Sociology - The Comparative Method

Topics: Sociology, Western culture, Society Pages: 10 (1733 words) Published: February 1, 1995
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...
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