Last Updated 14 Apr 2020

Is Sociology a Science

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ABSTRACT In recent years, some persons have expressed sentiments that the study of sociology has no real scientific ground. This paper serves to examine the fundamental assumptions, as well as the possibility of Sociology being a science, but more specifically a social science. It begins by producing some definitions of the key terms, within the context of sociology, to which the student will make reference. The terms include science, social science and sociology. The paper then proceeds to compare sociology to the natural sciences, by establishing and assessing the characteristics which sociology has in common with the natural sciences.

INTRODUCTION What predictions can sociologists make about how people behave, and to what extent are these tested through blind studies? Are there any models in sociology, that make it possible to make predictions like the other sciences? Jake Gordon (2002) said in an internet article, “Sociologists study society as a 'social science' however, the status of sociology as a science is easily questionable when compared to how acknowledged scientists study the natural world. Science, as defined by Giddens (2001), is “the use of systematic methods of investigation, theoretical thinking and the logical assessment of arguments, to develop a body of knowledge about a particular subject matter. ” A key element of what constitutes a science is the ability to provide rational, plausible explanations. Sociology observes one of the most subjective factors we can think of, that is, human action and makes predictions, from which persons are able to generate explanations for human social behaviour. Read also Sociology and Social Integration.

Sociology is outlined as the social science which studies human behaviour and interaction in groups. A social science being any or all of the branches of study that “involves an examination of human relationships in an attempt to objectively understand the social world” (Unknown). Gordon continues, “In order to determine whether or not sociology can be accepted as a true science it is useful to make comparisons between the studies performed by both sociologists and natural scientists on their subjects of society and the natural world respectively.

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At its most fundamental level, the philosophy behind knowledge, reality and being must also be scrutinized as the knowledge which is so eagerly pursued by scientists is only relevant under certain philosophical conditions. ” Many of the leaders of sociology are convinced that it is possible to create a science of society based on the same principles and methods as the natural scientists. The attempt to apply natural science philosophies to sociology is called positivism.

Positivists, such as Auguste Comte and Karl Popper believe that much of the same techniques and processes used by the natural scientists can be applied to the social sciences, namely sociology. They are of the opinion that social facts and the behaviour of humans, like the behaviour of matter can be objectively observed, expressed as a quantity and measured. These measurements are vital to be able to explain human behaviour. Research has noted that the positivists also believe that based on objective measurements, observations of behaviour will allow statements of effect and cause to be made.

Then theories may be formulated to explain the observed behaviour. Therefore, with all this being said it is possible for sociology to be deemed a science. There are four basic features which sociology has in common with the natural sciences and which help to characterize it as a science itself. Sociology can be considered a science because it is empirical, theoretical, cumulative and objective. PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS To begin with, sociology is a science to the extent that it gathers empirical information according to a rational process and develops hypotheses based on that data.

According to Wikipedia, “the word empirical denotes information acquired by means of observation or experimentation. ” Empirical data, therefore, is data produced by an observation or experiment. McGraw-Hill said, “the empirical method is generally characterized by the collection of a large amount of data before much speculation as to their significance, or without much idea of what to expect, and is to be contrasted with more theoretical methods in which the collection of empirical data is guided largely by preliminary theoretical exploration of what to expect. Sociologists attain information for experiments through somewhat of the same means as the 'regular' or natural scientists. This is to say that a sociologist would form an idea based on which a hypothesis would then be formulated. A research study would then be done to verify or refute the hypothesis and then a theory and predictions can be made about the particular discourse. Sociology makes use of scientific methods in the study of its subject matter like investigations, interviews, case studies, questionnaires, observations and comparisons, so it is therefore, entitled to be called a science.

What is then noted about the subject matter is no longer a speculation, some wild idea or even an opinion. Rather, it is in fact, a theory which has been physically tested and holds scientific grounds, based widely on facts. However, because the subject matter of sociology varies from that of the natural sciences, some persons are of the view that sociology should not be considered a science. However, to say that sociology is not a science is absolutely absurd and very far from the truth because it uses much of the same methodology as the natural sciences to conduct research.

An unknown internet source puts it this way, “universal validity of conclusions and a complete accuracy of prediction are not the criteria of science; what determines the scientific character of a discipline is its methodology, if the methods of a study are scientific, the subject deserves the rank of a science. ” Sociology is a science every bit as much as biology or chemistry. Social sciences, like natural and biological sciences, use a vigorous methodology. This means that a social scientist clearly states the problems he or she is interested in and clearly spells out how he or she arrives at their conclusions.

Indeed, a scientific study of social phenomena is not free from difficulties. Social studies, by their very nature, cannot perhaps be as exact or natural as physical sciences but that does not make them any less of a science. Additionally, sociology must be considered a science because it is theoretical. When a research is conducted on a particular subject in sociology, it is organized in such a way that someone may be able to analyse this information and therefore formulate a theory which would then allow for the prediction of some future human behaviour.

According to Haralambos, Holborn and Heald (2004), “a theory is a set of ideas that provides an explanation of something”, thus the greater the accuracy of the theory, the greater the overall accuracy of the prediction as well. As stated by Schaefer and Lamm (1998), “an effective theory may have both explanatory and predictive power. ” According to Cuvler, “the predictive value of sociology is being improved. There is a good deal of approximate information on family relationships and the personality of children.

As sociology matures and comes to understand more fully the principles underlying human behaviour it will be in a better position to make accurate prediction. ” Like the natural sciences, sociology contains many different theoretical approaches to much of the same idea, and as mentioned, the data which these theories are based upon is gained through observation and experiments and not blind speculation. The theories which sociologists create, present the relationship between all the observations that have been recorded for a particular study.

For instance, the Symbolic Interaction Theory (established by George H Mead in the 1920s) which is based on the premise that human nature and social order are the results of social interaction among people. Furthermore, like the natural sciences, sociology is cumulative. Sociologists usually build upon theories which have been formulated by his/her predecessors. Hence new theories are simply modifications or developments of older ones as they all have their basis in some previously established theory.

For example, the Symbolic Interaction Theory though introduced by George Mead, had its origins in the works of Max Weber. According to Nasser Mustapha (2009), sociology's “cumulative nature implies that new knowledge continuously builds upon what is already known. ” Reference can also be made to another sociologist- Durkheim- who it is said expounded on the idea of society being an organism- a theory first developed by Herbert Spencer. Both the evolution of theories and collection of data is cumulative in sociology.

Theories change and become more complex over time as they are reviewed and ideas confirmed or rejected. Moreover, sociology is also considered to be a science because it is objective or value-free. The dictionary defines ‘objective’ as not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice, based on facts or unbiased. And as such, sociologists do not allow personal views or ideologies to influence their research. According to Mustapha (2009), “the fatcs obtained by research must be accurately reported and not distorted to agree with the researcher's feelings and emotions. Denise Richards, Vashti Deochan and Bennie Berkley (2005) put it this way. “In studying society, there will be several issues which a sociologist may not support, for example, single parenting, where women decide to have children out of wedlock and support the children themselves. Even though the sociologist may not approve of this type of family formation, he/ she cannot allow personal bias and opinions to creep in and influence his/ her work. ” This is so because one basic requirement of cience is that the subject matter be unbiased. Some persons believe that humans studying their behaviour in groups makes it impossible for absolute objectivity. But that does not mean a scientifically acceptable level of objectivity cannot be attained. Psychology has made great strides in understanding the individual in both constructive and destructive ways and there is no reason sociology cannot do the same thing for society. As humans we are quite capable of understanding ourselves as we are of understanding the world around us.

Hence sociology does not reflect what we as humans believe to be true but in fact what is true and has proven itself to be factual. CONCLUSION In conclusion, sociology is a science and saying it is not betrays a misunderstanding of what science is. Any field of study dedicated to finding answers about how the world works is a science by definition. Science is not about knowing everything, it is about knowing more than we do now. Sociology may be a science in the early stages of development, or even a science which does not have all the answers but, nonetheless it is a science.

It has been deemed, like the natural sciences, to be empirical, theoretical, cumulative and objective. According to Cuvier, J. F. , "The science is the method of discovery of the uniformities in the universe, through the process of observation and re-observation, the result of which eventually comes to be stated in principle and arranged and organized into the fields of knowledge. ” And this is exactly what sociology entails. Thus, it is just as much of a science as any of the natural or other social sciences.

BIBLIOGRAPHY * Ajay Bhatt, “Do you consider sociology as a science, if yes then why? ” from http://www. preservearticles. com/201101173444/is-sociology-a-science. html (2011) * Giddens, A. (2001). Sociology. 4th edn. Reprint with the assistance of Karen Birdsall. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. * Jake Gordon, “Can sociologists study society in the same way that scientists study the natural world? ” from http://jakeg. co. uk/essays/science (2002) * Haralambos, M. & Holborn, M. 2008). Sociology Themes and Perspectives, 7th edn. London: Harper Collins. * Russ Long, “Sociology as a Science” from http://dmc122011. delmar. edu/socsci/rlong/intro/science. htm (2012) * Mustapha, N. (2009). Sociology for Caribbean Students: Sociology as a Discipline, 20-22. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers. * Richards, D. & Deochan, V. & Berkley B. (2005). Introduction to Sociology: Sociology as a Science, 41-46. Barbados: The University of the West Indies.

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