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Chaos theory and social science : a methodological analysis

Chaos-Theorie und Sozialwissenschaft : eine methodologische Analyse
[journal article]

Faber, Jan; Koppelaar, Henk

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Abstract Der vorliegende Beitrag prüft die Relevanz der Chaos-Theorie für die Sozialwissenschaften. Die Anwendung von Chaos-Modellen zur Analyse von sozialen Phänomenen wirft einige wichtige methodologische Fragen auf. Chaos-Modelle sind nicht-lineare mathematische Modelle. Bei ihrer Anwendung auf soziale Probleme diskutieren die Autoren hauptsächlich die Frage der internen und externen Validität. Das Fazit der Ausführungen läßt sich wie folgt zusammenfassen: Den Sozialwissenschaften ist wenig mit der Anwendung elaborierter mathematischer Modelle gedient, wenn das theoretische Verständnis und Wissen über die zugrundeliegenden dynamischen Prozesse unzureichend ist. Erst wenn diese Voraussetzung erfüllt ist, lassen sich Modelle der Chaos Theorie in die Sozialwissenschaften mit Nutzen einbringen. (pmb)

'This article investigates the relevance of chaos theory for social science. The application of chaos models in the analysis of social phenomena is accompanied by some important scientific problems. First, whether observations of social phenomena are generated by nonlinear dynamics cannot be ascertained beyond considerable doubt, especially when these observations contain measurement errors; i.e., there is a problem of external validity. Secondly, and more important, as a theory of irregular cyclical social behaviour is lacking inductive-statistical theory-formation about such behaviour, which is based on fitting a mathematical model of chaos to observations of social phenomena, is impossible unless additional information is used concerning the context and circumstances wherein the social phenomena occur; i.e., the internal validity of any theoretical explanation that is derived from only a fitted mathematical model (of chaos) cannot be assessed. So, research into the suggestion derived from mathematical chaos theory that irregular cycles may be present in the development of social phenomena over time requires theory-formation about irregular cyclical social behaviour on the basis of established theoretical insights and empirical evidence instead of fitting sophisticated mathematical models of chaos to observations of social phenomena.' (author's abstract)
Keywords mathematization; model construction; utility; social science; theory; theory formation; validity; chaos
Classification General Concepts, Major Hypotheses and Major Theories in the Social Sciences; Methods and Techniques of Data Collection and Data Analysis, Statistical Methods, Computer Methods
Method basic research; development of methods; theory formation
Document language English
Publication Year 1995
Page/Pages p. 70-82
Journal Historical Social Research, 20 (1995) 1
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works