For more than half a century there has been a deep malaise in the social sciences. The gap between empirical and theoretical research is accompanied by a divorce between the researchers: those undertaking empirical studies and those who seek theoretical syntheses scarcely communicate at all, and sometimes appear to inhabit very remote planets. On the empirical side, techniques of investigation have become ever more refined and sophisticated, and the results generated, from qualitative as well as quantitative methods, pile up year on year. But even more pressing becomes the question as to how these results contribute to a better understanding of social life. Do they provide us with better criteria of decision and action? Do they improve our explanations of social reality, and our grasp of the forces regulating social change? It is widely agreed that the empirical work would be better aimed were it based on firmer theoretical underpinnings. For example, before gathering data, several choices are necessary: the field of observations must be specified, as must the relevant objects within this field (agents, attitudes, values, organisations, social classes, institutions, and so on); those facts considered pertinent must be identified; variables and indicators must be chosen. Most often these choices are guided by common sense and received wisdom. It would be preferable were we able to give them a theoretical foundation. But how can this be achieved? How can theory be given its rightful place at the heart of empirical research?
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