6: Rise and Fall of ‘Measurement’ in the Social Sciences

by Prof. Ulf Wuggenig (Institute of  Philosophy and Sciences of Art, Institute of Sociology

The  lecture in its first part deals with the rise of the notion of measurement in the softer regions of science. After it was disputed, that ‚measurement“ could be realized in social scienc research at all by some well known natural scientists (e.g. Norman Robert Campbell), the measurement term was redefined in the midth of the 20th century mainly by quantitatively inclined US-American psychologists. The new definition of measurement, which gained most popularity, was the one by Stanley Smith Stevens, Director of the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard University. The liberal definition of measurement by this scientist being part of the intellectual fashions of cold war times like logical positivism and operationalism combined with statistical thinking, soon found entrance into main stream normal science of disciplines like psychology, sociology and economics  in the 1950s and 60s, which was based on a watered down version of logical positivism. This notion of measurement up to now is nearly universally submitted to students in courses of methodology and statistics of these disciplines.  However, out of reasons, which will also  be shortly presented in the lecture, ‚measurement’ lost its fascination and wide spread use in the social sciences since the 1980’s.  However, though the notion of measurement today is connected with much fewer illusions about progress in science or knowledge and similar ideas, measurements also on the higher levels of the four types of scales introduced by Stevens can be applied in a fruitful way even for the field of art from the perspective of a critical (realist) social science. This will be the theme of the third part of the lecture.

Reading: The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science by Abraham Kaplan (1964)