Sociology as a Science
Nature/Characteristics of Sociology as a Science
What are the reasons to support that Sociology is a Science?
Those who claim/ support that sociology is a science argue that sociology tries to obtain precise and systematic knowledge about social reality. They often state the following reasons to explain the scientific nature of sociology.
Use of Scientific Methods for data/information collection: On one hand, it is true that sociology neither has the laboratory nor can experiment with men directly in a laboratory, but the (human) social behavior is amenable to scientific investigation. But on other hand, the basic methods of scientific investigation such as observation, comparison, questionnaires, interviews, case studies, etc. are readily used by sociologists to employed measure or study social phenomena.
E.g. comparative method can be used even by sociologists to compare two cultural groups. Just like natural scientists, sociologists also use the observation method to find cause-and-effect relationships between social phenomena.
Concept of Lab: All physical sciences do not have laboratory experiments such as Astronomy. The heavenly bodies cannot be put in the laboratory but everybody believes that astronomy is in the subject area of science. This argument leads some social scientists to believe in sociology is a science. For sociology, society is the social laboratory.
Prediction: Natural sciences can predict phenomena occurring naturally in the future. Similarly, a sociologist can predict future social behavior with different social problems and social life.
Cause and Effect Relationship: Just like physical science, Sociology attempts to trace out cause-effect relationships. For example, it tries to trace the relationship between family disorganization and divorce, westernization and divorce, etc.
Scientific Approach to Study: Sociology studies its subject matter scientifically. It tries to classify social relationships and tries to determine the relationship between different facts of social life.
Generalization: Major achievements in natural sciences study is the generalization made or conclusion drawn after the completion of the study. Similarly, the finding related to social aspects can be generalized after research is completed.
The above discussion concludes that Sociology is both empirical and rational. The former is the approach that emphasizes the experiences and experimentation, the basic quality of natural science, and the latter stresses reason and the theories that come from a logical conclusion.
Limitations of Sociology as a Science
The non-supporters of the belief that sociology can’t be regarded as science state the following reasons:
Unreliable Open laboratory concept: Physical science is related to two processes: experiment and prediction. But the subject matter of sociology involves human behavior, human relationship, institutions, and society as a whole that are always changeable and dynamic, unlikely to create universality, in terms of time and space. So, the open laboratory concept is less concrete and reliable.
Lacks Experimentation: Experimentation in human society is ethically less applicable and cannot be applied with rigid scientific formulae and principles. It means that humans are not treated as other creatures with whom experimentation is done without much concern for their life.
Lack of Objectivity: Social relationships are complex phenomena. They are opinions and feelings towards any social event or phenomenon. Considering this subjective nature of individuals, one cannot maintain complete objectivity with the objects of its experiment, as is done by the physical (natural) scientists.
Unpredictability: Human behavior is less predictable since their social lives are influenced externally which does not obey the fixed rules and regulations of natural science.
Lack of generalization: The concept of generalization as applied in nature (i.e. physics or biology or chemistry) cannot be applied in the case of social science because the findings from sociology are limited from time to time and from society to society. E.g. in natural science, the generalization that gravity acts everywhere can be generalized while in social science, the generalization that urban residents are less friendly may not hold for every city in the world elsewhere.
Inadequate Terminology: Some argue that sociology does not have clear, concise, and exact terminology. In fact, sociology has not yet developed a set of scientific words. Most of the terms are confusing and ambiguous. Words such as caste, class, religion, customs, etc. are used in a vague sense. The words’ class’ is sometimes replaced with the word ‘caste’. Therefore, there is no consensus among sociologists on the definition of such terms.