Definitions: a rant

So, as readers of this blog may know, I did maths as an undergraduate (graduated last summer), and am now working / studying in Education.

And a very frequently recurring thought is …

WHY CAN’T SOCIAL SCIENTISTS AGREE ON WHAT ANYTHING MEANS?

It’s not terribly terribly bad. I mean, I understand that when you’re talking about identity and complex interactions between people and all that sort of thing, your concepts are going to be a little fuzzy.

But sometimes it’s so frustrating … it feels like sometimes people just choose to manipulate the vocab according to how they’re feeling that day. And there’s no answer to anything ever! (Or at least that’s how it feels sometimes). Now I know that there’s no simple answer to the questions like “how do children learn?”. But when you can’t even define your vocabularywell, it all seems a bit daft.

How the hell does anyone ever know what the other people are talking about? (I don’t mean that as a philosophical “my representation of the world is not the same as anyone else’s representation of the world” point, I just mean it as an annoyed exclamation) I’m all for discussing complex issues with no firm conclusions – that’s the sort of thing that happens whenever people talk about relationships, for example, which we do all the time.

But I’d really, really like to know what the words mean. And have a consensus on what the words mean. An agreed, fixed down definition.

Here are a few of the words I wish everybody could agree on:

  • Agency
  • Constructivism
  • Identity
  • Problem
  • Problem solving
  • Research Instrument

There are probably hundreds more just waiting to be discovered …

What are your thoughts?

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2 Responses to Definitions: a rant

  1. Jack V says:

    Gah. I know exactly what you mean. I think mathematicians learning about _any_ other field often have this impression, but it’s incredibly much more so with most social sciences. I think many mathematicians (and precise people in general) have a natural but unfortunate tendency to be very dismissive of _any_ social science for this reason.

    I try to balance, recognising that subsisting on woolly phrases that don’t mean anything is a flaw many disciplines are prone to, and understanding why that is, and that all disciplines have cultures which are prone to _some_ systematic flaws, and not dismissing the entirity of fields I’m less familiar with because I notice the flaws disproportionately much…

  2. Yeah … there are certainly flaws to viewpoints in ‘harder’ science fields as well … they just don’t usually smack me in the face as much ;).

    I think maybe I should let myself be dismissive of social science for a couple of weeks, to get it out of my system, and then head back towards balance … I’ve felt rather too steeped in it lately! And now that I’ve finished my essay (printed out this morning!) I can ignore things a bit more for the next couple of weeks …

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