The positivist approaches to the social sciences

Like most critical social scientists, Mathias is interested in how to produce scientific knowledge on the social world which would avoid the false promises of positivism. This has led him to investigate two questions:

a) The false promises of positivism

John Dryzek observed that “positivism is a “a dead duck in the philosophy of science, deader still in the actual practice of science, with a stake through its head when it comes to social sciences”. Although the first part of this quote is certainly true, the last one is more debatable. Despite all the epistemological criticisms it has undergone, positivism is still alive and well in the social sciences. Mathias’ work on positivism analyzes its false promises, notably that of the possibility to produce some value-free scholarship. To do so, he has mainly studied two cases: the rational choice theory in political science and quantitative social psychology. In a similar (post-positivist) vein, Mathias has also done some research on the critical approaches to international relations.

Some publications on this topic:

🇬🇧 Mathias Delori (2023): “Understanding the Fragmentation of the Memory of the Allied Bombings of World War II. The Role of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey,” In: Memory Fragmentation from Below and Beyond the State: Uses of the Past in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings, edited by Anne Bazin, Emmanuelle HĂ©bert, ValĂ©rie Rosoux and Eric Sangar. London: Routledge.Memory Fragmentation from Below and Beyond the State: Uses of the Past in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings, edited by Anne Bazin, Emmanuelle HĂ©bert, ValĂ©rie Rosoux and Eric Sangar: Routledge, 2023.

🇫🇷 Mathias Delori (2022): “Quantifier le moral des Allemands et des Japonais? Des experts Ă©valuent l’efficacitĂ© des bombardements « stratĂ©giques » de la Seconde guerre mondiale,” Genèses. Sciences sociales et histoire 126 (1), 80-101.

b) The epistemology of the critical war studies

The critical war studies aim at studying war while avoiding the militarist bias of some war studies and the pitfalls of epistemological ethnocentrism.  In the first volume of his Habilitation dissertation, Mathias argues that it is impossible to follow Durkheim’s recommendation of studying war “like a thing” or “from the outside” like an astrophysicist would observe a celestial body. One can only study war by immersing ourselves in all the discourses and practices that signify war. Hence, the critical stance dictates not to distance oneself from this object of investigation but, rather, to empathize with all the agents of war, in particular those who are constituted as subalterns.

Some publications on this topic:

🇬🇧 Thibaud Boncourt, Mathias Delori, Christophe Wasinski and Marielle Debos (2019): French social sciences go khaki under increasing military influence. As the weight of military funding increases in French social sciences, scholars risk losing their independence.

🇫🇷 Mathias Delori (2018): “Pour des recherches sur la guerre indĂ©pendantes,” Zilsel.