Using Theory to Study Empirical Cases: Reflections on Using Habermas to Study Genetic and Reproductive Politics

  • Nick Cimini Edinburgh Napier University
Keywords: Habermas, social theory, empirical data, applying theory, sensitizing concepts, genetics


Attempts to apply social theory to the study of empirical cases are too often reduced to treating theory as formula. Complex theoretical ideas are torn from the contexts of their production, selectively interpreted or even misinterpreted, and applied uncritically to empirical cases—regardless of the case. In this article, I will offer some reflections on the way that Jürgen HABERMAS' theoretical framework, suitably revised and supplemented, informed my own research. I discuss how Habermasian ideas acted as a guide or template, or set of "sensitizing concepts" (BLUMER, 1954, p.7) that shaped practical questions around research design, data collection and analysis. I conclude by offering some cautionary words of advice for those grappling with theory: although there are no blueprints or formula for straightforwardly applying social theory, researchers need to take their theory seriously and treat it with the same vigor and critical thinking skills as they do other aspects of their research.


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Author Biography

Nick Cimini, Edinburgh Napier University

Nicholas CIMINI is a lecturer in the social sciences at Edinburgh Napier University. His main research interests are to show how Marxism and contemporary social science research would each benefit from more engagement with the other.

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