Sociologists have been divided on the issue of whether or not sociology is a science for as long as anyone remembers. It is a very controversial topic in sociology, due to the number of conflicting views about what it is to be scientific and according to the definitions of what is scientific, whether sociology can be categorised as a science.
Durkheim and Compte, positivist’s believed that sociological studies should be based on the same logic and methods as natural science; they stated that this would create a “positive science society” and would allow us to discover laws of human behaviour, similar to the way scientists discovered the laws of gravity. Positivists believe that human behaviour, like that of a plant is influenced by external factors, that society shapes us and therefore that these factors can be isolated, controlled and measured. Durkheim believed that he had done just this when he had studied suicide, isolated the factor of being isolated as the cause of suicide.
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Popper was a famous philosopher of science, and he agreed with some of the positivist’s theories, claiming that indeed sociology could be a science. He said that natural sciences are scientific because they use the hypothetico-deductive approach, and look at evidence which may disprove their theory, as well as enforce it, he then went on to say that if sociologist could look at conflicting, as well as supporting evidence when trying to prove their theories, then indeed sociology could be considered scientific.
Popper disagrees that human behaviour is only a product of outside stimuli, and so he is not a positivist, he simply agrees that sociology can be classed as scientific but in order to do so, studies must be conducted so that a hypothesis can be enforced or falsified. Popper argued that Marxism wasn’t a scientific approach, because when its theory of a revolution failed but come true, they simply pushed its coming further into the future, instead of admitting the original hypothesis was untrue, therefore they prevented any possibility that the original theory had been false because they simply adapted it.
Realists also believe that sociology is scientific, and claim that there is not much difference between sociological studies and natural science investigations. They held this view because like natural science investigations, sociology tries to explain the causes of behaviour in terms of underlying causes, which are not visible in everyday life.
Sayer focussed on the fact that in all areas of science there were “open” and “closed” systems, for example in some situations, a lab can be used where variables can be controlled, but also in areas such as meteorology, experiments cannot always be fully controlled, he argued that sociology faced the same problem, studying issues which were relevant but complex, like meteorologists, sociologists had to deal with the fact that there may be “other” influences, but this does not mean that the studies they do are not scientific.
Both study hidden causes of things relevant to their field, in ways that can be seen as scientific. The realist definition of science is “Being scientific involves explaining behaviour in terms of underlying structures, mechanisms and processes. ” They believe that natural scientists and sociologists do, therefore sociology should be classed as a science.