“It is a ludicrous assertion to call sociology as a science. “
The statement, although harsh and perhaps judgmental, is not without some merit. Sociology is the descriptive and analytical study of the structural aspects of human societies and human interaction. Science, or rather the natural sciences of chemistry, biology and physics, is the study of the physical world.
In can be demonstrated that while scientific study in the natural sciences are more likely to produce repeatedly quantifiable and verifiable data than sociology, there is also evidence to suggest that science is no more immune to subjectivity than sociological study. It can also be shown that in a broad sense, sociology can be called a ‘pseudo-science’.
A major criticism of social theorists and sociological is that it cannot reproduce the same findings consistently and in a controlled way. It can often ambiguous and unpredictable in its findings findings. However, science can also be subjected to many of same criticisms.
Science has the benefit of far older traditions as a discipline than sociology, thus more agreement on the physical laws exists among scientific scholars. Sociology is a very young discipline and is still evolving, so there are varied perspectives and theories within the discipline.
August Comte, (arguably the father of sociology) with his Law of Three Stages, did accurately describe and prove that human knowledge passes through three stages of development: fictive, abstract and positive. This is a concept that can be applied to knowledge gathering across disciplines. Comte’s sociological theories and writings influenced further work by Emile Durkheim and helped to form the Functionalist view of society and human interaction.
Sociology’s major propagators and adherents are both scientific and non-scientific in their perspectives, methodologies and approach to theory, data collection and their analysis and findings of the same. Sociological study uses qualitative as well as quantitative research that consists of sampling, surveys, questionnaires, interviews and observational studies; it also uses thesis and hypothesis, confirmation and refutation.
Sociology also has very specific rules for the formulation of theoretical perspectives—specific questions that must be addressed: How is society organised? How does it function? Why is there social inequality? What causes change in society? Is society based on conflict or consensus? How do individuals interact with society? What is the main purpose of sociological study?
Positivism, or ‘positive science’ as advocated by Comte and Durkheim push for a scientific approach to sociology. This is the use of experiments and systematic observation as the methods for the study of society. This would lead to the development and use of ‘social laws’ similar to the fundamental physical laws. However, most sociologists consider this approach to be naïve as it is impossible to factor oneself out of one’s research. Heinsburg points out that in order to study tiny particles, the light required affects the way the particles behave. So the researcher interjects some subjectivity to his research. Further on the matter of experimentation and quantification, it is not always appropriate or practical to treat society and human interaction in a purely scientific way and study them in laboratories. Human beings are not guinea pigs.
Research, both scientific and sociological is only valid if it produces the kind of results, measures and illustrates what the researcher intended. Sociologists are only required to show and illustrate human interaction and the structure of human societies and add to our knowledge and understanding of them as they are. A major strength of the sociological study is its humanistic view, which often conflicts with ‘hard science’ and its strict classifications. A sociologist, C. Wright Mills said sociology is better practiced with imagination and flexibility, than with the rigid adherence of natural science. Here is increasing support for the view that science could benefit from more imaginative thought.
It is worthy to note, that one of the finest scientific minds Albert Einstein propagated ideas that were imaginative, somewhat biased and unproven—a romantic philosopher if you will. Does that make Einstein ludicrous as scientist, or invalidate his contribution? Many of Einstein’s theories shifted old paradigms used and accepted by scientists up to that point. Although controversial, his work has inspired further scientific study.
In a similar way, social theorists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber whose respective Conflict and Social Action theories shifted previous paradigms within sociology and continue to effect sociological study in the same way that Einstein’s Law of Relativity effected and continues to effect scientific study up to the present.
Scientific law states that given precisely the same conditions, specific factors or elements will interact in the same way every time. This is how natural sciences provide the basis for predicition. However, science in itself has problems being so absolute in it’s reckoning, because it has been said that no hypothesis can be considered finally proven. An experiment can be repeated one thousand times, but can produce a different result on the one thousand and first attempt.
For example, quantum mechanics is a probablistic theory. It is not deterministic in nature. Small quantum particles behave in an apparently random, absurd and unpredictably. Their behaviour occurs at random within a probablistic framework. Would this type of work be considered non-scientific, because it does not follow the rulebook of scientific repetition and verification?
Scientists and thus science are not as objective as we believe. As a community scientists have exhibited a laxity in upholding their own codes of objectivity and empiricism. We view scientists with a kind of awe and take their findings to be absolute when in fact they are human, and subject to the same fallacies, religious, philosophical and cultural prejudices as the rest of humanity. Even well known scientists can possess biases and blind spots.
Although science is as prone to radical shifts in paradigms as any discipline, Western science and scientists are remarkably rigid in its view of anything not classified as natural science. The scientific community has spent several centuries ignoring and invalidating numerous kinds of research into the varied human experience based on their own individual socialisation and regimented worldview—up to and including not reading the material produced by researchers. This kind of group behaviour is certainly worthy of sociological study, and one wonders if it has not already been attempted.
Human beings up to this point in history have been both predictable and unpredictable; it stands to reason that any study of human interaction and society would have an absolute as well as an uncertain or ambiguous nature. The purpose of study, in any discipline, is to discover, to experience and to explain our world, our universe, ourselves.
Sociology, because it studies human collectiveness and human will, must study the abstract nature of these things and their direct effect on our physical world. Sociology must use both scientific and non-scientific methods to discover the truth and to explain why our societies are the way they are. They do not see that scientific methods can be applied wholesale to sociological study, and in fact have developed methodologies to discover the truth that would rarely be used in scientific study.
Sociology has its ‘numbers men’ and its romantic philosophers and every kind of thinker and scholar in between. The subject matter of sociology—that which is being studied—gives it both a scientific body and pseudo-scientific soul. There is evidence to suggest that humans have both a physical body that exists with the framework of natural science and exhibit an intangible ‘soul’ that guides their behaviour individually and collectively. Human beings up to this point in history have been both predictable and unpredictable; it stands to reason that any study of human interaction would have an absolute as well as an uncertain or ambiguous nature. After all human will, individual and collective is an intangible thing, yet our societies are a continued, long established physical manifestation of that will. Science is no more immune to these ‘facts’ than sociology. To suggest that it is, is quite ludicrous.