The Positivist Dispute Resolved? Sociology and Politics after Cambridge Analytica

Lawton, S. (2022) The Positivist Dispute Resolved? Sociology and Politics after Cambridge Analytica. Sociology Seminar Series, Glasgow, UK, 16 Nov 2022.

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Sociology increasingly seems like a 20th Century discipline. Despite the replication crisis in psychology, the subdiscipline of personality psychology has aligned itself far better to trends in social media technology, economic neoliberalism and rising right-wing populism. No better example demonstrates this fact than Cambridge Analytica’s illegal intervention in the UK Brexit Referendum. Social scientists have long pondered positivism's implications. Sociology is a largely (but not exclusively) postpositivist paradigm while psychology and politics have embraced positivism. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and subsequent testimony from whistleblower Christopher Wiley shows that swathes of people can be made to operate as a positivist would expect with huge political consequences, providing a natural experiment of sorts to test key positivist assumptions about societies and their politics. Insider testimony from Wiley and others has also shown that Cambridge Analytica used the Global South as a colonial testing ground for extensive electoral and political manipulation. This seminar will draw on a close reading of Wiley’s testimony to UK Parliamentary Committee to invite discussion of the role of positivism in politics, the social sciences and beyond.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:Cambridge Analytica, sociology, political sociology
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Lawton, Dr Samuel
Authors: Lawton, S.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
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