Sociology as a Science

Sociology as a science notes from class and from book.


Post- Modernism

They argue against the idea of a scientific sociology. Natural science is regarded as a meta- narrative. Science is just a big story. It's no more valid than any other stories. If this is so we have no particular reason why we should adopt science as a model for sociology. Science claims to have a monopoly of truth. Sociology not only makes false claims about having the truth, its a form of domination.

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They argue that the quest for a single, scientific feminist theory is a form of domination since it covertly excludes many groups of women. Some argue that many quantitative methods oppress women and can't capture the reality of women's experiences.

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FALSIFICATION= a scientific statement is one that in principle is one that is capable of being falsified with evidence.A good theory has 1) in principle it can be falsified but when tested, it stands up to all attempts to disprove it. 2) its bold- it claims to explain it in great detail.

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COMMUNISM- scientific findings must be shared

UNIVERSALISM- to falsify knowledge is done by universal criticism so all believe it's up to their standards

DISINTERESTEDNESS- being committed to discovering knowledge for its own sake.

ORGANISED SCEPTICISM- no knowledge claim is regarded as sacred. Everything is open to questionning.

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A mature science such as geology is based on a set of shared assumptions called a paradigm. The paradigm tells scientists what reality is like, what problems to study and those that shouldn't be studied, what equipment to use etc. Even what answers to find. The paradigm lays down the outsides of knowledge and scientists fill in the middle. Anyone who refutes the evidence that makes the paradigm, such as Velikovsky, is ridiculed and somtimes their work isn't even considered or read through to see if it can be verified.

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Implications for Sociology

currently sociology is pre- paradigmatic and therefore pre- scientific, dividing into competing perspectives or schools of thought. there are no shared paradigms e.g. who, what etc to study, what methods to use etc. According to Kuhn, sociology can only be a scienceonce these disagreements are resolved. this is seen by some to be impossible due to there being so many drastic views on how society functions etc. Even within perspectives, there are often disagreements about key concepts, issues and methods. Its hard to imagine such differences being overcome to create a unified paradigm. Post- modernists might argue that a paradigm would also not be desirable in sociology. The paradigm sounds a lot like a meta- narrative. Post-  modernists object to this both on the grounds that it silences minority views, and that it falsely claims to have special access to the truth.

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Realist Views

They stress the similarities between sociology and certain kinds of natural science in terms of the degree of control the researcher has over the variables being researched. CLOSED SYSTEMS- are those where the researcher can control and measure all the relevant variables, and therefore can make precise predictions of the sort Popper advocates. They use methods that are scientific such as lab experiments. OPEN SYSTEMS- are those where the researcher can't control and measure all the relevant variables and so can't make precise predictions. Realists argue that sociologists study open systems where processes are too complex to make exact predictions. Realists reject the positivist view that science is only concerned with observable phenomena. KEAT AND URRY= science often assumes the existence of unobservable structures- e.g. physicists can't directly observe the interior of a black hole in space. This also means that interpretavists are wrong in assuming that sociology can't be scientific. Interpretavists believe that because actors' meanings are in their minds and not directly observable, they can't be studied scientifically. However, if realists are correct and science can study unobservable phenomena, then this is no barrier to studying meanings scientifically.For realists, then both natural and social science attempt to explain the causes of events in terms of underlying structures and processes. Although these structures are often unobservable, we can work out that they exist by observing their effects.

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They believe that it is possible and desirable to apply the logic and the methods of the natural sciences to the study of society. Doing so will bring us true, objective knowledge as found in natural sciences. This will provide the basis for solving societies problems and therefore achieving progress. A key feature of the positivist approach is the belief that reality exists outside and independantly of the human mind. Nature is made up of objective, observable and physical facts which are external to our mindsand which exist whether we want them to or not. Similarly society is an objective factual reality- its a real 'thing' made up of social facts that exist independantly of individuals. just like the physical world. Reality isn't randomor chaotic but patterned, and we can observe, record, identify and measure these patterns. Durkheim believes that real laws are discoverable and can explain these patterns. Sociologists can discover how society works in the same way physicists explore how gravity works. This is also called induction/ inductive reasoning. This involves accumulating data about the world through careful observation and measurement. As our knowledge grows we begin to see general patterns.

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Example: Positivism and Suicide

Durkheim chose to study suicide to show that sociology was a science with its own distinct subject matter. he believed that if he could show that even such a highly individual act has social causes, this would establish sociology's status as a distinct and genuinely scientific discipline. Usimg quantitative data from official statistics. Durkheim observed that there were patterns in the suicide rates. For example, rates of Protestants were higher than for catholics.

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interpretivist sociologists don't believe that sociology should model itself on the natural sciences. Intepretivism includes social action theories. They say the positivist approach is inadequate to study human beings. they say that the subject matter of sociology is meaningful social action, and that we can only understand it by successfully interpreting the meanings and motives of the actors involved. Interpretivists say sociology is about internal meanings not external causes. In their view, sociology isnt a sciecne as it only deals with laws of casue and effect and not human meanings. Because of this many interpretivists completely reject the use of natural science methods and explanations as a model for sociology. they say natural sciences studies matter which has no consciousness. Its behaviour can therefore be explained as a straightforward reaction to an external stimuli. But Sociology studies people, who have consciousness. their behaviour affects the world they build around them and the world affects their behaviour. Their actions can only be explained using meanings. Meanings are internal to people's consciousness. People have free will and can exercise choice. Mead argued that human beings interpret the meaning of a stimulus and then choose how to respond to it. Individuals aren't puppets on strings manipulated by supposed external 'social facts' (as positivists believe) but they are independant beings who construct their own social world through the meanings they give to it. The job of sociologists is to therefore uncover these meanings.

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An Example of Interpretivism and Suicide

DOUGLAS rejects the positivist idea that external social facts determine our behaviour. Individuals have free will and they choose to act in the basis of meanings. to understand suicide we must therefore uncover its meanings for those involved, instead of imposing our own meanings on to the situation. Official statistics aren't objective facts but simply social constructions resulting from the way coroners label certain deaths as suicide. Instead Douglas proposes we use qualitative data from case studies of suicides, since he believes these can reveal the actor's meanings and give us better ideas of the real rates of suicide than official statistics. ATKINSON also rejects the idea that external social facts determine behaviour, and agrees that stats are socially constructed. Unlike Douglas, Atkinson argues that we can never know the real rate of suicide, even when using qualitative methods, since we can never know for sure what meanings the deceased held. Atkinson believed that the only thing we can study about suicide is the way that the living make sense of deaths. For ethnomethodologists, members of society have a stock of taken for granted assumptions with which they make sense of situations- including deaths. The sociologist's role is to uncover what this knowledge is and how coroners use it to arrive at a verdict.

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Essay Plan

Sociology and Science:

Positivism, Positivist Example

Interpretivism, Interpretavist Example

Post- modernism, Feminism, Marxism, Scientific Socoiology

The Nature of Science, Popper and Falsification, Implications for Sociology, Merton CUDOS

Kuhn and Paradigms, implications for Sociology

Realism, Science and Sociology

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After many more observations etc have verified the theory, we can claim to have discovered the truth in the form of a general law. Because the laws of gravity were proved to be correct, we now see them as the truth. For positivists, finding the cause- effect relationship between 2 factors produces scientific laws about how society works. These can then be used to predict future events and to guide social policies postivists favuor macro or structural explanations of social phenomena, such as functionalism and marxism. This is because macro theories see society and its structures as social facts that exist outside of us and shape our behaviour patterns.

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Objective Quantitative Research

Positivists believe that as far as possible sociology should take the experimental method used in natural sciencesas the model for research, since this allows the investigator to test a hypothesis in the most systematic and controlled way. Basically experiments involve examining each possible causal factor to observe its effect, while simultaneously excluding all other factors. like natural scientists, positivists use quantitative data to uncover and measure patterns of behaviour. this allows them to produce mathematically precise statements about the relationship between the facts they are investigating. By analysing quantitative data, positivists seek to discover the laws of cause and effect that determien behaviour. Positivists believe that researchers should be detached and objective. They shouldn't let their own subjective feelings, values or prejudices influence how they conduct their study or analyse tehir results. in the natural sciences, its claimed that the scientist's values and opinions make no difference to the outcome of their research. However in socilogy we are dealing with people, and there is a danger that the researcher may 'contaminate' the research. Positivists therefore employ methods such as experiments and questionnaires etc. These methods also produce relaible data taht can be checked by other researchers repeating the research.

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 Interpretivists therefore reject the logic and methods of natural sciences. They argue that to discover the meanings people give to their actions we need to see the world from their viewpoint. for interpretivists, this involves abandoning the detachment and objectivity favoured by positivists. Instead we must put ourselves in the place of the actor, using what Weber calls verstehen to grasp their meanings. For this reason, interpretivists favour the use of qualitative methods and data such as participant observation, unstructured interviews. these methods produce richer, more personal data which is high in validity and gives the sociologists a subjective understanding of the actor's meanings and life- world.

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Types of Interpretivism

INTERACTIONISTS= believe that we can have causal explanations. however, they reject the positivist view that we should have a sure hypothesis before we start our research

PHENOMENOLOGISTS AND ETHNOMETHODOLOGISTS= completely reject the possibility of causal explanations of human behaviour. they take radically anti- strcuturalist views, arguing that society isn't a real thing 'out there' determining our actions. Social reality is simply the shared meanings or knowledge of its members. Society isn't an external force- it exists only in people's consciousness. Therefore, the subject matter of sociology can only consist of the interpretive procedures by which people make sense of the world. Because people's actions aren't governed by external causes, there is no possibility of cause- and- effect explanations of the kind sought by positivists.

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Loved the essay plan, very helpful! :)

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