Describe, Compare, Contrast, and Critically Evaluate the Effectiveness of Both Positivist and Phenomenological Methodology Adopted When Studying Society.

Topics: Sociology, Science, Max Weber Pages: 7 (2398 words) Published: May 20, 2012
Sociology is the study of human society, including both social action and organisation. Sociologists use scientific research methods and theories, and study social life in a wide variety of settings, this offers not only information but also a distinctive way of looking at the world and the position humans play in it. Whereas most people try to explain events by analyzing the motives of those involved, sociologists encourage a look beyond individual psychology to many recurring attitudes, actions and how these patterns vary across time, cultures and social groups. To look at the different ways people act and behave in society, it has to be seen from a sociological perspective. Within sociology there is no single method, but many. As stated by Haralambos and Holborn (1995) science appeared to be capable of producing objective knowledge that could be used to solve human problems and increase human productive capacity in an unprecedented way. This assignment will look at the two main methodologies, used by sociologists, past and present, and compare the effectiveness of the two.

When the task of comparing and contrasting the two methodologies of positivism and phenomenology, adopted within the study of society, there are many things that leap to mind: Firstly, there is the factor of time or circa and secondly is the influence of certain acclaimed sociologists within the two different approaches. Methodology within sociology is the study of methods and deals with the philosophical assumptions underlying the research process, using scientific quantitative data collection under those philosophical assumptions. The broad methodology positions, positivism and phenomenology differ hugely. Positivism contains the underlying philosophical assumptions of research in the most pure and applied sciences, physics, chemistry and biology, based on ideas of the objective reality of the physical world, scientific method and empiricism. Just as positivism arose out of rejecting speculation an alternative view has arisen out of rejecting the view that scientific empiricism can be applied to the social world. There is no one philosophical basis, but phenomenology, which can be seen as the basis for what is the assumption that society can only really be understood through personal actions such as language, feelings and emotions. As stated by Kirby, Kidd, Koubel, Barter, Hope, Kirton, Madry, Manning and Triggs, (2000), that although not perfect the link between the methodologies is that the structuralist–minded sociologists tended to adopt a positivist approach and social action based sociologists tend to adopt a phenomenological approach.

The positivist versus the phenomenological approach to the study of man and society is considered in terms of one of the major debates in social science research. Many of the founding fathers of sociology such as Marx (1818-1883), Comte (1798-1857) and Durkheim (1858-1917) believed that it would be possible to create a science of society based on the same principles and procedures as natural sciences. Positivist theorists believed that this approach would reveal that the evolution of society followed invariable laws and that it would show that the behaviour of man was governed by principles of cause and effect which are just as invariable as the subject of natural sciences. Kirby et al, (2000) states that positivists believe that only by adopting a position of total objectivity towards the subject matter or phenomena can unbiased knowledge or theories be produced.

Comte believed in the hierarchy of science and that each study of science is dependent upon another. His theory ranged from the simplest to the more complex forms of science and that sciences above rely on sciences below stating that sociology was more abstract and difficult than other sciences. Originating from his hierarchy of science, as stated in Haralambos and Holborn, (2004), Comte widely believed that industrialization and the growth of...
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