Sociology as a science (Can sociology be a science? (The problem of…
Sociology as a science
Science as a product of modernity
Explanations from spirits, gods or other supernatural beings are displaced by rational scientific explanations based on empirical evidence derived from observation and experimentation, logical thoughts and reasoning.
Social truths would no longer be based on appeals to religion, faith, intuition tradition and superstition, but on evidence and rational argument based on the scientific method
The scientific method
(2002) - science involves the hypothetic-deductive method
of the scientific method
The use of empirical evidnece
The accumulation of evidence
No hypothesis can ever be finally proven true
Researchers should aim to falsify their hypothesis, the more a hypothesis stands up to such attempts, the more likely it is to a 'scientific truth'.
He suggests that much of sociological theory is
as it can't actually be falsified by empirical research, and will only become scientific when it produces testable and falsifiable hypotheses.
Objectivity and value freedom
Objectivity is an important part of the scientific process because the data should not be distorted by the value judgments and personal beliefs of the scientist.
Objectivity has 3 main aspects
Open-mindedness on the part of the researcher, and willingness to consider all possibilities and evidenece, to demonstrate 'fair play' and act in good faith.
Value freedom - keeping all personal prejudices, opinions and values out of the research
Findings should be open to inspection and criticism by other researchers ('community of scientists')
- sociologists are part of the society they are studying and their values will effect the research in some way
- researchers approach topics with complete detachment from those being researched
- general beliefs about what's important in life, and what is right or wrong.
Can sociology be a science?
The problem of prediciton
The Hawthorne effect
Study of the study of society
The main features of postivism
The focus of sociology is on the study of social instittuions and the social structure as a whole, NOT the individual.
Research should focus on the search for the social causes of events
(1897) 'Suicide' - causes of suicide are imbalances of
(binding people into society and building social cohesion) and
(regulation/ control by social values of the actions and desires of individuals)
Direct observation and the use of
quantitative, statistical methods
of data collection. Without quantification, sociology will remain at the level of insight, lacking evidence and be impossible to replicate, establish the causes of social events, or make generalisations and predictions
A view that human bahviour is a response to observable social facts, and can be explained in terms of cause and effect
'Phenomena that exist outside the individuals and independently of their minds, but which act upon them in ways which constrain or mould their behaviour
Applying the procedures of the natural sciences enables an objective and value-free society
- application of natural science methodology to the study of science would produce a 'positive science of society'
Human behaviour is a response to external sources
Logic, methods and procedures of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of society with little modification
It is impossible to predict human behavior or to establish a cause and effect relationship
Argue that people do not simply respond to external forces; the interpret and give meaning to a situation before responding
In order to understand and explain it is necessary to discover and interpret the meanings people give to situations
Researchers can only understand the meanings if they try to put themselves in the position of the people whose actions they are trying to understand
Emphasis that meanings do not exist independently for people, social phenomenas, such as suicide, are not social facts but social constructions that have no reality outside the meaning given to them by people
Is science really scientific?
Two general reasons to doubt natural science
It is based on mistaken assumptions about what natural science and scientific method are really like
It ignores the way scientific knowledge is socially constructed
The realist view of science
(1998) - NOT ALL STRUCTURES ARE OBSERVABLE
These underlying structures are a feature of both the natural and social worlds, and the positivist view is based on an incorrect assumption that natural scientific method is based only on what can be observed
Open and closed systems
Both natural science and sociology study the unobservable
The claim that sociology is unscientific because it is unable to predict human behaviour, and shouldn't aim to copy natural scientific methods, as Interpretivists suggest, is actually based on a mistaken view of what real natural scientific research is like
Natrual science has an advatnage becasue it can study events in closed system (control and manipulation)
Sayer et al
- prediction is not as precise in natural science as Popper claims
P= observable I = unobservable, but both are engaged in 'doing science', as much as any natural scientist, so sociology IS a science.
The social construction approach
Science, scientific method and scientific knowledge are not neutral, objective things, but they are produced within a specific social context.
They are created by the actions and interpretations of scientists themselves
Science = Social Construct
(2012) 'The influence of paradigms and scientific revolutions
Scientists work with paradigms - frameworks of scientific laws, concepts, theories, methods and assumptions.
A paradigm acts like a pair of colour lenses, which influence what they should look for, what questions they ask etc.
Paradigms are learnt by scientists in their training, where they are socialised into the aceoted view of 'normal science', based on the values of the scientific commentary at the time...this is just like sociologists learning different methodological approaches, and what counts as 'good sociology'.
Paradigms act like blinkers which encourage scientists to try to fit observations into the paradigm, rather than to falsify their hypotheses.
(1973) Reconstructed logic and logic in use
- the formal scientific method they are meant to use, which is essential for the scientific community to accept their results
- scientists depart from these procedures, and the research process is much more haphazard, unsystematic and as hoc (made up as they go)
Postmodernism and science
It is pointless trying to find the social causes of behaviour
No sociological research provides a factual description of social life as it is socially constructed by sociologists
Science has failed and there is a loss of faith that science can improve the world
Science is a metanarrative