F%ck Nuance


Kieran Healy over at his website:

Abstract: Seriously, fuck it.

As alleged virtues go, nuance is superficially attractive. Isn’t the mark of a good thinker the ability to see subtle differences in kind or gracefully shade the meaning terms? Shouldn’t we cultivate the ability to insinuate overtones of meaning in our con- cepts? Further, isn’t nuance especially appropriate to the difficult problems we study? I am sure that, like mine, your research problems are complex, rich, and multi-faceted. (Why would you study them if they were simple, thin, and one-dimensional?) When faced with problems like that, a cultivated capacity for nuance might seem to reflect both the difficulty of the topic and the sophistication of the researcher approaching it. I am sure that, like me, you are a sophisticated thinker. When sophisticated people like us face this rich and complex world, how can nuance not be the wisest approach?

It would be foolish, not to say barely comprehensible, for me to try to argue against the idea of nuance in general. That would be like arguing against the idea of yellow, or the concept of ostriches. It does not make much sense, in any case, to think of nuance as something that has a distinctive role all of its own in theory, or as something that we can add to or take away from theory just as we please. That is a bit like the author whom Mary McCarthy described busily revising a short story in order to “put in the symbols” (Goodman 1978, 58). What I will call “Actually-Existing Nuance” in sociological theory refers to a common and specific phenomenon, one most everyone working in Sociology has witnessed, fallen victim to, or perpetrated at some time. It is the act of making—or the call to make—some bit of theory “richer” or “more sophisticated” by adding complexity to it, usually by way of some additional dimension, level, or aspect, but in the absence of any strong means of disciplining or specifying the relationship between the new elements and the existing ones. Theorists do this to themselves and demand it of others. It is typically a holding maneuver. It is what you do when faced with a question that you do not yet have a compelling or interesting answer to. Thinking up compelling or interesting ideas is quite difficult, and so often it is easier to embrace complexity than cut through it.

More here.