Research into gain spans the whole range of the humanities and social sciences, and is astonishingly varied. Academics are fond of spatial metaphors, and in Figure 2.1 I formalize this by representing these approaches as four overlapping sets. I begin by identifying just two broad categories of thought, which, for simplicity’s sake, I call ‘humanistic’ and ‘social-scientiﬁc’, and then subdivide each into two further sets. The basic distinction I draw between humanistic and social-scientific thought is that the former are tools for understanding the world, while the latter are tools for explaining the world. This is, of course, a sweeping generalization; but to get the analysis started, I argue that the humanities are about drawing out the meanings of the complexity of lived experience. God is in the details, and good work in the humanities explicates the richness of culture. The social sciences, on the other hand, aim to cut through the messy details that make up real life to ﬁnd underlying general structures and principles. Social scientists seek to explain complexity through generalization. At the risk of caricaturing complex issues, we might say that in the humanist’s eyes, reducing the world to a handful of principles tells us little,
because it ignores precisely those things that we most need to understand. In the social scientist’s eyes, humanists systematically select on dependent variables, superﬁcially wallowing in particulars rather than seeking explanation.