Is sociology a science?
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Is sociology a science? To answer the question of whether or not sociology is a science is entirely dependent upon the individual's definition of science. If the conventional definition of science is being referred to, that is, that science is knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematised and brought under general principles, then arguably to a certain extent sociology is scientific. However if science is socially instead of objectively defined, then although some sociology may have similar characteristics to natural science there is a significant difference in the method model used in each case. Medawar claimed science should be defined in terms of its method, stating that if a particular logic and procedure was followed then the subject could be considered a science regardless the subject matter. This would thus allow certain branches of sociology to be defined as a science, mainly those that are of a positivist approach and utilise quantitative research. Popper redefined and developed this view of science. He viewed science as being logical, useful and refutable.
Even if the idealised conception of natural science was accepted by sociologists who were not positivist they would still fail to consider it as a suitable model for the study of social behaviour. Indeed ethnomethodologists have dismissed science as being no different from other forms of common sense, with the scientific observer relying on subjective experience and interpreting his observations within a particular social context. The main argument interpretive sociologists use against the scientific approach lies in their different views on what the subject matter of sociology is defined as. They dismiss the existence of objective social facts and see social reality as socially constructed. Searle has argued that social scientists need explanations of 'intentionality and its effects' as opposed to social facts. He emphasises the purposive nature of human behaviour and the meaning we attach to it. Winch has suggested that sociologists should seek reasons for and not cause of behaviour. This criticism of positivism often uses Durkheim's study on suicide as an example for debate. There is a mass of material that could be used to criticise the idealised conventional definition of science.
Bell and Newby have described a similar distinction between the way sociological research is actually done from the way it appears in formal applications. The approving view of the open-minded scientist is also questioned by Sklair, who looks at the way 'big science' is dominated by government and business interests. This, he claims, influences choice of subject matter and interpretation of findings. Broad and Wade have shown how this can lead to cheating by scientists. For example American scientists are alleged to have falsely claimed simultaneous and independent identification of the HIV as the cause of AIDS with French scientists. Sociologists, as shown by Bell and Newby, also conform to outside pressures. This could be illustrated by the bias towards the interests of the employer in industrial sociology. More social research in the UK is directly or indirectly government sponsored. Gouldner sees the commitment to science itself, by sociologists, as an evasion of their responsibilities, as it allows them to be used by government and business. In conclusion an accurate answer to the question is sociology a science does not exist due to the varying perspectives on the subject matter and definition of science.
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