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What is Science?


Last updated 12 Jun 2020

This is one of the key debates in the study of sociological theory.

The founding fathers of sociology, like Auguste Comte and the original academic sociologists like Emile Durkheim, certainly saw their subject as scientific. These positivists believed that sociology could use scientific methods to establish social facts and prove universal laws, exactly like the natural sciences.

However, interpretivist sociologists argue that sociology is not a science and nor should it attempt to be, as humans have agency and, unlike natural phenomena, will not simply conform to universal laws or predictable patterns and developments.

Whether sociology is a science or not partly depends on the nature of the research methods sociologists use, and also on whether there is an agreed definition of what a science is.

There is not universal agreement about how to define science, but most see it as an organised, systematic and cumulative pursuit of knowledge, generally about the natural world, through the rigorous testing of hypotheses. There is a view that science puts great emphasis on proof and testing and on objectivity. Some argue that science is based on empiricism: gaining knowledge through observing or experiencing something yourself, rather than merely theorising about something.

There is not one single version of the scientific method, but it usually follows a procedure like this:

The scientific method / process
Sociology - Is it a Science?

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