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Assess the view that sociology can and should model itself on the natural sciences

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Introduction

´╗┐Sociology is defined as a social science, however the status as a science is questionable when compared to natural sciences such as physics and chemistry. If sociology should and can be a science depends pretty much on the definition of science and how it links together. Many sociologists disagree and take a different point of view of how sociology should be seen. So in this essay I am going to assess the view that sociology can and should be model itself on the natural sciences. The question arose as part of the "Englightment Project" in the 18th century, as the belief in science over religion became more important. Science was seen as a provider of true and objective knowledge about the world, which could be used for progress . So the early modernist sociologists thought the same scientific principles could be applied to the understanding and betterment of society. Positivists believe that it is possible and desirable to apply the logic and methods of the natural sciences to the study of society. Society, is like the nature, an objective factual reality ; it is a "real" thing made up of social facts that exists "out there", independently of individuals. They seek to discover the causes of patterns they observe to produce general statements or scientific laws, like natural scientists do. ...read more.

Middle

To illustrate sociology as a science, Emile Durkheim conducted a study on suicide. He believed if he could show this highly individual act had social causes, it would establish sociology's status as a distinct and genuinely scientific discipline. Durkheim observed patterns in the suicide rate, by using statistics. For instance, he stated that the suicide rate in Protestant countries like Germany is higher than in Catholic countries like Italy and Spain. He explained it with Catholicism being more successful in integrating individuals. Thus Durkheim claimed to have discovered a real law, that different levels of integration produce different suicide rates. However, Jack Douglas rejects the positivist idea of external social facts determining our behaviour and therefore the view of sociology as being a science. For Douglas the suicide verdicts and the statistics based on them are the product of interactions and negotiations. He argues, we need to use qualitative methods to build up a typology of suicidal meanings. Atkinson even argues that we can never know the real rate of suicide, as all we can study is how the living come to classify a death as a suicide. Although the interpretivists reject the positivist view that sociology is a science, they tend to agree with positivists about the definition of science. Natural science is the inductive reasoning or verificationism applied to the study of observable patterns. ...read more.

Conclusion

So on Kuhn's definition sociology can only become a science if such basic disagreements were resolved. A third view about sociology and science comes from the realist approach. Realists such as Russel Keat and John Urry define science in terms of the degree of control. They distinguish between closed and open systems. In a closed system all variables can be measured and controlled, whereas in an open system the researcher cannot measure all relevant variables, e.g. a meteorologist cannot normally predict the weather with 100% accuracy. Sociology would fit in to the open system, as it is way too complex to have an influence on every factor. In general they say , science studies unobservable as well as observable facts. So to some extent they see sociology as a science, as sometimes we can only observe the effects, e.g. like scientist have never seen a black hole, sociologist can only study the effects of social class. In conclusion, each of these views has implications for whether or not we regard sociology as a science. While positivists adopting natural sciences as a model, interpretivists reject the view that sociology can be scientific. The division is based in the disagreement of the nature of sociology and subject matter. So in fact, if sociology is a science or not depends on the definition of science, the methods being use and the conclusion the researcher states, as you cannot just ignore a whole perspective with valid aspects. ...read more.

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