Meanwhile I served as Chairman of the Swedish Sociological Association 1972-74, Vice-President of the International Sociological Association (ISA) 1974-78; President of ISA 1978-82, and Vice-President of the International Social Science Council, Paris, 1981-86.
ResearchHaving been active in teaching sociology and in carrying out sociological research for more than 40 years, during periods when different theoretical approaches were dominant, either after each other successively, or simultaneously in competition with each other, I have inevitably become concerned with the relationships between such different theoretical approaches: various versions of structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism or marxicising mode-of-production types of analysis, and various normative models of governance vs. neo-liberal models of the market and rational choice The extent to which such approaches actually are complementary rather than competing and 'incompatible' with each other is a major theoretical concern of mine. If these approaches are focusing on different objects of knowledge rather than offering competing interpretations of the 'same' objects, then we must resolve the question how to manage the interlocking of such approaches in order to attain a more comprehensive if not complete coverage of what sociology is all about. If they are competitive rather than complementary, then we cannot avoid even more basic philosophical and ontological questions: What is the difference between 'scientific' and 'unscientific' approaches? What is the nature of the 'reality' that different competing approaches are claiming to cover and interpret? In searching for an interlocking model that allows us to combine contrasting normative and rationalistic approaches I have more recently become interested in so-called lexicographic preference theory which introduces the notion of a meta-preference rank order by which different kinds of preferences - economic, political, ‘stethic, ecological and ethical preferences, for instance - can be ranked along such a meta-preference rank order, the higher-ranking preferences always taking precedence over the lower-ranking ones in the making of 'rational' decisions, and where trade-offs are allowed only within, not between differently ranked preference sub-sets. But while there are several attempts to deal with this subject matter theoretically (Fishbein, Rawls and Sen, among others), there are few attempts to design valid empirical methods to establish the existence of lexicographic structures of preferences. During the last few years I have been carrying out comparative surveys of preferences regarding big-city environments in Nairobi and Stockholm to try out such empirical methods (published in conference papers), but while the results have been promising they are still not complete.
Another research interest of mine (which also relates theoretically to notions of lexicographic preference structures) concerns the understanding of the notions of primary and secondary social costs of a national economy, among common voters, politicians, leaders of the business community, and of course among social scientists. Primary social costs I define as those tax-financed costs that are covered through political legislation in developed social-welfare systems with full-employment policies; and by secondary social costs I mean unplanned and unintended costs emerging as an effect of a neglect of social-welfare, and employment matters, that is costs for unemployment benefits, costs for decreasing health among unemployed, costs for fighting vandalism, crime, violence, racist activities etc. among the unemployed, and other costs for the protection of the well-to-do against the effects of a neglect of primary social costs.
In the business community, and among mainstream economists there is a lot of talk about the so-called tax wedge, or tax disincentives which are supposed to hurt incentives for productive investments; but the secondary social costs are rarely given a fair theoretical treatment and understanding. A related question is whether so-called tax-disincentives can be neutralised by an international social contract involving the business community, trade unions and democratically elected politicians, and implying a normative commitment to cover the costs of full employment in health services, in education and in environmental efforts etc. Is the victorious capitalist market economy not strong enough to cover the costs of maintaining a humane and civilised society?Apart from the lack of a proper theoretical analysis of the distinction between primary and unintended secondary social costs, there are also obvious empirical questions involved. First, how can the magnitude of secondary social costs be estimated comparatively among nations with more or less ambitious welfare and full-employment policies? Secondly, what is in fact the understanding and the anticipation of secondary social costs among politicians, administrators and business leaders in various countries? If such understanding cannot be found in those circles, what kind of consequences can social scientists predict for the future? So far I have not been successful in raising funds for carrying out urgently needed empirical research required to estimate the secondary economic and human costs of cutting down on the primary costs of social welfare.
|Jubileumsföreläsning||Normativitet, rationalitet och emotionalitet i sociologisk analys|