“Looks to make
Individuals create society as
they act and interact in
Interpretivist look for
feelings motives and
should not be
• Positivists model Sociology on logic and methods used by natural sciences
such as Biology or Chemistry
• Ideally Positivists would prefer experiments to study social facts, but there
are practical/ethical problems:
- can’t study large groups/long periods/historical events
- People act differently when being observed (Hawthorne effect)
• Positivism is considered theoretical, and value free
1. Observes natural phenomena e.g. Using
2. Identifies and measures patterns/regularities
(water always boils at the same temp’
3. Develops cause and effect statements of scientific
laws to explain them (back up statements)
Sociology must do the same e.g. Durkheim (1895):
1. Society made of social facts (values, patterns)
2. Social facts= subject matter of sociology
3. Social facts exist over and above individuals and
4. Use Quantitive data to measure social facts (e.g.
• Rejects the idea that we can use logic/methods of natural science to study
• Sociology has no one set paradigm (or goal)
• Humans have consciousness/free will: natural science objects don’t
• Human action governed by choices, not causes
When a car stops at a red
light, its not because
something in the light
physically caused it to stop,
rather the driver chose to
stop. To understand choice,
we need to understand what
the red light means to the
Karl Popper and Science
• Popper argued that you can never be sure that you have found the truth. What is
considered true today, may be disproved tomorrow.
• A Scientific theory is one that can be tested. From the theory, you can deduce
hypothesis and make precise predictions. If repeatedly tested and found to be
correct, a theory may be provisionally accepted, but there is always the possibility
that it’ll be proved wrong (falsified) in the future.
• Popper used a deductive approach: you deduce hypothesis from a theory and
check they are correct.
• Popper argues the Positivist claim
• Thomas Kuhn/Kaplan believe that natural science isn’t a great model to follow as
‘natural science’ isn’t very objective- science changes all the time
Durkheim on Suicide
• Durkheim tried to show that suicide was not just a product of
individual psychology and that positivist methods could be used to
study it and explain suicide rates.
• Durkheim showed that suicide rates varied fairly consistently. High
suicide rates were correlated with:
• Protestants rather then Catholics or Jews
• Married people rather then single people
• Parents rather then the childless
• Political stability and peace, rather than political upheaval and war.
• From the statistical patterns, Durkheim claimed to have found four
types of suicide:
• 1- Egoistic Suicide was caused by insufficient integration into social groups
(e.g. Protestants had less connection to their church than Catholics)
• 2- Anomic Suicide resulted from too little regulation in industrial societies at
times when rapid social change disputed traditional norms (e.g. Both
economic booms and depression led to rise in suicide rates)
• 3- Altruistic suicide resulted from too much integration (e.g. Jumping into a
burning building to save a dog, even though the person jumping into the
burning building knows his/her live will be lost)
• 4- Fatalistic suicide resulted from too much regulation in non- industrial
societies (e.g. The suicide of slaves)
• Although every Psychological and Sociological theory has its critics,
‘Durkheim on suicide’ was generally accepted as a water-tight theory which
could be used time after time when studying suicide. His ‘types of suicide’
are timeless i.e. can be used at anytime in history, or in the future. Also, his
research held no bias.
For more info’, and criticisms,
refer to Sociology folder
• Dominant in the in 1950’s, especially in the USA, but has declined in
• Main Functionalist thinkers include: Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons and
• Social structure plays a part in Social consensus
• Key Idea: (Durkheim’s) Organic analogy- sees society as like an organism.
• However, Functionalism ignores conflict within society. Marxism highlights
• Remember to take a look at what Parsons, Merton and Durkheim believe
in the revision pack
• Derives from ideas of Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedreich Engels (1820-95)
• Marxist Sociology is concerned with Economics
• Marxism since Marx takes two major forms
• Key terms: Materialism (Economic), Economic Determinism (Linked with
• However. Communism isn’t very successful (Eastern bloc) and ignores the
advantages of Capitalism.
Stucturalist Marxism Humanistic Marxism
• The idea that society’s economic base determines its superstructure.
However, not all of Marx’s writing are concerned with economic
Base: Forces and relations of Production and
Superstructure: Social institutions i.e.
Family, state, Religion etc. All forms of
values and beliefs
Social Action perspectives
• Max Weber defined sociology as “The study of meaningful social action”
• Weber believed you must find casual explanations for understanding why
people act/interact the way they do (I.e. The protestant ethic and the sprit
• Symbolic interactionism explains actions in terms of meanings individuals
give to them.
• Key figures of S.I. Include George Mead and Herbert Blumer.
• Blumer described 3 principles of interactionism:
Actions are based on the
meanings we give to
objects, events etc. They
are not automatic
Meanings arise from and
interaction. Not fixed
Meanings are the result
procedures (i.e. Role
Phenomenology and Ethnomethodology
• Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz are key Phenomenologist's
• Husserl was concerned with subjective meanings like Weber, but says
using casual explanations for describing behaviour is just impossible
• Husserl was only concerned with Human consciousness, not the objective
world since mental states are the only things we can perceive (everything
else is empirical)
• Hussel’s basic assumption: the world we live in is created in the
consciousness, in our heads. The external world only has meaning in and
through the consciousness of it.
• Schutz was interested in how we make the social world meaningful
• Found out that different individuals classify same things differently
Phenomenology and Ethnomethodology
• Key sociologist: Harold Garfinkel
• “The only think we can be sure of is that we are thinking beings”
• Ethnomethodology is Deontological Interactionism: Concerned with the
processes, not outcomes. (Interactionism is interested in the outcomes)
• Ethnomethodology= the study of methods (Interpretivist procedures)
members of groups use to make sense of/ or construct social world.
Ethnomethodology and Order
• Other sociological perspectives assume social order exists objectively. EM rejects
this view. Society only exists only as far as members perceive it. A lack of order.
• Life appears orders, but members use commonsense/knowledge to impose
ordered social reality
• Sociologist’s job therefore is to study methods members use to construct sense of
order. I.e. J.M.Atkinson’s follow up to the study of suicide and coroners- ‘suicide’ is
a construction, not an objective fact.
• EM is not really interested in Suicide, rather how a death gets classified as suicide.
• Coroners use commonsense theories to determine suicide: Why, how, etc
Objective: not influenced by
interpretations, or prejudice;
based on facts; unbiased: an
Key quotes associated with Phenomenology
• “The only think we can be sure of is that we are
thinking beings”- H.Garfinkel
• “Cognito ergo sum”- Rene Descarte
Translated means; “I think therefore I am”
• Feminism can be divided into 3 schools of thought: Marxist, Radical and
• Marxist feminists believe women are oppressed for the benefits of
• Radical feminists believe men and women should be separate within
society. In the home, men dominate women through the threat of
• Through Education, Liberal Feminists believe any differences can be over
come in time.
• Main feminist figures include; Anne Oakley, Germaine Greer
• Sees inequality between men and women as the crucial factor in
• See most societies as patriarchal
• Believe old sociological theories such as ‘functionalism’ and ‘Marxism’ as
• However, Feminism overemphasise Gender, and ignores other inequalities
such as Age, Ethnicity and Health.
• Ignore that some women are happy with traditional roles
• Unstructured or semi- structured interviews- it allows for more flexibility,
and allows the subject to convey their true feelings.
• However, this is criticised by Positivists for lacking reliability.
• Qualitative Data
Participant Observation (PO)
• Participant Observation is an alternative to asking questions; it involves
getting involved, and experiencing first hand how the group live/ behave.
• Covert or Overt PO
• PO can be divided into 3 stages; getting in, staying in (without your cover
being blown) and then, getting out.
• P.O is usually small-scale, and is hard to generalise has its unlikely to
observe the same findings.
• Paul Willis found getting out an issue when he studied 12 working class
males from a midlands school (‘Learning to labour) (overt PO)
• In Laud Humphreys study of ‘tearoom trade’, he breached serious ethical
guidelines when watching homosexual sexual activity, and recording car
registration of the people involved
• Official statistics are a major source of secondary data.
• O.S. Are collected by the state such as a Census.
• Unofficial statistics are collected by agencies such as pressure groups, or trade
• Bryan Wilson used Church attendance statistics in his study of secularization
• Positivists believe providing O.S. Are accurate, they are a valid and reliable
source of data
• Interactionist are very critical. For example, they argue Crime stats’ are socially
constructed and probably tell us more about police priorities, rather then
about the patterns of crime.
• Marxists argues that the state serves the ruling class. Therefore, anything
published by the state is likely to give a distorted impression that serves
- Research method: Structuation
• Marxism, Functionalism and Social Action would be considered
• The term ‘post’, means future, or after the now.
• Main post-modernists include: Lyotard and Baudrillard.
• Lyotard believes social life is based on language games:
• Close ties to Ludwig Wittgenstein
Giddens and ‘Structuration’
• Giddens tried to combine structuralism, with social action. He called it the
‘duality of structure’
But social actions
• A Longitudinal study is one that follows the same group or sample over an
extended period of time. (Lacey spend 4 years studying students at
• Triangulation is a technique used that involves more then one kind of
method or source
• Pilot study: a trial run
• Sampling frame: a list of people in a given population i.e. Electoral role
• Random Sample: a sample is chosen from the sampling frame at random.
• Stratified R.S; This is where random samples are chosen from ‘sub-groups’
within the survey population i.e. Men over 45
• Quota sample: i.e. Must interview 20 females over the age of 35
• Snowball sample: The researcher would ask respondents to refer to him
or her etc.