Keywords: narrative interviews, reflexive social sciences, economic methodology, green economics, traction, realism, realist social theory
Traction in the world: economics and narrative interviews
This article contributes to the methodological debate that is being taken up in green economics. A comparison with physics is used to argue that economics cannot be done as natural science, but must be done as social science using a set of methods tuned to the subject matter. Because of the nature of the data used, mainstream economics has insufficient traction in the real world – meaning that the data are sufficiently grounded in the world so that the comparison of models to data ensures the effective comparison of the model to the real world. Borrowing from realist social theory, narratives can have traction in the social world to the extent that they convey the internal conversations of key actors operational at the time under study as a real causal mechanism driving economic and social change. If, as Archer (1995; 2003; 2007) suggests, the internal conversation acts as a real causal mechanism mediating between structures and agency in the social world, then we need data that make that internal conversation tangible, giving us some traction in the real world of the actors involved. We can then perhaps compile knowledge from the data thus obtained or use it to evaluate various theories.