Is Sociology A Science?

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Sociology Can Be A Science

  • positivists are only concerned with cause and effect relationships
  • believe we must apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of society in orer to achieve an objective knowledge
  • enoucarge  verificationism - throuhg this we can develop a theory that explains all observations to the best of out knowledge so far and we can make generalisations
  • nature and society can be explained in the same way by finding the facts that cause them
  • as a result positivists favour experiments and quantitative data
  • researchers should be dettatchd and objective in order to make accurate results
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Karl Popper

Sociology can't be a science as it consists of theories that cant be tested

  • differs from positivists as he believes verificationism isnt a distinctive feature of science but instead 'the fallecy of induction'
  • we can never prove that any theory is true by simply producing more observations that verify it
  • argues for falsification where a scientific statement is one that is able to be falsified of proved wrong
  • all knowledge in popper's eyes is temporary, provisional and capable of refutation at any moment
  • popper sees the scientific community as open to criticism  so that flaws are exposed and a theory is developed
  • science must be an open society,  in closed societies we are dominated by one official belief system that claims absolute truth and can therefore not be falsified e.g. Nazism, Marxism
  • sociology consistes of theories that can't be out to the test/ fasified
  • e.g. Marxism predicts there will be a revolution, but it has not yet happened because of false class consciousness
  • this means that if there isnt a revolution, marxism is correct and if there is a revolution marxism is still correct
  • sociology can be a science  if it produces hypothesises that can be falsified
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Can't be a science as there is no shared paradigm

  • a paradigm is a set of norms that provides the basic framework of assumptions, principles, ,methods and techniques
  • science can't exist without a shared paradigm
  • normal science consists of scientists 'puzzle solving' we must puzzle solve within a paradigm
  • a scientific revolution occurs when anomolies build dup and faith in the paradigm declines
  • alternative rival paradigms form, which view the world in a different way
  • as a result the findings of one paradigm will be disproved or rejected by another
  • for Kuhn, unlike Popper during periods of normal science, science is not an 'open society' as only ideas that fit in with the paradigm are accepted
  • sociology cannot be scientific as there is no shared paradigm, so the is no shared values. Sociology cant be scientific until basic disagreements are solved.
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Sociology shouldn't wnat to be a science

  • interpretivists are concerned with meanings and motives
  • we can only successfully understand sociology by interpreting these meanings and motives
  • sociology is not a science as science deals with cause and effect, not meanings
  • an actors meanings are in their minds, so as theyre not directly observable they cannot be studied scientifically
  • as individuals are all different we should not seek to make generalisations
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Post Modernists + Feminists

Sociology Should not be a science

  • regard science as just another meta narritive
  • science's account of the world is no more valid than any other so there is no reason why we should adopt a scientific model of sociology
  • a scientific approach is dangerous, as it claims monopoly of the truths, excluding other viewpoints and therefore funtioning as a form of domination


  • a single scientific feminist theory is a form of domination as it excludes the view points of many women
  • quantitative scientific methods that are favoured by by positivists are oppresive so can't capture the reality of women's experiences
  • e.g. Eichler said that scientific methods were androcentic - viewing the world from a male view point, and Over generalised meaning only men may have been asked
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Sociology is scientific

  • reject the positivist view that science is only concerned with the observable phenomena
  • Keat and Urry - science asumes the existence of unobsevarble structures
  • these structures are unobservable, but we cna work out that they exist by observing their effects
  • unlike Popper they see marxism as scientific as it identifies underlying structures such as capitalism and its effects
  • sociologists can be scientific when they interpret behaviour in terms of actors internal meanings
  • unlike interpretivists realists see little diffenence between the natural sciences and sociology
  • so we must look for meanings and motives and cause and effect
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Phenomenologists and Ethnomethodologists

Science can't be used to srudy sociology

  • reject the possibility of casual explanations of human behaviour
  • they argue that society is not a real thing that influences our actions
  • society is not an external force, and only exists in peoples minds
  • peoples actions are not down to external causes, there is no possibilty of cause and effect explanations that is sought by positivists.
  • society is not observable, only exists in peoples consciences, so  how can we study it in such a way.
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Conclusion -is Sociology a science?

  • the division arrives fromt he disagreement when it cones to the nature of sociology and its subject matter.
  • Realists combine both methods, say weshould look for meanings and motives as well as cause and effect relationships
  • can we use science if science itself is not value free?
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