Is Sociology a Science

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“The study of sociology cannot and should not be seen as scientific” To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence support this view? (33 marks) The debate about whether sociology can be represented as a science has existed for many years. Comte; who first used the word sociology argued that sociology should be based on the methodology of the natural sciences. He argues that the application of natural science methodology to the study of society would produce a ‘positive science of society’, showing that behaviour in the social world is governed by laws in the same way as behaviour in the natural world. He saw sociology as the ‘queen of sciences’ and considered it the last and most complex form of sociology to develop. Sociologists such as Comte are impressed by science in explaining the natural world. Such sociologists are known as positivists. Positivists claim that the methods of natural sciences are applicable to the study of people within society. They believe that by doing this it allows one to gain true and objective knowledge. Positivists say that reality is a separate thing existing outside of the mind, so society can be studied objectively as factual reality. Early positivists argued that research could lead to the control and improvement of society. However there are conflicting views about whether sociology can be seen as science or not. Whilst positivists argue that the aim of sociology should be to study social facts and measured quantitatively other sociologists who are subjective and relativistic such as interpretivist argue that people are unpredictable; that they do not simply respond to external forces. A positivist sociologist would use scientific methods of study such as observations to study the patterns of society, in order to discover the laws that determine how society works. This can be carried out using experiments, questionnaires, structured interviews as these give objective and value free results producing social facts that can be read off with mathematical precision. These methods also produce reliable data that can be checked by other researchers repeating the experiment. This type of methods highly influenced Durkheim’s view of positivism. He also adopted a scientific methodology and hypothesis method in which data must be capable of being tested against evidence from systematic experimentation. An example of one such study would be the study that Durkheim carried out on 'Suicide as a Social Fact' in which he used official statistics to investigate what causes a person to commit suicide. He believed that if he could show that there were social patterns and causes applicable to suicide; he would be able to prove sociology as having a scientific guideline. In Durkheim’s positivistic theory of suicide he used the official statistics of different societies to conclude that suicide was not because of individual motivation but by social facts that had cause and effect consequence. This he found to be integration and regulation; as a result he portrayed that sociology can and should model itself on science. Durkheim as a positivist claimed to use natural science methodology; he used the twin social forces of social integration and moral regulation to explain suicide even though neither was observable or quantifiable. Durkheim argues that to discover the truth about how society works scientific study is necessary. To show that sociology was a science with its own distinctive subject matter Durkheim chose to study suicide. He believed if he could show this highly individual act had social causes it would establish sociology’s status as a scientific discipline. Using quantitative data from official statistics Durkheim observed patterns in suicide rates. Rates for Protestants were higher than Catholics and he therefore concluded patterns could not be due to the motives of individuals, but were social facts. Durkheim argues the social facts responsible for determining suicide rates were...
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