This essay attempts to demonstrate the limits of American social science by examining the tension between method and theory and, in particular, how this tension plays out in The Authoritarian Personality as well as in contemporary works of political psychology informed by Adorno et al.’s 1950 study. What I find is a persistent and unbridgeable gulf between method and theory where the former offers seemingly knowable, objective, repeatable, and actionable knowledge about the world, and the latter offers unverifiable particularity, nuance, and contingency. Method seeks to analyze the world as it is screening out complicating questions about base assumptions at work in the existing power structure and the enterprise of “normal science.” Theory seeks to apprehend not only the dynamics of the present moment but also the forces that have shaped the present and to develop new horizons of our political imagination.
Research Article|October 01 2018
The Authoritarian Personality and the Limits of American Social Science
South Atlantic Quarterly (2018) 117 (4): 845-860.