Positivists say the experimental method used in hard sciences should be the model for sociological research.
Test hypothesis systematically & controlled.
Hypothesis example: 'A causes B'.
Experiments should examine each possible causal factor to observe its effects, while at the same time excluding all other factors.
Positivist use of Quantitative Data
Use it to uncover & measure patterns of behaviour.
Produce precise mathematical statements about the facts they are investigating.
Seek to discover the laws of cause & effect that determine behaviour.
Research should be detached & objective.
Positivists researchers should check their subjective feelings, values or prejudices at the door as it can affect their research & findings.
Natural Science's Claims
Scientist's values & opinions make no difference to the outcome of their research.
Example 1: H2O boils at 100*C whether the scientist likes the fact or not.
Example 2: A healthy human body's temperature registers at 37*C. Medical professionals cannot change this fact.
The Human Element
Sociology deals with people & thus there is a danger that the researcher may 'contaminate' the research.
Example: influencing respondents to answer in ways that reflect the researcher's opinion rather than their own.
This is why Positivists use the quantitative method to gather their data to ensure maximum objectivity & detachment.
Methods used by Positivists
They typically use:
Structured non-participant observation
Produce reliable data that can be checked by other researchers repeating the research.
Positivism & Suicide
Durkheim studied suicide to demonstrate soc. as a science with its own distinct subject matter.
Durkheim theorised that if he could show that even the highly personal act of suicide had social causes this would establish sociology as a distinct & genuinely scientific discipline .
Durkheim's Study of Suicide
Used quantitative data from official stats.
Durkheim observed there were patterns in the suicide rate.
Example: Rates of Protestant suicide were higher than for Catholics.
Durkheim concluded that could not be down to the motives of individuals, but were social facts.
Suicide as a social fact must then be down to other social facts.
Durkheim argued that these social facts were 'forces acting upon members of society to determine their behaviour.'
Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots. Their 'sacred mission' to crash their plans into US warships in 1945.
The social facts determining suicide rates were down to the level of integration & regulation of individuals.
Durkheim concluded that Catholics were less likely than Protestants to commit suicide because Catholicism was more successful at integrating individuals .
Durkheim armed with this finding, felt he had discovered a 'real law'
In effect, different levels of integration & regulation produced different rates of suicide.
He claimed soc. clearly had its own unique subject matter-- social facts -- & these could be explained scientifically .
Next Up... Interpretivism
Argue subject matter is meaningful social action. In other words, we only understand it by successfully interpreting the meanings & motives of the actors involved.
Say Sociology is about internal meanings– not external causes.
They say sociology is NOT a science. Science deals with laws of cause & effect, whereas sociology deals with human meanings.
Do Interpretivists accept Science could have a role in Sociology in the future?
On the whole, no.
Most Interpretivists completely reject the use of natural science methods & explanations as a model for sociology.
Argue a fundamental difference between subject matter of natural sciences & sociology.
Natural Science: Why?
Studies that which has no consciousness.
Behaviours are thus straight forward and easily explained through observable stimulus/reaction.
Example: Apple falls from tree due to external force of gravity. It has no conscience or choice about its behaviour.
Studies people who DO have a conscience.
People attach make sense of and construct their world by attaching meaning to it.
Human actions can only be understood in terms of these meanings– by their internally defined construction of the world & not external stimuli.
Think ideas or constructs, not things like in science.
Natural Science vs. Sociology
Matter = static or constrained by laws.
People = free will and exercise choice.
Name to know: GH Mead
We don’t respond automatically to external stimuli, but interpret the meaning of stimuli and then choose how to respond to it.
Question: What would Pavlov say about GH Mead’s theory?
Think along the lines of his Dogs/bells/salivation/food--stimulus and response research.
Interpretivists clearly reject logic & methods of natural sciences.
Argue to discover meaning people give to their actions we need to see the world from their viewpoint.
Involves abandoning the detachment & objectivity favoured by Positivists .
Instead put ourselves in the place of the actor, using Weber’s verstehen (vehr-stay-hin), or empathy to grasp their meanings.
For this reason, Interpretivists favour use of qualitative research methods, which produce a more subjective understanding of the actors meanings and life-world.
Types of Interpretivism Interactionists, Phenomenologists and Ethnomethodologists
All Interpretivists seek to understand actors meanings, but cannot come to any sort of consensus about if we can combine this understanding with positivist-style causal explanations of human behaviour.
Yes, we can have causal explanations.
Reject positivists view we should have a definite hypothesis before we start the research.
B. Glaser & A. Strauss (1968)
Argue the risk of…“imposing our own view of what is important, rather than the actors’, so we end up distorting the reality we seek to capture”.
So, they prefer the ‘bottom-up’ approach.
Also known as the ‘grounded theory’
No fixed hypothesis at start of research, but allow the ideas to emerge gradually from observations during the course of research itself.
Phenomenologists & Ethnomethodologists
Garfinkel completely reject notion of causal explanations of human behaviour.
Radical anti-structuralist view
Society is not a real thing ‘out there’ determining our actions.
To them, social reality is simply a shared meaning or knowledge of its members.
Society is NOT an external force– it exists only in people’s consciousness.
Interpretivism & Suicide
Name to know: Jack Douglas (1967)
Rejects positivist idea of external social facts determining our behaviour.
Says individuals have free will and choose how to act on the basis of meaning.
So? To understand suicide, we need to uncover its meanings for those involved instead of imposing our own meanings.
Durkheim imposed his own meanings by creating a ‘four types’ of suicide onto the act of suicide.
Durkheim’s Four Types of Suicide
suicides are the result of a weakening of the bonds that normally integrate individuals into the collectivity; a breakdown or decrease of social integration.
suicides occur in societies with high integration, where individual needs are seen as less important than the society's needs as a whole. They thus occur on the opposite integration scale as egoistic suicide .
Durkheim’s Four Types of Suicide
suicides are the product of moral deregulation & a lack of definition of legitimate aspirations through a restraining social ethic, which could impose meaning & order on the individual conscience.
suicides occur in overly oppressive societies, causing people to prefer to die than to carry on living within their society. This is an extremely rare reason for people to take their own lives, but a good example would be within a prison. They would rather die than live in prison.
Douglas’ Criticisms of Durkheim
Douglas rejects Durkheims use of quantitative data from official stats.
Says Durkheim’s data is not objective facts, but social constructions which result from the subjective way in which coroners label certain deaths as suicide and not others.
Douglas’ Solution to the Problem?
Suggests using qualitative data from case studies of suicide.
He argues this will show the actors’ meanings and give a better idea of the real rate of suicide than the official statistics.
Weighing in… Ethnomethodologist J. Maxwell Atkinson
Name to know: J. Maxwell Atkinson (1978)
Similar to Douglas–
Agrees on rejecting idea that external social facts determine behaviour.
Agrees statistics are socially constructed.
Dissimilar to Douglas—
Atkinson argues we can never know the ‘real rate’ of suicide, even using qualitative methods since we cannot ever be 100% certain of context under which the decease committed suicide.
Atkinson: What is Possible to Study within Suicide
We can study the way in which the living make sense of deaths—
The interpretive procedures used by coroners to classify deaths.
Argues that society has a stock of ‘taken-for granted’ assumptions with which they make sense of situations– including death.
Argues the job of the sociologist is the uncover what this knowledge is and how coroners use it to arrive at a verdict.