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What is meant by the term Positivism and what implications does it have for the methods of research in social science?

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Introduction

Matthew Birkett November 2002 Introduction to Social Enquiry Tutor: Fiona Hutton What is meant by the term Positivism and what implications does it have for the methods of research in social science? To discuss the above question posed, the term positivism will have to be analysed, moreover, the attributes of positivism will have to be considered. The methods of research that would be used by taking a positivistic approach will also be different; this also will be examined. The early origins of Positivism and some major studies that have taken a positivistic approach will also be reflected on. The early writer Auguste De Comte introduced the term Positivism into the world of Sociology. This approach to sociology was a structured approach; moreover, it was a scientific method within sociology. To look at a definition of positivism according to Giddens would be "A doctrine which claims that social life should be understood and analysed in the same way that scientist study the 'natural world.' ...read more.

Middle

Another factor of positivism would be that the knowledge that is deduced is through gathering facts that provide the core for the principles that can be related upon the whole of society. Emile Durkheim and Karl Mark Writers such as Wright (1971), have often criticised this positivistic approach to the study of society, some question the appropriateness of relating the scientific model to sociology. Wright takes a more phenomological approach, which looks at how individual makes sense of the world around them; Positivism concentrates on explaining human behaviour, while interpretivism focuses on understanding human behaviour. Max Weber (1864-1920) also opted not to take this total positivistic approach, but did however, selected to use a Verstehen approach. The theory that Weber uses seems to both understand and explain human behaviour, subsequently, the method used, is never Positivism or Interpretivism. In conclusion, Positivism is a scientific approach to sociology, in addition attempts to compare sociology to the other 'natural sciences', moreover, the methodology used when conducting research and taking this approach, is inevitable going to be different than if the researcher was opting for the interpretism method. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Douglas (1967), made criticism of the reliability of Government statistics and claimed they are highly inaccurate. Moreover, statistic can often reflect the view of the researcher, or the person that is funding the research. In conclusion, the main purpose of positivism is to test observable facts and phenomena; the effect on research methods must reflect this. The characteristics of positivism must also reflect upon the research methods that the researcher opts for. Objectivity is a major feature of positivism, how can objectivity be maintained if unstructured interviews are being used? Positivist sociologist are usually inclined to look at society on a macro scale and as a consequence, attempt to apply rules or laws upon the whole of society as opposed to looking at society as individuals. The positivistic approach is frequently criticised by writers such as Habermas and those of the Frankfurt School, who believed that positivism generally stopped at producing quantified facts and did look deeper into actual sociological interpretation. In spite of this, many sociologists today would consider themselves as positivist to a lesser extent, which is that many sociologists prefer to test observable facts, as opposed to speculation. ...read more.

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