The Public Interest

Habits of the (Academic) Mind

Richard John Neuhaus

Spring 1986

HABITS OF THE HEART has been widely acclaimed as a work of social analysis and public philosophy worthy of the mantle of Tocqueville—a mantle it claims. “There is no methodological innovation in this book,” the authors modestly say in an appendix. In most respects that is true. Having obtained sundry grants to help support themselves and research assistants, five friends engaged in “more than five years of dialogue.., particularly during the summers” and became “a group that shared a common culture.” “During these sessions, we worked out a common interpretive framework, which in turn influenced each field worker in his or her subsequent interviews.” The authors assure us that, “though we did not seek to impose our ideas on those with whom we talked . . . we did attempt to uncover assumptions, to make explicit what the person we were talking to might rather have left implicit.” The authors reject the methodological narrowness that would limit them to the evidence uncovered, for they admit that some interviews, which apparently did not advance the “interpretive framework” on which they had agreed, were omitted. In short, the methodology might be described as exceedingly flexible. Statements such as the following are typical:

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