In an incredibly insightful talk, David Brooks talks about a new trend in social sciences. One that puts the human being as he is (not as he should be, meaning rational or ethical or fair) at the center of every social theory, and at the heart of the interest of every social scientist. This is a fundamental shift in paradigm that Brooks managed to encpasulate in a 20 minute talk. Here's a 3-bullet point simplified history of social sciences and their development :
I - Paradigm shift:
In a way or another, the premises of the French enlightenment moved in to form the foundations of social sciences, probably because they originated in Europe. If these premises had to be boiled down to one word, that would : Reason. But Brooks says, and rightly so, that Adam Smith and David Hume, on the other side of the English Channel had it right : Emotions and feelings have the uphand.
II - Method shift:
To understand how this kind of paradigmatic change translates into a methodotological shift, we need to take the example of law. See on the one hand the French law, governed by an all mighty set of rules that is referred to in first instance. Then take the English common law which logic is different starting with the very case the judge is handling, referring to similar cases, if any, and resting primarily not on the set of rules but on the judge's sense of things. In that respect, English common law points out the uniqueness of every case, and does not try to identify each case to what might concern it inside the all mighty set of rules. The approach is more ... Personalized
III - Uniqueness, emotions, feelings ... re-assessed:
And that is the shift happening in every social science : The uniqueness of individuals is being re-assessed. Reason is a common denominator, emotions and feelings are what give each of us our uniqueness. Brooks was probably thinking about Dan Ariely's work on irrationality and feelings, about behavioral economics more generally. But the truth is that Nanoeconomics, through the promotion of the use of Massive Passive Publically-Available data is also looking into individuals' uniqueness, scrapping their feelings and emotions and tossing reason for a second to see the real nature of economic humanity.
And there, at that very point, starts the new wave. Sounds a bit naive but Spider-man's uncle was right : "With great powers comes great responsibility". Social scientists have the power today, thanks to data, to see much more than they used to. This empowerment is bound to fundamentally change their respective disciplines. It ought to.
Bring on the humanistic revolution !