an important point.
(Though the mathematicians probably won’t read the article itself, because it exemplifies the very fault it is criticising, by being very long and full of… let’s be polite and call it “nuance”. Here is the place to admit that I also couldn’t read it).
The background: https://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2015/08/31/fuck-nuance/
And the article: http://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/fuck-nuance.pdf