pp. 207-224: Peter Lewin

The Meaning and the Implications of Heterogeneity for Social Science Research
Studies in Emergent Order, Vol. 7, 2014


The concept of “heterogeneity” is much invoked in social science research these days. Though this has long been the case in disciplines like psychology, sociology and anthropology, it was not heard much in mainstream economics until recently. Heterogeneity is now an integral part of economics in sub—disciplines like industrial organization, entrepreneurship, behavioral economics, and similar fields. What is “heterogeneity” and what are the implications for social science research? This paper examines the fundamentals of the concept of heterogeneity – which I relate to the distinction between quantity and quality. This distinction is related also to the distinctions between simple and complex phenomena and to that between social and natural phenomena in a manner I shall explain. I offer a conceptual framework for the demarcation of situations in which quantitative methods may be expected to work well, and, by implication, situations in which they do not. I imagine the insights yielded by this framework are not new to my readers, but suggest that there is some added value and novelty to this particular formulation which helps to draw out the implications of these insights.

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