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Should Sociology Be Scientific?

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Introduction

SHOULD SOCIOLOGY BE SCIENTIFIC? Positivists claim that science uses established methods and procedures, and that these methods and procedures can be applied to the social sciences. They believe that social facts can be observed objectively, measured and quantified. Analysis of statistics can reveal correlations, causes and ultimately laws of human behaviour. From this point of view, sociological studies using such methods can be considered to be scientific. Positivists see the use of scientific methods as highly desirable, and they tend to be critical of those sociologists who study subjective and unobservable mental states. Popper (1959) also sees it as highly desirable that sociology should be scientific. He rejects many sociological theories as being unscientific because they are not sufficiently precise to generate hypotheses that can be falsified. He is particularly critical of Marxism for failing to make precise predictions: for example, for failing to specific exactly when and under what circumstances a proletarian revolution would take place in capitalist societies. Like positivists, then, Popper believes that it is possible for sociology to become scientific by following a particular set of methodological procedures. He parts company with positivists in denying that science can deliver the final truth, since the possibility of falsification always exists. ...read more.

Middle

According to the realist view of science, much of sociology is scientific, To realist sociologists such as Keat and Urry (1982), Marxist sociology is scientific because it develops modles of underlying structures and processes in society, which are evaluated and modified in the light of empirical evidence. Unlike positivists, realists do not automatically reject interpretive sociology as unscientific, because they believe that studying unobservable meanings and motives is perfectly compatible with a scientific subject. One of the reasons that sociologists have been so concerned with the question of whether sociology is a science is the widespread assumption that science is objective, or 'value-free'. Many of the founders of sociology believed that sociology could and should be value-free. Early positivists such as Comte and Durkheim argued that objectivity was attainable by adopting a 'scientific' methodology. Marx also believed that his sociology was object and 'scientific', although he saw society very differently. Weber did not think complete value-freedom was possible, but he did believe that, once a topic for research had been chosen, the researcher could be objective. He argues that sociologists should not make value judgements, that is, they should not state what aspects of society they found desirable or undesirable. ...read more.

Conclusion

Empirical investigations, which are more than the subjective interpretations of individuals, mean that sociology can be more than just value-laden opinions. Truth claims, even if accepted now, may be rejected at some point in the future. A consensus about what is and is not true may break down. However, because they are based upon reaching agreements about what is true, they have a more solid foundation than individual interpretations. Carspeken even argues that, up to a point, values can be evaluated as well. He uses the example of somebody arguing that poverty is not bad because 'there has always been poverty and always will be; it is natural' (Carspecken 1996). In this case the value claim that poverty is not bad can be critically examined by using examples of societies, which have no poverty, and by trying to show that some things which are natural are not necessarily good. If Craspecken's views are correct, then values are integral to sociology and indeed to all disciplines, but that does not prevent empirical testing of theories. Sociology can make claims about truth and hope to gain acceptance for them. From this viewpoint, sociologists should also accept and welcome a commitment to using the production of sociological knowledge to try to improve society. Sanjay Mistry 'Sociology as a Science' Jan 03 ...read more.

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