Durkhiem is frequently referred to as a positivist, Webber as the founder of interpretative sociology. Critically compare and evaluate their methodological contributions to sociology.

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Contempory Social Theory

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Durkhiem is frequently referred to as a positivist, Webber as the founder of interpretative sociology.  Critically compare and evaluate their methodological contributions to sociology.

This essay will be examining the methodological contributions both Durkheim and Weber have provided to sociology.  It will briefly observe what Positivists are and how their methodologies influence and affect their research.  It will also consider what interpretative sociology is, and why their type of methodology is used when carrying out research.  It will analyse both Durkheim’s study of Suicide and also Webers study of The Protestant work ethic, and hopefully establish how each methodology was used for each particular piece of research, and why.

Emile Durkhiem, in sociology terminology is considered to be a Functionalist, in addition to also being a Positivist, however, strictly speaking, Durkheim was not a Positivist.  This is because he did not follow the positivist rule that states that sociological study should be confined to observable or directly measurable phenomena.

Functionalists believe that in order for society to function correctly, there need to be shared values to help maintain social order. Society is viewed as a stable, orderly system. This stable system is in equilibrium and reflects societal consensus where the majority of members share a common set of values, beliefs, and social expectations.  Functionalists also believe that society consists of interrelated parts; each part serves a function and contributes to the stability of the society.

Positivists believe that as a science, sociology can be objective and value-free. Disinterested scientific observers shouldn't and don't necessarily introduce bias into the research process. Sociology formulates social principles and laws that objectively describe the social world. "Comte argued that there was no solution to the constant argument about what society should be like - the negative approach; instead we should find out what it is like - the positive approach."
(Craib, Ian.
Classical Social Theory. 1997:26)

Max Weber, born in 1868 in Germany, was the son of a Lawyer and was brought up in a household where Religon played a major role in his life.  After attending Heidelberg University, he completed his first “Sociological” work on “The Situation of Farm Workers in Germany”.  From around 1903, he completed most of his Sociological writings, this included the famous “Protestant work ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”.  Weber even taught himself Russian, in order for him to observe and study the Russian Revolution.  This was, in itself putting ‘Verstehen’ into practice.  Something which many Sociologists, especially Positivists such as Comte, disagreed about.  Verstehen is when you imagine yourself to be in the position of the person or people who’s behaviour you are wishing to explain.

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Weber famously defined the term “Sociology” as a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects. In "action" is included all human behaviour when and insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it. Action in this sense may be either obvious or purely hidden or subjective; it may consist of positive intervention in a situation, or of deliberately refraining from such intervention in the situation. Action is social insofar as, by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting ...

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