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Abstract

Critical and epistemological reflections on the use of experimental methods in social psychology are often made to distinguish between two types of settings where these methods are used: The laboratory and the social field. But it is by no means certain that such a division has, from the start and at its own level, real significance: for one thing, because in social psychology, laboratory work is probably never merely laboratory work; and for another, because an analysis of what happens in practice would show that much experimental research work carried out in the social field merely transfers into that setting tools, concepts and a theoretical intention derived from the laboratory. If that is so, it follows that it is not at its own level that the laboratory-social field distinction has a heuristic and epistemological significance, nor is that the real location of the breaking-point between the methodologies. Perhaps the real ‘dividing’ line is one which separates experimental work which, whether in the laboratory or in the social field, concentrates on social interactions which are miniaturized or able to be so, from work which, in the social field, aims to concentrcte on processes which cannot be simulated or miniaturized without becoming distorted and seeks to reach social systems which are relatively complete and essentially intact.