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Can and should sociology be a science?

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Introduction

Can and should sociology be a science? Science is defined as knowledge that is certain, gained by systematic study through observation and experimentation. Examples of sciences are chemistry and physics. While sociology is the systematic study of human society dedicated to the understanding of social interaction as people form groups, communities and societies. However, there is no definition of sociology entirely satisfactory because of the diversity of perspectives that would classify sociology suitable to be a type science or not. Question is, can and should sociology be a science? Positivists argue that sociology can be a science therefore they tend to adopt quantitative research methods such as experiments and close-ended questionnaires. This is because the subject matter of society is similar to natural science. Positivists in sociology believe that like how rocks and gases react to external forces, social facts act as an external force to determine human behavior. Human behavior is patterned and predictable, most social behaviors are learnt and repeated in familiar contexts, and this measure of 'order' means that sociology can be scientific. For instance, beliefs and moral codes of society, which is beyond the individual's control shapes an individual's behavior. Human behavior is seen to be governed by external forces therefore human behavior can be objectively rather than subjectively observed and measured, similar to how a scientist observes and measures the natural world. ...read more.

Middle

Moreover, conditions of a research cannot be replicated easily. Natural sciences have the benefit of being able to control its variables, however there are several factors that affect human behavior and it is difficult to isolate them since human possess free will. Therefore, it is difficult to replicate a study. For instance, William Foote Whyte could not possibly repeat his study of the Italian slum with the exact same conditions and activities observed in of the street corner society. Interpretivists see the world as a largely socially constructed place. Interpretivists reject the methods of natural science as objective observation and measurement of the social world are not possible. For example it is difficult to get reliable statistics on health and crime because the data is dependent on members of public reporting their illness or crimes they observe meaning that even statistics are social constructions. Also, statistics are simply the product of categorization. Instead of studying the categories itself, interpretivists study the way that the members of society categorize the world around them. To an interpretivist, reality is too complicated for numbers and quantitative analysis to be made. Qualitative methods are essential for a full understanding of social reality. Scientific objectivity cannot be upheld using these qualitative methods that require a level of subjective thought. ...read more.

Conclusion

Natural science aims at understanding why certain factors bring about an effect. Sociology on the other hand aims at understanding human behavior to improve social life. On the other hand, Sociology should be a science as it can encourage the progress of the subject and adopt many useful methods from natural sciences to observe social life such as the quantitative method to gather information from a questionnaire. It is not a natural science as there is no objective truth in Sociology unlike the natural science where the distinction between right and wrong is very clear. To realist sociologists Keat and Urry, Marxist sociology is scientific as it provides models of underlying structures which are evaluated in the light of empirical evidence. Unlike positivists, realists do not automatically reject interpretive sociology as unscientific because they believe that studying unobservable events are all perfectly compatible with a scientific subject. Durkheim's study of suicide proved that method of natural science, quantifying human behavior can establish laws of human behavior. In conclusion, Sociology cannot be considered as a natural science as it differs in terms of experiment procedures and data collecting. Value free judgments do not apply in Sociology. However, it should be a science but not under the same category. Because human behavior is complex, a more in depth observation analysis is needed. Sociology is an interpretive subject and requires a more in depth analysis. Therefore, it should be considered as a social science. ...read more.

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