My background is theoretically analyzing intellectual property and communications media as central elements in an ‘advanced capitalism’ defined by more participatory forms of cultural, economic, and political interactions. But my goal with sociology is to be empirical. And so I often reflect upon the technical, or methodological bases of how to do the work, with not much confidence that I do it right — i.e., come anywhere close to ‘being empirical.’ I feel the need to be upfront about my theoretical biases, as they effect key empirical questions. Like: my preferred “unit of analysis.” As I wrote yesterday, my sociological method is basically theft from Bourdieu, Alexander, Habermas, Giddens, and Foucault, in terms of how they update structural, Parsons-like social theory with better attention to the social-psychological, sociology of knowledge dimension of advanced modern society.
As such, my preferred unit of analysis is the ‘audience’ studied in relation to performative representations of structure. My preferred technique is the in-depth interview. Interviews with individuals located within a broadly conceived audience of the structure, or performance, under question. E.g. The grocery shopper in the household is an audience member of the verbal and nonverbal communicative performance of the grocery store. The moderately engaged voter is an audience member of the politician. And so on.
But again, this preferred unit of analysis and method, while put in place by me in an attempt to ‘be empirical,’ comes in reality out of already existing theoretical commitments to placing intellectual property and communications media at the center of advanced capitalism, and indeed social life today. It is out of these institutions that I draw my conclusion to ’empirically’ focus on audience-level social psychology, just as a conception of audiences grows out of my focus on intellectual property and communications media. This is what’s known as a tautology. The choosing of my unit of analysis is, in the end, based on a tautologically asserted theoretical commitment. And so it is with all units of analysis, all research.
There is no finally empirical accounting. In the end, every decision requires a theoretical leap.