Is sociology scientific?

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Patricia Curmi

SP1151A: Research Methods and Data Analysis

Seminar tutor: Ursula Wolski

Date due: 27.11.02

Is sociology scientific?

Science offers humans a unique opportunity to observe and interpret the world around them, allowing us to free ourselves from the constraints of mysticism and guesswork that our ancestors relied upon to make sense of a planet which otherwise appears totally random and chaotic. The analytical, systematic process inherent to the scientific approach bases its foundations of knowledge in the naturally occurring patterns and rhythms that govern the natural world.  Scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry and physics offer not only the ability to explain the nature of matter or the processes of life, but was also able to form generalisations about their properties. Sociology, often viewed by many scientists as a poorly formed younger sibling of ‘true science’, has suffered during its short life-span a barrage of criticisms levelled against it regarding the reliability and accuracy of its methods and theories when compared to the ‘natural’ sciences.  

During both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries advances in science and technology encouraged people to believe that there could be a rational explanation for everything and that scientific study could lead to the solving of all of the problems faced by human beings. Physics, under the guiding hand of Newtonian methodology, had promised comprehensive explanations of the Earth and its place in the universe.
In the same way many looked on Darwinian biological theory as the explanation of life on Earth with the theory of evolution and the origin of the species. Finally, it was anticipated that the social sciences would extend this 'enlightenment project' (Cavazos 2001) into explanations of the collective activities and relationships of human beings. In fact, Auguste Comte, who gave the name to sociology, confidently expected that it would provide the highest level of scientific explanation in establishing laws of human society itself.

From its original purpose as the 'science of society', sociology has moved on to more reflexive attempts to understand how society works. It seeks to provide insights into the many forms of relationship, both formal and informal, between people. Human beings have wants, needs and desires but the forms that these take are related to attachments to social groupings and participation in social institutions.

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        Yet one cannot avoid the complications of sociological research and the difficulties that arise due to both the diversity and complexity of its subject: human society. Sociological explanations drawn from human behaviour are tied to the idea that social interactions among individuals cause or at least greatly influence human behaviour. Sociology focuses on the nature of the human group and products of group living. The scientific method in sociology studies human social behaviour, specifically uniformity in human social nature, and that this uniformity may be detected and understood by sociologists through the collection of quantitative facts.

Comte believed Positivism ...

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