The Analytical Rules of the Method in Social Sciences, (III) The postulate of the equality of actors

The first premise of the rules is that all actors have the same capabilities. Not necessarily have to possess the same characteristics, and we can variarlas –even though it may be possible, it is interesting to try to explain the differences in them from their differences in the social fabric rather than in attributes of an actor. But if this does not work, the differences in characteristics of the actors is something that can be incorporated in the analysis. However, in regard to capabilities, this is a condition of the analysis: the differences in what the actors can do can only come from their different locations in the social world. In both actors should be equal in their capabilities .

In other words, the method of sociological has the requirement that there are no actors special. Basically, if we postulate that a given actor can do X (can be arranged, you can learn etc) then any actor can do it. If we find that an actor does not perform the action, then we cannot base the explanation in which the actor is different, but your situation was different: for example, given the network of social interactions that an actor does not have the resources to do it, or other actors do not allow to make it. There are No actors with special abilities, what’s more there are special situations that allow them to or not to carry them out.

Consider, for instance, in the case of the collective action and the old observation of Olson that not all actors with common interests to organize themselves for their achievement, however some actors are effectively organized for this purpose (Olson, 1965). Now, what makes Olson is to seek to identify what circumstances, situations, structures are given in the groups that produce collective action. What that does is raise, let’s say, that where there is collective action, it is because the actors are different. For example, simply argue that they have a collective guidance stronger. Ultimately, if we decide to such an explanation, we would need to show the circumstances and situations of the network of social interactions that has that result .

If the above is correct, then the whole conceptual model or empirical that is based on a distinction between truth / falsity is known to the analyst but may not be known to the actors is unacceptable. Analysts are social actors, and therefore and therefore if they have the ability to detect the ‘truth’, then that capacity is available to the actors –because some actors (analysts) actually have it. Then, explanations based on a false consciousness that the analyst can observe but that the actors are naive to observe, are not suitable. The argument that only externally could observe certain things is insufficient given that the actors could also be located ‘outside’ the interaction. The approach to the Bourdieu of the need of the doxa for the maintenance of the social order falls into this problem, and is ultimately based in a belief also somewhat naive: if the actors realize the game they are playing, it would play. For example, if they were to realise that, say, the characteristics of taste is used to distinguish social groups and are not the simple expression of a ‘good’ taste; then it would stop working the mechanics underlying the game. But given that the pressures to participate in social games are social pressures, then the mere fact of leaving of the doxa, and to see the game as a game should not have that consequence. Ultimately, social actors are not required to be so naïve as raise a number of social theories. The same thing occurs in various analyses of rationality imperfect where it is used as a method of analysis, an error term that marks the difference of the decision or belief of the actor of the decision or rational belief. But, where is that coming from the ability to identify the decision or belief ‘rational’? (which is what allows you to establish an error term). If the analyst can determine this in any way, then the actors could also do it, and that should be included in the analysis.

To differentiate between the capabilities of the actor and the analyst, will end up using explanations that are implausibles. The idea of Mannheim’s intellectuals to occupy a place ‘free’ in the social life can see things that the actors can’t do, is based on the assumption that the intellectuals do not have a self-interest generated by the specific position they occupy in the social life.

The importance of recognizing that actors and analysts are on the same plane happens not only with the subject of the ability to approach ‘truth’. For example, Ekelund and Tollison pose, using as a basis of economic theories to current rent-seeking (Ekelund & Tollison, 1997) that the explanations of mercantilism given by the authors themselves do not correspond: The mercantilist policies have other effects that posed by contemporary ideas. The elite leaders of europe were not mercantilist by the reasons given in the theories of his time (they have to be ‘false’ consciousness or just propaganda), but they were mercantilist, for the reasons that wields the economic theory current. Only that would be compatible with the idea that these elites leaders were rational, if they acted according to the ideas that were discussed in the era of mercantilism would have been irrational. At first glance, this type of explanation meets the criteria that we have mentioned: Both the actor and the analyst, is recognized for the ability to act rationally.

However, of all forms there is a difference: the barometer of rationality has an actor in particular (the researcher), and therefore for an actor to be considered rational to think as he does. The fact that a person could believe effectively in the beliefs of mercantilism, and, therefore, for that actor, the rational would have been to act consistent with their own beliefs (and not with the beliefs of the other actor) does not even appear as a possibility. It is another way to make a difference between the capacities of the actor and the analyst.

In the previous discussion we have focused on the difference actor / analyst because it is one of the clearest cases where they develop analysis models in which there is a basic difference in the capacities of the actors. And it’s one that is easy to lose sight of. If we give skills to the analyst that we do not give the actor well, we can overlook the fact that the analysts are a class of actors (which are ‘part of society’). If moreover we give all the actors –other than the analyst – the same capabilities, we believe that we have complied with that idea, even when the model uses a basic distinction in regards to the capabilities.

However, the importance of the postulate does not refer only to the earlier discussion. The postulate we are called to not stay simply satisfied with a description when we observe a difference in the capacities of the actors. What we require is to determine what it is that establishes that in a given social situation, producing differences in those capabilities; but these differences may not be a primary datum. It is the society, for example, that determines who are the ones who can testify in a trial or who may represent a person in a trial. The differences in the actors are a starting point, not one of arrival in the discussion of social sciences.

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