– as Popper pointed out: ‘No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion’
Is soc a science?
Let’s clear-up what’s meant by science.* it’s a set of principles that tell us how toproduce valid knowledge.* it aims to base laws and theories onobjective facts gained through observingphenomena.
Hypothetico-deductive method KarlPopper (1935)• Theories/laws about the world should comefirst and these should be used to generateexpectations/hypotheses which can befalsified. Falsification is the only way to becertain
What is science?In your groups write down the things that youthink are necessary for a subject to beconsidered a science• Empirical• Theoretical• Objective• Testable• Cumulative
1.It’s possible to discover the lawsthat control and shape the behaviourof people in society.2. Science isn’t there to tell us why something came intobeing.3. Science is there to explain how things relate to eachother, using laws. So, Asian lads and the Police don’trelate well because of a social fact called racism.(Yes, I know that’s up for debate).
4. The main task of Sociology is to discover general laws ofsocial development;i) Laws of co-existence: looking at the relationshipbetween parts of society;ii) Laws of succession: what are the laws that governsocial change?
Inductive Logic is a big part of PositivismInductive logic is a type of reasoning about something thatinvolves moving from a set of specific facts to a generalconclusion.It uses premises from objects that havebeen examined and experiments thathave been conducted to establish aconclusion about an object that has notbeen examined.All the apples I’veever eaten were SOtasty! This one willbe too…
Seven steps of Inductive Positivism:1. Our knowledge about the social worldstarts with the collection of facts –For example, the crime rate, the divorce rateand the number of men that are victims ofdomestic violence.2. The facts are classified & identifiedobjectively – without using opinion, andstatistical relationships established.Eg. Children from low income households aremore likely to become criminal.
3. Once classification has been done, we canlook for (study) correlations – where two ormore things happen at the same timebetween different social facts.For example, a correlation between womenbeing in care and becoming deviant.4. If positive correlation is found, a cause andeffect relationship can be established.For example, educational failure causesgreater likelihood of criminality.
5. Once we’ve sorted out positivecorrelations and cause and effectrelationships, we can develop theories thatexplain the relationship between differentfacts.Eg. Having insufficient integration intosociety explains why some commit suicide.6. Once we have a theory – test it further. Ifnothing happens to disprove the theory, wehave discovered a universal law of humanbehaviour.
7. Once a law is identified in humanbehaviour, we can incorporate it into socialpolicy – we can organise people through laws& legislation that will engineer the bestresults for society.What did Comte believe?Science and Sociology Factsheet
Durkheim thought Comte had failed to establish Sociology asa science.Durkheim thought, instead, that Sociology should study socialfacts as things to observe and measure. So, things like thesuicide rate.
Positivism and Suicide• Durkheim (1897) chose to study suicide todemonstrate that Sociology was a science with itsown subject matter.• Used Official Statistics to find patterns in thesuicide rate e.g. Protestants higher thanCatholics. This was due to levels of integrationand regulation.• Durkheim claimed to have discovered a ‘reallaw’- different levels of regulation andintegration produce different rates of suicide• Claimed that it can be explained scientifically
Criticisms of PositivismUsing the words listed below, complete the following list of criticisms made ofpositivism by interpretive sociologists:1. Sociology never can nor should try to be a__________.2. Sociologists can rarely produce the kinds of__________conditions for study suchas those of the scientist’s laboratory.3. Research findings are not__________by other sociologists as the researchsituation can never be precisely__________.4. It is impossible to quantify human behaviour in the same wayas__________phenomena.5. Human beings have__________and may react to the researcher in different ways.6. The__________that people attach to events and actions are internal and cannotbe directly measured.7. Human action depends on individual__________.8. The design of__________to test imposes the views of the researcher on what isdiscovered.Missing words: interpretations verifiable consciousness science hypothesescontrolled meanings natural
Karl Popper thought that allacademic subject areas thatwanted to be called a ‘science’should subject themselves to aprocess of falsification.To test itself, therefore,Sociology must come up withtestable hypotheses, such as;suicide is caused by insufficientregulation and integration.Karl Popper rejected Marxism as a pseudo-science,because its concepts, such as false classconsciousness, were too abstract to be seen andmeasured.
Interpretivism is THE alternative, THE total opposite of Positivism.* People like Weber say Sociology should study society from theperspective of other people to understand how and why thingshappen.* Using Weber’s perspective ofverstehen requires subjectiveunderstanding which draws onpeople’s opinions.* Science is strongly objective anddoes not allow opinion to influenceresearch.* For this reason, Interpretivists argueSociology cannot ever be a science.
Sociology as a scienceKarl popper1. No theory can ever be said tobe 100% true.2. Science works by Falsificationmeaning a theory can only bescientific if it can be provedto be false or true.3. If it can’t be proven ordisproven it isn’t scientific!4. A good theory isn’tnecessarily true but one thathas withstood attempts tofalsify it so far.5. Science is an open beliefsystem, it can and should beconstantly criticised and thiswill allow us to get closer tothe truth.Popper says sociologyisn’t a science becausetheories like Marxismand false classconsciousness areunfalsifiable. Sociologycould be a science if itproduced hypothesisthat can be tested.Kuhn says sociology isn’t ascience because there is noshared assumptions andprinciples. Functionalism,Marxism and Feminism allhave differing ideas. If thesecould be resolved to createone paradigm then sociologycould be a science, but this isunlikely.Thomas Kuhn1. Science is a paradigm meaninga shared set of assumptions,principles and methods.2. Science studies the world untilit finds conclusions that itcannot explain (anomalies).3. These anomalies cause us toconsider other paradigms inorder to find answers (flat earthvs. round).4. Two paradigms cannot existtogether, at some point onewins favour amongst thescientific community, thiscauses a scientific revolution, ashift from one to the other.5. This process starts all over againas this new paradigm highlightsnew anomalies.
1. Pre-science: period of discoverywhere there was no centralparadigm.2. Normal science: wherescientists used an establishedparadigm, like the theory ofevolution, to support theories.3. Revolutionary science: wherethe paradigms are challenged.Kuhn looked at the history of the natural sciences and argued thatit’s not simply an accumulation of knowledge that ends up beingthe credible academic body we know as science, but that it wentthrough a series of paradigm shifts or revolutions – a bit like amarriage.
Sociology, then, behaves likeit’s in the pre-science stage:there’s no dominantperspective and there arelots of competing theoriesand perspectives.It’s totally valid to refer toSociology as a young sciencethat still needs to find itsunifying theory.
Interpretivism and Suicide• Douglas (1967) rejects the positivist idea of externalsocial facts determining our behaviour.• Individuals have free will and they choose how to act onthe basis of meanings• Douglas rejects Durkheim’s use of quantitative data fromOS’s, they are constructions relating from a coronerslabelling.• Douglas suggests we use qualitative data from casestudies, they can reveal the actors meanings• Atkinson (1978) we need to study the way in whichcoroners classify suicides (taken for grantedassumptions)
Realism, Science and Sociology• Third view of Science• They see similarities between Sociologyand certain kinds of natural science interms of the degree of control theresearcher has over the variables beingresearched
• There are differences between open and closedsystems in natural science• Within closed systems, variables can becontrolled and measured as with Chemistry orPhysics. Therefore precise predictions can bemade• Open systems cannot control all variables ormeasure them and so prediction levels areuncertain. This happens in meteorology(weather cannot be predicted with 100%accuracy) and seismology where processes aretoo complex
• Realists argue that Sociologists study opensystems where processes are too complex tomake exact predictions e.g. Cannot predictcrime rate precisely because there are toomany variables involved, most of whichcannot be controlled, measured or identified• Realists see Science as an attempt to explaincasual relationships in terms of underlying(unobservable) structure, mechanisms andprocesses.• Therefore Marxism and Interpretivism may beseen as scientific
Why does it matter if Sociology is aScience?• To ensure prestige so the subject can gainfunding for teaching and research at Universities.• To give weight to its findings so that they havethe authority by being backed by scientificmethod.• To give protection. Sociology has beenthreatened in different countries from thePrussian civil servants to Robert Mugabe andMargaret Thatcher as a source of subjectivepolitical criticism.