Sociological Theory and Methods

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Research and Sociological Theory 

Science uses experiments and observation to test theories 

1: scientists collect data through experiments, observation and measurement in order to test an unproved theory 

2: Science values objectivity (an unbiased viewpoint) 

There are different philosophies of science 

Popper: experiments should try to prove hypothesises wrong - falsification 

The idea that you can't ever prove a hypothesis 100% correct, no matter how much evidence you have, but you can prove it wrong with a piece of evidence which can contradict it. E.g. "all swans are white" 

Poppers view has been criticised as an experimental result which disagrees with a hypothesis may be because of an experimental error or mistakes. 

Consensus Structuralism 

Functionalists use the 'organic analogy' to describe the nature of sociology

Used by Talcott Parsons to show how society acts like a living organism. All parts are interconnected and interdependent. Change is evolutionary, if there is a change in one part of society, other parts will slowly evolve to adapt the change. Social ills such as excessive crime can have a damaging effect that can gradually infect other parts. 

It is criticised for its focus on harmony and cooperation, it fails to take into account the differences and conflicts between groups in society. It tries to see a positive purpose in all aspects of society. Problems suffered by the working class, women and ethnic minorities have not been adequately explained and justified by functionalism. According to functionalists, conflict in society is minimal because people accept the inevitability of inequality. 

Marxism says Capitalist society has created two classes with different needs 

The ruling class owns and controls the means of production, and the working class work for the ruling class. Change in society has come about due to conflict of interests between classes. The proletariat are lulled into a false consciousness which means they are not fully aware of the oppression they suffer and how to break free from it. Marxists argue that only through revolution will the W/C see how they have been oppressed. 

Neo Marxists 

Such as Althusser and Gramsci redefine the focus of Marxism by developing the idea of Ideology. 

Criticisms: the theory is deterministic, it assumes that oppression is inevitable for the working class until a revolutionary happens. Ethnicity and Gender are largely sidelined. 

Weber was critical of Marxism 

There could be conflict between all types of groups in society, he rejected that the conflict between the owners and workers was the only important division. Conflict is much more complex that Marx had claimed. 


Social Action sees the individuals as 'social actors' who act out their parts 

People make their own choices and taking their own action rather than being controlled by the rest of society. LABELLING: People observe the behaviour of others and classify that behaviour into various categories. 

Criticisms: Fails to properly address the large scale structure of society, concentrating too much on the small scale and ignoring the wider social context that individuals act in. 

Modernity refers


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