Sociology and Science

The debate of whether sociology should be considered to be a science or not based on several theoretical standponits


Methods of gaining knowledge

Wallice identified a number sources of obtaining knowledge. Most subjects must choose one of these methods of gaining insight or knowledge:

  • Authoritarian sources - such as parents to children
  • Mystical sources - such as religious experiences or experiences through the use of drugs
  • Logico-rational sources - coming to a conclusion through reasoned argument not always backed up with facts
  • Scientific approach - where a point is idnetified and is them persued by reserach to either prove or disprove the point

Socioloogy has In turn chosen the scientific method originally but has later moved away from scienctific and has moved more towards a logico-rational approach.

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Sociology as a science: Historical context

In a historical context it was important tor sociology to be considered a science for a number of reasons:

  • Funding and respect from many communities as in the modern era only sciences were seen as worthy of being funded
  • In the modern period and indeed in today's society it is often considered that scientific knowledge is better than other sources of knowledge
  • At the time, sociology would not have bene able to establish itself in the modern world unless it was seen as a science.
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What is a science?

Somewhere within an essay on the subject of sociology as a science, it may be useful to define what a science actually is and what the various sociological perspectives say about the issue. A science must be:

  • Empirical - based around numbers and a variable that can be measured
  • Testable - a scientific theory must be testable in that you can prove or disprove the test, if it can't be disproven then the theory must be assumed to be the best theory.
  • Theoretical - with a science it is not enough to simply know something happens, it is important to know why and establish a causal relationship between a factor and a consequenc
  • Cumulative - within science there is an idea that all science is built upon previous ideas and is built up over time
  • Objective - a science must be value free
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Criticisms of Sociology as a science

There are many people who are critical of sociology as a science:

  • Feminists such as Harding claim that sociology and indeed all of science is 'malestream' in that it reflects only the views of males
  • Postmodernists such as Roty suggests that the emphisis on science is an oudated idea as a way of finding the truth
  • Lyotard (postmodernist) had show the nature of language limites the channels of science. Sometimes there aren't words to explain something
  • Beck pointed out that science has created new problems such as pollution and global warming
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Further criticisms of sociology as a science

  • Shutz suggests that there is no world beyond our own existance and it is hard to seprate ourselves to study society objectively
  • Billing suggests that scientific methods get in teh way of progress in sociology as we are stuck to scientific thinking
  • Mills - suggests that eth aim of theory and method is enable sociological imagination to be freed so sociolgoist can see society which othrs might miss. Science blocks this.

Science is not a science:

  • Kuhn - suggests that science itself doesn't live up to its own ideology
  • Lakatos suggest however taht Kuhn's theories are based off the past and rarely have modern scientific values been dropped
  • Fayarabend suggests that although science may be cumulative it develops in a random way with breakthroughs and setbacks
  • Sayer suggests we must distinguish between open and closed systems of science refering to how many variables we can control
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