Fuck Nuance

Apr 17, 2024

Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Sociologists typically use nuance as a term of praise. Almost without exception, when nuance is mentioned it is because someone is asking for more of it. I argue that, for the problems facing sociology at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful...

I contend that [adding nuance to a model] is typically a holding maneuver. It is what one does when faced with a question for which one does not yet have a compelling or interesting answer. Thinking up compelling or interesting ideas is difficult, so it is often easier to embrace complexity than to cut through it...

When faced with a problem that is hard to solve, a line of thinking that requires us to commit to some defeasible claim, or a logical dilemma we must bite the bullet on, the nuance-promoting theorist says, “But isn’t it more compli- cated than that?” or “Isn’t it really both/and?” or “Aren’t these phenomena mutually consti- tutive?” or “Aren’t you leaving out [something]?” or “How does the theory deal with agency, or structure, or culture, or temporality, or power, or [some other abstract noun]?” This sort of nuance is, I contend, fundamentally antitheoretical. It blocks the process of abstraction on which theory depends, and it inhibits the creative process that makes theorizing a useful activity.

I'm going to stop quoting this because you should just go read it. Lovely work.

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