Scientific Observation as a Tool

Scientific Observation as a Tool for Conservative Social Reform

Theodore M. Porter

This project examined the méthode d’observation of the mining engineer and prominent conservative Frédéric Le Play, who began his career emphasizing careful observation as a tool of economic planning and management, and later exalted it as an antidote to speculative, deracinated revolution. His monographs involved a remarkable mix of bureaucratic investigation, exemplified by British parliamentary Blue Books, and the writing of fiction. By the time his observational project was flourishing as a collective enterprise, he had become convinced that France needed to be regenerated by the perspective of places far from European civilization, and that the wisdom of the sage, with lifelong experience of societies uncorrupted by modern customs and habits, was more valuable than any systematic empirical study—and yet he maintained to his dying day a program of investigation that was summed up in quantitative reports of family budgets.