That's interesting

31 October 2005

I was at a seminar to day with Anne Huff when she mentioned an old article by Murray Davis. We’ll I’m always a sucker for a good reference, so I dutifully went and had a look at Google. The first reference it through up (which has a bit of summary of the article) provided enough information for me to get a copy of the original article. So these are my notes on the article. Oh, I don’t intended to summarise the article (what’s the point of that), rather I want to get my thoughts down as to how this article helps my thinking on strategy-as-practice.

A theorist is considered great not because of the truth of falsity of what they say, but because what they say is interesting. So this article seeks to discover what is interesting. As an aside I recall that in other fields of (positivist) research, greatness has been defined not so much by interestingness but also by the elegance of the theory. I’m sure David Barry would have something to say here about elegance and aesthetics.

Anyway, back to the article by Davis. What is particular interesting to me (and here is the link to strategy-as-practice) is the idea that an interesting idea is one that shows that “What seems to be assorted heterogeneous phenomena are in reality composed of a single element” (Davis, 1971, p. 315). and that bq. Many natural and social scientists have made their reputations by pointing out that the appearance of a natural or social phenomena is an illusion and that what the phenomenon really consists of lies “below’ its surface. Their “profound’ insight is considered especially interesting when these theorists also assert that the “fundamental’ nature (“depth structure’) of the phenomenon contradicts the surface impression, as, for example the seemingly continuous appearance of a table is contradicted by the discreet molecules of which it is actually composed.

Much of the dialogue in the Strategy-as-practice arena is about the relationship between the macro and the micro. And yet. And yet, I have never really been convinced that such a distinction is warranted. As yet, I don’t have much to support that—other ontological/epistemological stances such as Garfinkle’s ethnomethodology (1967) would adopt a similar stance to mine—but I need to find a way to justify my position within my ontological/epistemological stance.

Once the division between the micro and the macro is removed, then we can concentrate on (and here I flip back into the “old’ terminology) how the micro impacts the macro. To end with, I think this article is useful in understanding why some articles really seem to work, whilst others just seem to say nothing of-note.

References

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting: Towards a phenomenology of sociology and a sociology of phenomenology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1(4), 309–344.

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


_Abstract to Davis’s _That’s interesting__

QUESTION: How do theories which are generally considered interesting differ from theories which are generally considered non-interesting?

ANSWER: Interesting theories are those which deny certain assumptions of their audiences, while non interesting theories are those which affirm certain interests of their audience. This answer was arrived at through the examination of a number of famous social, and especially sociological, theories. That examination also generated a systematic index of the variety of propositional firms which interesting and non-interesting theories may take. The fertility of this approach suggests a new field be established called the Sociology of the Interesting, which is intended to supplement the Sociology of Knowledge. This new field will be phenomenological orientated in so far as it will focus on the movement of the audience’s mind from one accepted theory to another. It will be sociologically orientated in so far as it will focus in the dissimilar base-line theories of he various sociological categories which compose the audience. In addition to its value in interpreting the social impact of theories, the Sociology of the Interesting can contribute to our understanding of both the common sense and scientific perspectives on reality.