I finally found some verbalization for one of the most frustrating aspects of many research approaches – the study and argument of ‘isms’ instead of the phenomena itself.
John Dewey states in the preface of Education and Experience:
For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms it’s principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems and possibilities.”
Dewey’s essay deals with learning and education but the statement applies to all scientific study. The study of human behavior overflows with ‘isms (freudism vs rationalism vs radical behaviorism vs classical behavorism vs determinism vs fatalism… and so on…nice big list here). I hypothesize the passive and direct feuds between ‘isms continues to stymie the advance of theoretical and applicable knowledge of human behavior (how and why we do what we do).
Obstacles to progress are not limited to a battle of ‘isms. The differing approaches of various ‘ologies also confuse the pursuit of real knowledge behind behavior – psychology vs behavioral economics vs socialology vs neuropsychology. They get in the way by providing very different explanations of “where behavior comes from” and how to measure it, analyze, reproduce it and more. The different tactical approaches can help suss out details, but in the end whether it’s economic, social, web, technology or cultural in context, it’s still behavior.