Is Sociology a Science
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