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Is Sociology A Science Essay 33 Marks

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‘Sociology can and should be a science.’ To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence support this view? (33 marks)

This essay has two parts, can sociology be a science meaning what qualities can sociology and science share leading to sociology being classed as a science, and two, should sociology be a science depending on what perspective sociological theory takes, looking what society actually is and whether you should study it scientifically. Popper and Kuhn argue that sociology cannot be a science because there are fundamental differences between the two, whilst Realists argue that it could be it could be argued to share some elements just different subject matter. Positivists think sociology should be a science because essentially their whole method aims to be scientific, whilst interpretivists believe sociology should not be a science because society cannot be studied like one, the subject matters are fundamentally different.

Karl Popper argues that sociology cannot be a science because a science has to be falsifiable and has to have the highest elements of objectivity. He believes that sociology does not fulfil either and therefore cannot be one until it does. To explain, falsifiability is the term used to describe the ability to prove something wrong. For instance water boiling at 100 degrees is falsifiable because we can test it at various temperatures and see if it boils. However it is believed sociology cannot be proved wrong. For example Marxism has the idea that eventually the working class will gain class consciousness, realise their exploitation and overthrow the ruling class. This cannot be proved wrong, because Marxists could say ‘well it just hasn’t happened yet’ for the rest of time, and thus this theory is always right. Karl believes we can never have absolute knowledge of truth, and as such a good theory has to be proved wrong. This also relates to objectivity, because science aims to prove things wrong it removes the subjective opinion about something, you can collect as much data as you want that support your view and it will not be valid, but trying to actively disprove your theory is the most objective a person can be. As sociology can sometimes not be proved wrong we can assume that the studies are not objective. For example Feminism is value laden, everything oppresses women, science in itself oppresses women and they actively find different ways to support their views, hence they can never be objective. Therefore sociology cannot be a science because it can not be objective and it falls into the fallacy of induction, finding evidence to support rather than trying to disprove.

However there is some criticism particularly from the positivists who believe that sociology should be a science and it in fact can be a science because it can be objective and it can be falsified. For instance the positivist methods always aim to be scientific, they use detatched methods like non-participant observation and structured interviews, that they they do not let any of their views onto their research. They also favour using the methods of official statistics which is very detached, and can be falsified. For instance, positivists may believe that Suicide is a social fact and the result only of social and moral regulation and integration and can find this through statistics, but there is always the possibility of finding a statistics that is nether and therefore disproves the theory. Therefore sociology should be a science and can be because it can be objective and falsifiable.

Alternatively Popper might respond and argue that the objectivity and falsifiability that postivists claim is the wrong type. Whilst being detached is scientific yes, it does not automatically mean objectivity, the researcher could still in a structured interview manipulate the way they write result to fit their ideas of the hypothesis, they are only human and could interpret an answer in a way it is not supposed to be viewed. Also they do not actively try to disprove their theory, for instance Durkheim searched for evidence of patterns and trends in suicide across Europe, it is highly likely that when he came across suicide that did not fit he ignored it. Contextually at the time, statistics were not as organised so no one would even realise he missed them out. On the other hand, the Durkheim example specifically cannot be falsifiable because the terms of integration and regulation are not properly operationalised. For instance he did not define exactly what both of them were and so technically all deaths and suicides could be fitting into one or more category, having such blurred lines means we cannot prove the theory wrong because if we decide a suicide does not fit into regulation it could be argued to fit into regulation and cannot not fit into these.

On the other hand it could be argued by Feminists that science itself is malestream and whilst they claim that feminists are value laden and therefore cannot be objective it is only because science is run by males and for males and so any evidence they find will show the oppression of women because it is designed to fundamentally in the nature of being male dominated show that. Also, Harding and Hart argue that science is inadequate and holds little value to women because it does not work for women, it is based on males and for males. Science in itself is oppressive to women and so sociology one cannot be a science because it has women involved in it (feminists) and should not be a science because it is oppressive.

Realists alternatively argue that science and sociology can work together because of the controls on research that both use; open and closed systems. Whilst sociology favours open systems there are still elements of control. For instance positivists favour structured methods and in this way can control for word differentiation on answers, different questions meaning different things to different people and can be quantified. Therefore sociology can be a science because it holds some of the control systems that science does also.

Secondly, Thomas Kuhn argues that sociology cannot be a science either because science is defined by having paradigms that all scientists work under, sociology has so many conflicting theories there can be no one paradigm and therefore it cannot be a science. To explain a paradigm is a set of values and beliefs that research can be conducted under, for instance valuing the objective study of phenomenon in the world rather than the subjective opinion based study of the world, they want conscience and controlled research with little confounding variables. All scientists work under this and research is funded if it best fits the paradigm, sociology does not have one. There is a conflict between interpretivists who believe that society in our heads and so should be studied subjectively and there are positivists who believe that society is an external phenomenon that we can objectively study. Fundamentally there are differences within theories and how they study society in the same way there are fundamentally different theories for things in sociology, for instance Functionalists and the New right are explaining education but are coming up with totally different explanations for its role. Kuhn thinks that sociology is in a pre-paradigm state, where there is no one paradigm and until the conflicts between theories can be sorted out or one proved wrong, there will be no paradigm, therefore sociology cannot be a science.

Although it is suggests by sociologists like Lakatos (1970) that science does not have one overarching paradigm at a time, paradigms are a progression from history, for instance there have been many different paradigms over time, for example the enlightenment project and so sociology can be a science because rather than over history having different paradigms they have them all at once.

As well as this Post-Modernists argue that a scientific paradigm is just another meta-narrative that brings nothing new to society, and cannot help to improve it because it is of no more value than any other perspective. For instance post-modernists believe that society and the world now is so fragmented and that there are so many perspectives on everything that truth has now become relative. So science cannot be the best way forward, and the paradigm shift over time and disapline (science and sociology) does not matter, they are just meta-narratives. On the other hand post-modernists argue that science should not be allowed a monopoly of truth and to do so is dangerous. For instance if we am to be scientific we are essentially suggesting that being scientific is the best thing an academic discipline can be and it should be strived for. However it is just one version of the truth and it brings about very bad things; for instance we are now in a scientific risk society, we are aware of greater risks to our health from pollution and nuclear war because of science than we were before. Problems like degrading environment and getting MRSA or other super drug resistant bugs in us were not concerns 100 years ago, the risks created in society are greater now because of science. Essentially sociology should not be a science because it will monopolise society through its influence.

However the interpretivists agree with Kuhn in a way, because like Kuhn believes that sociology cannot be a science, they agree that sociology should not even try to be a science because the study of science and the study of the mind are totally different things. For instance science is concerned with phenomenon which do not have consciousness for instance water boiling at 100 degrees does not decide to, it just does. Whereas sociology is created through shared meaning, motivations and actions of individuals and therefore involves consciousness which science cannot study validly. The positivists whilst trying to be scientific loose validity because humans are not unconscious they have motivations and closed questions and non-participant observations are not going to get those validly. The only method of studying society that should be implemented is a subjective one. For example, Mead a symbolic interactionist argues that science cannot fully understand why motorists stop at red lights. For instance, in driving if there is a red light cars stop and wait for it to go from red and orange to green before they can go. This is not because of a force when that orange light comes on causing the cars engines to cut out, the foot on the break to push down and the car to come to a stop, it is because the motorists have attached the meaning of 'stop’ to a red light a so stop. It isn’t even because of the fear of death which animals have by instinct, most motorists don’t consider the effects of passing the red light when they stop, just that they have to stop and wait.

Also free will is not something that can be studied scientifically it is an unobservable phenomena. Whilst determinism can be studied because theoretically it has a cause and effect of behaviour, in the interpretivist world there is only free will and so attempting to study causes and effects are pointless. We may be confined by the meanings we attach to things, such as stopping at a red light, but like Blumer argues we have every ability to negotiate and change the meanings we attach.

On another note science also does not allowed Verstehen which is very close to the interpretivist theory, meaning the ability to understand a person from their perspective. Science by being objective from the paradigm that this is the best thing, restricts the information it can collect. For instance, a questionnaire on poverty seems scientific, it has closed questions, it is standardised and has a lot of control. When a person is asked how hard they feel poverty is they have the option to respond 'very hard’, however this does not give us anything. We cannot understand anything from their perspective and thus get rich useful data if we just accept their answer, we have to go in using an Ethnomethodological approach and really understand what they mean by 'very hard’ and the meanings they attach to it through their motivations.

However a criticism of this perspective from the realists is that both the interpretivists and the positivists ideas of whether sociology should be a science are wrong. For instance the interpretivists have claimed that science cannot study the means and motivations because they are unobservable, and the positivists only study the observable. But science itself is not just restricted to what they can observe. For instance black holes in far away galaxies are not observable but using science we can study them, gravity is not directly observable, there are not giant arrows in the sky pointing down all the time to show us, but it is still able to be studied. Therefore sociology can be a science because the unobservable meanings and motivations can be studied in a scientific way, however in exactly what way (maths, testing, physics etc) is undecided.

Again post-modernists would argue that interpretivists bring nothing to society by assuming that sociology shouldn’t be a science because it is just another meta-narrative which holds no more grounding than the idea that it should be a science, that science has paradigms or that sociology has no objectivity in it.

In conclusion it could be argued that the main point of clash in whether sociology can and should be a science is what exactly the phenomena that sociology is studying is. For instance if you believe that society is an external objective phenomena with structures and determinism and therefore cause and effect it could be possible that sociology could be a science if it maintained falsifiability and objectivity. However if like the interpretivists argue society is a creation of shared meanings (Garfinkel) and has no objective reality (and neither does social order) then it may not be possible to study society objective because it is not an objective phenomena. However in terms of objectivity, is it objectivity meaning detachment that science wants and demonstrably the positivists can offer or is it objectivity in terms of wanting to disprove your own theory and thus not actively supporting it with biased evidence? Depending on what type of objectivity you favour then leads to whether sociological theory like the positivists can offer than and if they can then maybe they can and should be a science. However like Kuhn if sociology does not have a paradigm can it be scientific? But then it is argued that science itself is not just one paradigm over time, there are scientific revolutions and so sociology could be a science if it can form one overarching paradigm. Overall it could be concluded that at least in the time being and depending on what objectivity you want, sociology can’t be a science and maybe shouldn’t try to be because it could lead to science having a monopoly on truth.

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  1. I completed my sociology A level last year, getting high A's in every exam. I made my own revision material, so I thought I'd give you it incase it helps you.
    It's for a mix of the exams. Namely, Education, Beliefs in society and Crime and Deviance.

    For Crime and deviance I made a website - http://sociologymofo.tumblr.com/

    Anyother questions just hit me. I made the revision resources for me, so they may not help you/make sense to you. But I'd gladly help you out if you need it! hope this helps.
  2. Thank you very muchh!!! x
    Did you do exam last year, what did you achieve in the end?? If ya don't mind me asking

  3. For Family (AS) I got 2 marks off full marks, the same with Education.
    For Crime and Deviance (A2) I got an A and for Beliefs in society I got a high A

    I studied really hard though - after school for an hour or two, then during the weekend/exam leave I studied for about 5-6 hours a day. (with breaks obviously) I did lots of different revision techniques though!
    (Original post by gloriousgloria)
    Thank you very muchh!!! x
    Did you do exam last year, what did you achieve in the end?? If ya don't mind me asking

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