Social analysis is an art. There are many possible methods. For the following methodology, the elements of the approach are grouped under four heading :
1. Commitment 2. Description 3. Analysis and 4. Conclusions.
You can make an impressionistic approach to the task of description. You gather facts and trends by way of brainstorming, telling stories, getting in touch with people’s experiences. What is happening in this particular situation? What would a few photographs of the situation reveal? How would we talk about a few of the most prominent features of this situation?
Or you can choose a more systematic approach. In a very orderly fashion you gather all the pertinent information about the situation. You could use a questionnaire in order to probe the various sectors of our social reality. At this point you have to remember that you are only describing, you are not yer going into any deeper into any deeper study of the particular situation. This step is only meant as a help to enter into the picture and get in tocuh with the experience and the situation. It will guide you in the direction to point out the more important elements. In this process it will also make more explicit what it is in the situation which first drew you to study the situation -- .eg. people are hurting, the pace of change is extremely rapid, some people are prospering more than others, etc.
The analysis you have made will have opened up a variety and multiplicity of factors which influence the situation you are trying to understand. The analysis you have made will have opened up a variety and multiplicity of factors which influence the situation you are trying to understand. The final task is how to draw some conclusions, to be able to discern the most important elements in the situation. This requires that we look over the responses made to the four analytical questions and identify -- by a process of ranking -- the ‘root’ elements.
‘Root’ elements are the most basic causes -- ‘causal causes’ -- in a situation. They are distinct from symptoms or mere consequences of something deeper. They are the answers that finally turn up when we continually ask the question, ‘Why’? To discover these ‘root’ elements, we first must prioritize or rank within each analytical category (history, structures, values, direction) the most significant facts influencing the situation. For example, which one or two historical events most shaped the present? Which economic, political, social, and cultural factors most determine the operation of the system? Which one or two values have the most impact on how people act? Which trend seems most likely for the future of the situation? In the struggle to find the answers to such questions, you will feel the need to identify some criteria by which you conclude that some elements are more basic than other. Development of such criteria, is a major task of social philosophy. It is also dependent on a return to experience, the experience of trial and error. In this methodology no formalized criteria are offered. Here, a strong suggestion is made that one of the key sources for criteria are offered. Here, a strong suggestion is made that one of the key sources of criteria will be the fundamentals made explicit in the first step ‘commitment’. When the various elements have been prioritized, we need to make a second effort at ranking and then draw some conclusions.
The conclusions you can draw from such a social analytical approach will obviously depend on a variety of factors : the relative complexity of the situation you are studying, the accuracy and adequacy of the data available to you, the rigor of your questioning, the criteria which influence your own judgements on ‘root’ elements, etc. But the advantage of doing this exercise in this way is that it does begin to open up the situation and reveal causes, consequences, linkages, trends, and related dimensions. It provides a holistic picture -- dynamic in a hsitorical perspective and interconnected in a structural perspective.