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Sociology as a Science

Autor:   •  December 27, 2017  •  2,069 Words (9 Pages)  •  538 Views

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principle be falsifiable but when tested, stands up to all attempts to disprove it and it must claim to explain a large amount of events, so that it is at larger risk of being falsified than a more timid theory. Nonetheless, Popper explains that a good theory is not necessarily a good theory as there can be no absolute proof that any knowledge is true. Ultimately, for a theory to be falsifiable it must be open to criticism from other scientists. Popper explains that science is essentially a public activity, where the scientific community is a hothouse environment in which everything is open to criticism, so the flaws in the theory can be readily exposed and better theories developed which is why science has grown so rapidly. He explains that science thrives in liberal societies which believe in free expression and the right to challenge accepted ideas. By contrast, closed societies which are dominated by an official belief system that claims to be the truth whether it be political like Marxism, or religious, stifle the growth of science because they conflict with the provisional, falsifiable nature of scientific knowledge. In relation to sociology, Popper explains that much of sociology is unscientific because it consists of theories that cannot be put to the test with the possibility that they might be falsified. For example, Marxism predicts that there will be a revolution leading to a classless society, but that it has not yet happened because of the false consciousness of the proletariat. The prediction cannot be falsified because if there is a revolution then Marxism is correct, but if there isn’t Marxism is also correct. However, Popper believes that sociology can be scientific as it is capable of producing hypotheses that can in principle be falsified. For example, Julienne Ford hypothesised that comprehensive schooling would produce social mixing of pupils from different social classes. She was able to test and falsify through her empirical research. Furthermore, Popper explains that the ideas, such as Marxism, which are untestable aren’t completely worthless as such ideas may be of value in the future if they become testable, and because we can measure them for clarity and logical consistency.

Additionally, Thomas Kuhn’s ideas have made an implication on sociology, yet he has a radically different view of what makes science unique in comparison to Popper. Kuhn’s central idea is the paradigm. A paradigm is shared by members of a given scientific community and defines what their science is. It provides a basic framework of assumptions, principles, methods and techniques within which members of that community work. It’s a worldview that tells scientists what nature is like, which aspects are worth studying, what methods should be used, what kinds of questions they should ask and even the sort of answers they should expect to find. The paradigm is a set of norms because it tells scientists how to think and behave, and scientists accept it uncritically because of socialisation and conformity to this results in publication of research, whilst going against it can lead to dismissal from the community. However, the paradigm mostly goes unquestioned and scientists do normal science, according to Kuhn. This involves puzzle solving which involves the paradigm defining the question and in broad terms, the answers and the scientists are left to fill in the smaller details only, they are not discovering or creating anything new. This is where Kuhn sees the paradigm having a great advantage because it allows scientists to agree on the basics of the subject and be productive in their ’puzzle solving’ work, steadily adding more and more detail, thus enlarging the picture of nature. However, it’s not always successful. Scientists can come across findings which are contrary to those the paradigm led them to expect. As the anomalies increase, the confidence in the paradigm declines which results in arguments about the basic assumptions. This has resulted in science entering a period of crisis where the taken for granted assumptions are in question. This will push scientists to produce a rival paradigm which marks the scientific revolution for Kuhn, and two paradigms are incommensurable, thus to shift from one to the other it requires a shift of mind-set. This leads to Kuhn concluding that science is not as open as Popper makes it out to be, rather it involves scientists who are conformists and unquestionably accept the key ideas of the paradigm. For Kuhn, sociology could only become a science if basic disagreements, such as that between functionalists and Marxists. Postmodernists add that a paradigm would not even be desirable in sociology because it sounds like a meta-narrative which silences minority views and it falsely claims to have access to the ultimate truth.

Additionally, realists stress the similarities between sociology and certain kinds of natural science in terms of the degree of control the researcher has over the variables being researched. Keat and urry distinguish between open and closed systems regarding the degrees of control that the researcher has. Closed systems are those where the researcher can control and measure all the relevant variables, and can make precise predictions. Open systems are those where the researcher cannot control and measure all of the variable and so cannot make precise predictions. Realists argue that sociologists study open systems where the processes are too complex to make exact predictions. Keat and Urry reject the positivist view that science is only concerned with the observed phenomena because science often assumes the existence of unobservable structures. They also reject the interpretivists view that sociology can’t be scientific as the actors’ meanings are in their minds and not directly observable, thus they can’t be studied scientifically. Yet, if realists are correct and science can study unobservable phenomena, then this is no barrier to studying meanings scientifically.. Ultimately, for realists, both natural and social science attempt to explain the causes of events in terms of underlying structures and processes. Although these structures are unobservable , we can work that they exist by observing their effects. Therefore, much of sociology is scientific as, for example, Marxism sees underlying structures such as capitalism producing effects such as poverty, thus realists see little difference between natural sciences and sociology, except that some natural scientists can study under closed systems.


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