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Sociology essay

By drfrost21 Dec 03, 2014 1274 Words
Is sociology a science?

Sociology is the study of human social behaviour. It is in face a science, better said a social science which overlooks a variety of aspects affecting human social behaviour such as social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, secularization, law, sexuality and deviance. The roots of sociology are connected with Greek philosophers such as Plato and are connected with surveying and collecting data based on a sample group. Sociologists were and are interested in why people act in a certain manner – what day-to-day habits do people follow? How does discrimination play role in modern society? What are social norms, why are they inflicted upon us and why do we follow them almost religiously? Before the developed thinking of the Renaissance, people were more concerned about the material world such as nature, therefore their primeval concern was on the emergence of mathematics, physics and other nature sciences. When arts, literature, poetry and a more developed thinking started arising at the time of the Renaissance did humans begin to concern themselves with studying and understanding the mind, this leading to them becoming curious about understanding the relationship between people and communities and thus developing the field of Sociology. To be accurate and reliable, social experiments must be performed in a structured manner which needs skills like knowledge of history, understanding contemporary situations, and conceptual methods. This led to development of social methods of research and exploration. Over all these years the field of sociology developed many social thinkers each with their own theory, perspective, and methods. But the argument remains on whether sociology is a science afterall. Social norms and facts are much harder to distinguish since it is not a ‘thing’ with a physical existence that can be investigated, poked and prodded like a biologist studying a nucleus of cell would or a physicist studying motion. In fact, it is the study of how groupings of people behave based on their culture, gender, occupation etc. Many representatives of natural science argue that behaviour and the mind do not take physical form like an atom does therefore cannot be studied scientifically. However, it also easy to answer back and suggest that the chemicals in the brain are what affect most of our actions and therefore both psychology and sociology fall under the grips of science. On concern with sociology is that science requires a high level of objectivity as becomes a more difficult task for sociologists since they are not dealing with inanimate objects but instead with groups of people – bias may occur while they are interviewing or surveying. A variety of famous sociological studies have helped impacted our life by investigating stimuli affecting various societies and groups to see how human behaviour works and how it can be changed. One of these being ‘Suicide’, written by French sociologist Emile Durkheim in 1897 where the author explores suicide rates and it’s cause, being the first to conclude that suicide is affected by social factors, not individual personalities. A more modern study would be T’he McDonaldization of Society’, where author George Ritzer takes the central elements of Max Weber’s work and expands and updates them, producing an analysis of the impact of structural change on human interaction and identity. It is not about McDonald’s itself, but rather how the principles of the fast food industry have come to dominate all parts of American society and the rest of the world. The most famous and influential socio-political manuscript of course, is by far the ‘Communist Manifesto’ written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. In it, Marx presents an analytical approach to class struggle and the problems of capitalism and his theories about the nature of society and politics. This piece still influences modern-day thinkers and place an essential part modern sociology, politics, psychology, etc. And yet the argument remains. The uses of the knowledge of sociology are quite limited in terms of creating something of physical form – you will not build a car or a laptop from studying sociology. But you will need it to understand people’s desire for these objects and to witness a group’s overall necessity for various things of such sort as well as the reactions of all the various groups – the mothers need a minivan while the 20-something ‘lads’ prefer a Nissan Skyline. The use of this knowledge is somewhat different. It enables us to understand why people do things; what makes them behave in certain ways. Proving whether this knowledge is true is difficult to demonstrate. With natural science, a car can be built, and if it works, then the science behind that is believed to be objective and true. Because sociologists cannot manifest any physical entity with their knowledge, the truth of their knowledge can surely be nothing but subjective. Before any research method can be carried out there must be some theory, and in examining the objectivity of this in relation to social theory. The theory of positivism is the philosophical and methodological decision to base human knowledge solely on the scientific interpretation of observational data derived from mathematical and logical experiments. Positivists defend sociology stating that is a science therefore they tend to adopt quantitative research methods such as experiments, surveys and questionnaires. This is because the subject matter of society is similar to natural science. According to the theory of positivism social factors act as an external force to determine human behaviour just as external factors affect, for example, metals or gases. In their opinion, human behaviour is repeated in familiar environments and situations therefore it is predictable and patterned. The ability to measure this order enables it to be considered a science. For example the constraints of beliefs or moral codes that shape the behaviour of groups – such as in England it is a common practice to drink tea and through generations families and social circles treat tea not just a beverage but as a passing time. Positivists argue that sociology similar to natural science can apply the concept of empiricism. Since social facts can in fact be observed and measured objectively then sociology is in fact considered a science. However, interpretivists challenge this view. Interpretivists deny what positivists stress, that human behaviour can be studied using the same philosophical base as used in studying physical objects or other animals. They believe that there is a difference between the subject matter of sociology and natural science. The natural sciences deal with matters that have no consciousness, thus cannot be measured in a similar manner. Therefore, interpretivists do not see sociology as a scientific theory as science deals with laws of cause and effect, whereas sociology would appear to deal with people’s meanings, rejecting the use of casual explanations and scientific methods. Since humans have a consciousness their behaviour is considered to be taken as ‘meaningful’ – we act with a purpose. Thus our actions cannot be associated with natural phenomena and methodology used by natural sciences would be inappropriate to study social life and human behaviour. Therefore interpretivists argue that social behaviour cannot be explained simply in terms of external incentives. Social reality could be seen as a subjective construction based on interpretation and interaction. So the argument remains with various sides arguing on whether sociology is after all a science. A certain conclusion is that without sociology we would know nothing about the various topics on human behaviour –, why statistically more men than women commit suicide, why some norms in China and Italy are entirely different, why do Americans buy fast food…. Or even something far more simple as: Why do we drink coffee in the morning?

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