Sociology and science

  • Created by: rdowd40
  • Created on: 19-05-19 16:16

Positivism

  • YES, sociology is a science.
  • The main aim of positivist research is to look for reliability, representativeness and generalisability.
  • They are structuralists and see society as having a set of institutions which shape our behaviour.
  • Popular theories that would fulfil this would be: functionalists, Marxists and feminists.
  • They have a birds eye view of society and look for cause and effect relationships and try to turn behaviour into numbers.
  • They use quantitative methods, gathering lots of data which can be turned into statistics.
  • Research methods that positivists prefer include: questionnaires, structured interviews, experiments and official statistics.

Interpretivists

  • NO, sociology is not a science
  • The main aim of interpretivist research is validity.
  • They are interactionists who see society as created by our interactions with other people.
  • Key interpretivist theorists include Cooley and Goffman
  • They feel that the best way to carry out research is to 'walk in someone else's shoes', and they use subjective, small scale samples of data, and look at how people interact.
  • They use qualitative methods, fathering small amounts of high quality, in-depth data. 
  • Research methods they prefer include: unstructured interviews, participant observation and personal documents. 

What is meant by science?

  • Science is a set of principles that tell us how to produce valid knowledge
  • It aims to base laws and theories on objective facts gained through observing phenomena 
  • Something is scientific when it uses empiricism (knowledge gained by actually experiencing something).
  • Objectivity is vital in science. This is where the research does not involve opinion, bias or prejudice. 

To come up with empirical knowledge, experiments are carriedd ou to test relationships between variables. Theories and laws that are tested over and over again by 'replication' become accepted as scientific knowledge. 

Evidence of sociology as a science

Auguste Comte, the founding father of positivism, claims it is possible to discover laws that control and shape the behaviour of people in society. He believes the main task of sociology is to discover the general laws of society. For instance:

  • Laws of co-existence: looking at the relationship between parts of society; e.g. the relationship between integration and regulation in relation to suicide.

Durkheim felt that Comte had failed to establish sociology as a science. Durkheim instead thought that sociology should study social facts as things to observe and measure. So, issues like suicide rates can be examined better with a positivist approach.

Karl Popper thought that all acdemic subject areas that wanted to be called a science should subject themselves to a process called falsification - taking the theory and then looking for evidence against it. If we adopt this approach in sociology, it can be a science. To test itself, sociology must come up with testable hypotheses such as: suicide is caused by insufficient regulation and integration. Popper rejected Marxism as a pseudoscience, because he felt that concepts such as false class consciousness, were too abstract to be seen and measured.

Evidence against sociology as a science

Interpretivism is the alternative, polar opposite of positivism.

Sociologists such

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