Sociology: the Comparative Method

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Sociology: The Comparative Method

Sociologists have embraced what is known as the comparative method as the most efficient way to expose taken-for-granted 'truths' or laws that people have adopted. But what is this comparative method and how does it work? Are there any advantages/disadvantages to exposing these false 'truths'. What forms or variations of the comparative method exist? In the pages to follow I will attempt to give you some insight and understanding of what the comparative method is, and how it works.

The comparative method, simply put, is the process of comparing two things (in our case societies, or the people that make up society) and seeing if the result of the comparison shows a difference between the two. The comparative method attempts to dereify (the process of exposing misinterpreted norms. Norms that society consider natural and inevitable characteristics of human existence) reified (the human created norms or 'truths') beliefs.

Obviously there are various ways in which a nomi (a labeled, sometime constructed, norm or truth) can be exposed. Which form of the comparative method should one use however? The answer, whichever one applies to the 'truth' in question. For example, you certainly would not do a cross-gender form of comparison if you wished to expose whether or not homosexuality has always been feared and looked down upon by most people throughout history. No, rather you would perform a historical comparison of two or more different societies to see if these beliefs always existed, or, whether or not this is a newly constructed belief.

Let's look at little more closely at the above mentioned historical comparison and see how the comparative method works with a specific example.
There is no question that in today's western society there is a lot of fear and trepidation towards people who are labeled 'homosexual'. The question we will attempt to answer however is whether or not it has always been like this and is this a universal truth.

In ancient Greek societies people had a very different opinion of men that slept with men. For example, it was considered quite an honor for a family with a young boy under the age of 10, to be given the privilege on an older man of high society taking their son into his house. The young boy would go and live with this older man. The older man would have sex with the young boy on a regular basis until the boy developed facial hair. It was not until then that the boy was considered a man. Society thought that an older mans, of great reputation, semen would help the boy develop into a fine young man. Once the boy developed the facial hair, the sex between the two would stop. The older man's job was finished. Obviously this would be considered an atrocious and disgusting act these days. The older man in this case would certainly go to jail for the 'crimes' that he had committed. However, in Ancient Greece this was not only considered perfectly normal, but as I already stated, it was an honor and a gift that not every boy was 'lucky' enough to be given. Therefore, we can conclude from this comparison that homophobia, as we know it, is not a natural truth, nor is it a universal belief. Rather it is a socially constructed belief that many people have taken for granted as an inevitable part of human existence.

It is important at this point to clarify something however. It is said that the role of the sociologist is a descriptive one as opposed to a prescriptive one. That is to say that the sociologist should describe the various practices, customs and structures that exist in various societies rather than suggest to people which one is actually the correct belief or the 'real' truth.

Cross-gender comparisons is another commonly used comparison used to reveal socially constructed truths. In Carol Gilligan's book 'In a different voice' we find a fine example of a cross-gender comparison. She states that most people believe...
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