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A2 - Social Perspectives

1) Positivist sociology

Comte argued that sociology should be based upon the same methods as natural science. He said that if we can find “facts” about society we could then identify a cause and effect relationships and laws in society.

Durkheim said that social facts, institutions, beliefs and values of society, should be treated the same way as the objects and processes of the scientific world. He said these social facts can be objectively measured, quantified and statistically analysed, and from these methods correlational and causational relationships can be draw, leading to scientific theories and explanations of society. So Durkheim said society can be measured in the same way as the natural world.

Durkheim based his beliefs upon his research in suicide. He found that suicide rates differ hugely in different cultures; therefore something in society must be causing this, not just psychological differences. He also found a link between suicide and other social facts such as religion and location. To find these links between various social facts and suicide he used a scientific method and eventually created a “real law” about society, Durkheim said that this shows that using scientific methods in sociology is appropriate.

Popper said we need to take the approach of falsifying our findings in sociology. This means trying to disprove our theory with data rather than looking for evidence to prove a theory. Sociologists before Popper such as Durkheim would have used an inductive approach, however Popper’s theory of falsification supports a deductive approach, whereby you look for data and then create a theory.

Poppers work actually suggests sociology isn’t a science as, unlike in closed systems such as laboratory experiments, it is very difficult to falsify in society due to the number of variables that can’t be controlled.

Kuhn said science is based in paradigms, set ideas and values that scientific research is based within. For example the view that the world was flat was a paradigm. Kuhn says that science only moves forward in ‘scientific revolutions’, where one paradigm is replaced with another. So discovering the world wasn’t flat was a paradigm shift.

Kuhn says that sociology can’t be a science because there are a range of different sociological perspectives, or different paradigms. There is little evidence that these different paradigms will join as one and therefor sociology cannot be called a science, after all Kuhn says science has one paradigm that shifts.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


2 thoughts on “1) Positivist sociology

  1. Hello! Lovely blog, great starting points for revision, though it would be helpful if you could name the sociologists/theorists with their full name first before using their last names.

    Posted by tardis slipper | September 29, 2012, 8:09 am
  2. Your blog’s so helpful. All the information is clearly set out and easy to read. You’re better than my teacher!

    Posted by husjh | June 11, 2013, 9:36 am

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