Back in August I blogged about a manuscript where a scholar appealed to Thomas Kuhn’s old theory of paradigm shifts in order to evade criticism of their work. At the time I couldn’t give the real details as I had received the manuscript in my capacity as journal editor.
I’ve said before that I consider it an editor’s duty to correct muddle in debates, both in the interests of scientific advancement and to help contributors avoid looking silly. So I wrote to the scholar in question and asked her to work some more on her contribution, specifically to address more of her opponent’s substantive arguments. I also suggested that her reference to Kuhnian paradigm shifts was a poor argument.
This author doesn’t share my view on the matter, and so the current issue of Fornvännen (2008:4) contains a largely unaltered version of the original manuscript by Lotte Hedeager, Chair of archaeology in Oslo, titled “Paradigm exposed: reply to Ulf Näsman”. The issue at hand is not of course tomatoes in Neolithic Ireland: it’s whether the Huns are likely to have ruled southern Scandinavia in the Migration Period.
‘However, Näsman makes a simple equation between data and historical fact by ruling out theory. A reply to his critique therefore requires an exposition of the two different academic approaches – or paradigms – involved, his and mine.’
‘Such a change of research paradigm took place in Scandinavian archaeology during the 1970s with forerunners in the 1960s, when a new so-called “processual”, theoretical archaeology replaced, or rather supplemented, an empiricist, non-theoretical positivistic research tradition [...]. With the addition of a so-called “post-processual” paradigm from the 1980s onwards, we are now in a situation where practitioners of three different research paradigms still work side by side. This situation leads to competing and sometimes incommensurable interpretations of the past, and Ulf Näsman’s critical comments on my article exemplify just that.’
‘Ulf Näsman’s critique of my NAR paper exemplifies this paradigmatic difference of interpretation. This is already evident from the title, where he keeps “Scandinavia and the Huns”, but replaces my subtitle with “A Source-Critical Approach to an Old Problem”. It clearly signals two different paradigms: an objective, positivistic source-criticism is applied in order to deconstruct a theoretical, interdisciplinary interpretation combining history and archaeology. Näsman’s paradigm demands that such bold, theory-based (and thus subjective) interpretations be confronted by restrained, objective source criticism. As a result we now have two completely different interpretations of the same data. One may ask, how wrong is it possible to be? Or is it the very concept of “right or wrong” that should be discussed?’
‘To summarize: all of Näsman’s “neutral” and “objective” interpretations of the empirical evidence are as solidly anchored in a subjective historical research paradigm as are mine. The main difference between us is his lack of theoretical reflection (or consciousness), and consequently his lack of insight into his own theoretical paradigm. While we share a fundamental respect for and knowledge of the empirical data base of the Iron Age, we approach the interpretation of that very same database in a fundamentally different way. In this our discussion highlights and exemplifies basic mechanisms of Kuhn’s concept of research paradigms, not least their incommensurability.’
Repeat after me, please: “Poe. Moe.”.