When our paper, "Archaeology as a social science," was published online last week, I emailed copies to a bunch of people, including John Gerring. Gerring is a political scientist, and I have been reading his books on social science methodology. I like them a lot - he has a strong scientific epistemology, but a broad outlook that values qualitative research and case study research (which covers much archaeology; see my post on this). I also like his article on direct and indirect control, which fits my understanding of empires very well. I have written a number of posts on Gerring's works (try searching).
Anyway, after I had sent our paper to Gerring, I read the final chapter of his 2012 book, Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework (2nd edition). I strongly recommend this book to archaeologists who are concerned with rigorous methods of social interpretation. On page 390, he implicitly states that archaeology is not even an observational science, but a speculative enterprise. He is making the point (to sociologists, political scientists, and the like) that qualitative research can be scientific just as much as quantitative research. But in making that point, he contrasts qualitative social science research (actually, observational research) to speculative resesarch:
"Just as society honors classicists, archaeologists, astronomers, and theoretical physicists -- despite the speculative nature of their trades -- it should also honor those who labor in the muddy fields of observational data in the social sciences."
Well, excuse me, but archaeology is not "speculative" but is rather an observational science (see Geoff Clark 1982 for a nice discussion of this). OK, much of "social archaeology" and other theoretical post-perspectices (e.g., post-processual, post-structural, post-colonial, post-autistic--oops, that is an approach in economics, not archaeology) are, to me, quite speculative in their epistemology. But good scientific archaeology is not speculative.
If I had read this prior to sending Gerring a reprint, I would have made a pointed comment in my email, hassling him about his understanding of archaeology.
But my ire at Gerring's view of archaeology did not last long. A few pages later, he notes that "A tree felled in the social science forest makes no sound." He is arguing that social science research should have relevance to broader concerns in society, but to do so others have to find out about it. And that is exactly how I concluded my prior post in this blog. So if Gerring reaches the same conclusions I do, then he can't be too far off base....
Clark, Geoffrey A.
1982 Quantifying Archaeological Research. Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 5:217-274.
Smith, Michael E., Gary M. Feinman, Robert D. Drennan, Timothy Earle, and Ian Morris2012 Archaeology as a Social Science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:(published online).