Table of Contents
Facts and theory
The relationship between theory and fact is not simple. Most people’s understanding of this connection makes things more confusing than they are clear. Most people think of them as complete rivals. People often mix up theory and speculation, but theory is just speculation until it can be proven. When this proof is found, the theory will turn into a fact. People think that facts are definite, sure, and unquestionable, and that their meaning is clear.
People think that science has nothing to do with anything but facts. Philosophers should be the ones to talk about theory. So, people think that scientific theory is just a collection of all the facts we know about a certain subject.
But if we look at how scientists actually do their study, two things become clear: 1. Theory and fact are not polar opposites, but are inextricably linked.
2. The theory isn’t just a guess.
3. Scientists care a lot about both their theories and the facts.
A fact is a statement that can be checked through experience. A theory is the link between facts or the way facts are put together in a way that makes sense. Science facts are based on observations that aren’t just random but also make sense, or are “theoretically relevant.” So, we can’t think of facts and theories as being at odds with each other. Instead, they are linked in a lot of different ways. The way science moves forward can be seen as a steady back and forth between theory and fact.
Theory is a tool of science because: 1. It tells us what the main goal of a science is by telling us what kinds of facts we need to collect.
2. It gives a way of thinking about things that helps to organise, classify, and show how things are linked.
3. It summarises facts into empirical generalisations and systems of generalisations. 4. It predicts facts. 5. It shows us where our knowledge is lacking.
On the other hand, facts also help theories in the following ways:
1. Facts help come up with theory.
2. They change the way theories are put together.
3. They cause theory that don’t fit the facts to be thrown out.
4. They change what theory is about and how it works.
5. They explain and change theories.
Theories and facts are not two separate things. Most people think that theory and facts are at odds with each other because theory is just guesswork, but what scientists do shows that facts and theories help each other. New facts and theories show that science is getting better. Theories that summarise, classify, predict, point out, and explain facts give them their most important meaning.
Theories may guide the scientific process, but facts are also very important to the growth of theories. New and odd facts could lead to new theory. If we make new observations, we may have to throw out and rewrite our theory or change how we think about them. Concepts that seemed to have clear meanings are made clearer by the facts about them. Sociologists must take on the duties of scientists, who must be able to see facts in theories and theories in facts. This is harder than making philosophical guesses about reality or gathering shallow facts, but it is the best way to get to the scientific truth about how people act.
With all of these problems, it’s hard to say that Sociology is a good study. Some sociologists, like Max Weber, have questioned whether Sociology could ever be a good study. He says that physical and nature reality are not the same thing as social reality. So, the subjects of physical and natural sciences are not the same as those of social sciences.
The social sciences study human behaviour, which is led by meanings and reasons. Any attempt to study human behaviour would be incomplete if it didn’t take these meanings and reasons into account. So, Weber doesn’t think that positive science methods alone are enough to study how people act in society. He says that they need to be paired with other methods that are especially useful in the social sciences, such as the Verstehen approach and the theoryl type.
Also, the limits that come up when studying social phenomena are part of the field of Sociology itself and do not. Even sciences that have been around for a long time, like physics, have had problems like this because of the way the subject matter works. For example, when we study the behaviour of subatomic particles, we lose the exactness of microphysics, and sometimes we can’t even predict what will happen, as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle shows. Sociology is a science because it meets the basic requirements of a science: it has a point of view, a general agreement about the subject, and a set of tools to study the subject. It may not be a positive science, but it is definitely a social science.
“Value objectivity and objectivity” in scientific research is seen in two ways.
One says that science and researchers can be value-free and the other says that they can’t be. Weber agrees with the first one. He thinks that a researcher can be free of bias if he keeps his personal life and work life separate. Gouldner, on the other hand, thinks that “value-free science is a myth, even though it would be nice.” Manheim says, “Value-free research is a good goal that social scientists can work towards, but they don’t have to think they’ll reach it.” This is possible if the social scientist is careful about the problem he or she chooses to study and reports what he or she finds, i.e., follows the facts wherever they lead, no matter how much he or she or the person reading the research may like or dislike the conclusions.
The word “value” here has nothing to do with money. Value is an abstract, generalised rule of behaviour that shows up in the real world in the form of social norms that people in a group feel very strongly about. “Scientific inquiry/investigation shows the facts as they are. A scientist has a moral responsibility to give results without any biases or prejudices. A scientist does research because they are curious, want to create theories, and are interested in change.
• According to Mills and Wordsworth: 1) Objectivity is impossible; 2) Some point of view or value judgement is needed to solve social problems; 3) Our socialisation is based on values that guide our thinking and actions; 4) Being honest about bias or personal beliefs is safer than pretending to have no values; and 5) Social sciences are normative.
They should not only study what it is, but also think about what it should be.
• Radical critics say that behind a mask of objectivity and objectivity, some social scientists use their study skills to help the funding agencies’ goals. Frederichs has even said that these scientists with no morals have supported racism, militarism, and other kinds of oppression.
• But some scholars, like Horton and Bouma, say that sociological study has been widely tainted in this way, even to the point of supporting oppression. This is something that can be debated.
• Becker has said that it is undeniable that bias and politics are problems in all research and that the results of research are often helpful to some people but harmful to others.
Sociology as a value-free science
Sociology is the study of how people behave in groups. Values determine how people act in groups. So, if value is important, the study of social behaviour can never be value-free. Sociology sees freedom as a lack of values because the values of the society being studied are part of the social facts that need to be studied. Also, social study is a type of social behaviour in and of itself, and it is guided by the value of the search for truth. Then, what does it mean, as Max Weber made clear? Value-free sociology means that a sociologist must stick to a set of rules called “value relevance” when doing social study. So, values can be interpreted in three ways: philologically, ethically, and rationally. At the philological level, values are interpreted in terms of history and culture. At the ethical level, values are interpreted in terms of how something should be treated. At the rational level, sociologists try to find a meaningful relationship between events by looking at their causes. The point of value interpretation is used to figure out what the goal of an action is.
Sociologists should avoid putting their own values into their study. It means that he shouldn’t base his study on theory that aren’t based on science. He shouldn’t judge the facts based on how they make him feel. Value judgements should stay out of what sociologists are trained to do. He should be clear about what his own values are and not try to push other people’s values on them. Value objectivity lets social scientists do the most important part of scientific inquiry, which is to find the truth.
So, since sociology is a study, it tries to be value-free. Alvin Gouldner says that the value-free principle did give sociology more freedom so that it could work regularly on basic problems instead of reacting like a journalist to random events. It also gave sociology more freedom to look into things that neither the respectable nor the rebellious were interested in. It gave sociology more freedom, which is what Comte had wanted, so that it could look into all of its own theoretical implications. Value free principle did help the business get smarter and become more independent.Value-free doctrine gave sociologists more freedom from moral compulsions and helped them escape some of the rules of their local or native society. Effective internalisation of the value-free principle has always pushed sociologists to at least temporarily stop the moralising instincts that their society has built into them. In a strange way, the value-free theory could help men make better value judgements instead of none at all. It could lead to a way of thinking that could help guys tell the difference between their urges to punish and their moral feelings.
In reality, though, it has been very hard to reach this goal of value balance. At different points in sociological study, values creep in. Gunnar Myrdal says that total value objectivity is not possible. ‘Chaos does not organise itself into cosmos. We need view points.’ So, in order to do social research, you need points of view, which form the ground of hypotheses and allow social scientists to gather empirical data. These points of view include values and also how the theory is made. So, a sociologist must be honest about his or her values and should make the values that went into choosing the topic of the study or coming up with the hypothesis clear and obvious at the very beginning of the study. The value-free philosophy can help both people who want to leave the world and people who want to join it. They think that sociology is a way to get ahead in the world because it gives them objective skills that can be sold to anyone. Some people think that the fact that sociologists don’t think it’s their job to decide what’s right or wrong means that they can sell their skills to anyone. Even though they knew what current cancer research meant, some sociologists didn’t think twice about doing market research to help sell more cigarettes. Gouldner says that from Weber’s point of view, the value-free theory is an attempt to compromise two of the most important theory in western thought—reason and faith—but that his arbitration is meant to protect the romantic part of modern man. Weber, like Freud, never really thought there would be a lasting peace or an end to this war. He tried to stop the fighting by separating the two sides and letting each one be in charge of different parts of life.
Problems of objectivity
1. The goal of science research is to be as objective as possible. Sociology, which is also a study, has the same goal of being objective. Objectivity is a way of thinking that keeps social scientists from letting their own biases, tastes, or preferences get in the way of how they gather and analyse data. So, scientific research should not be affected by biases based on race, colour, gender, sex, or ideology.
2. All of the most important sociologists have talked about how important it is for sociological study to be objective. In his Rules of the Sociological Method, for example, Durkheim said that social facts should be treated like things and that all theory about social facts should be thrown out. Even Max Weber pointed out the importance of objectivity when he said that sociology should be free of values. Radcliff Brown says that when a social scientist does study, he must let go of or get over his ethnocentric and egocentric biases. In the same way, Malinowski promoted cultural tolerance while doing fieldwork in anthropology so that he could be fair.
On the other hand, objectivity is still hard to achieve in real life. In fact, Gunnar Myrdal stands for a school of thought that says total objectivity is a myth that can never be reached. Because all study is based on different points of view, and all points of view are subjective.Myrdal said the main points of view should be made clear. He also thought that subjectivity crept into sociological study at different points. Merton thinks that the choice of a topic is based on the researcher’s personal tastes and political beliefs.
4. Aside from personal tastes, the choice of a study topic is also affected by the ideologies that a person has picked up during their education and training. As the study of the Tepostalan village in Mexico shows, ideological biases can have a big effect on social science. Robert Redfield looked at it from a functionalist point of view and found that everyone in the village gets along perfectly. Oscar Lewis looked at the same village at almost the same time from a Marxist point of view and found that the society was full of problems. When theories are made, there can also be a bit of subjectivity. Hypotheses are usually based on what is already known. Sociological theories are made by and only apply to certain groups, whose theory and goals they reflect. So, when hypotheses are made, they automatically add a bias to sociological study. The collection of empirical data is the third step in study where subjectivity can creep in. No method of collecting data is perfect. In one way or another, each method can lead to bias. In the case of participant observation, the watcher gets a bias in favour of the group he is studying because of nativization. In non-participant observation, if the sociologist is a member of a different group than the one being studied, he is likely to put his own values and biases on the group being studied.
5. There are prejudices in every society that affect how study is done. When interviews are used as a method, the data may be affected by the context of the interview, how the interviewees connect with each other, and how the interviewees see the situation. If the interviewees don’t have a good relationship with each other, they may have trouble communicating. So, P.V. Young says that interviews can sometimes be subjective. Lastly, it can affect the limits of the field. Andre Beteille’s study of Sripuram village in Tanjore showed that the Brahmins wouldn’t let him go to the area where unclean people lived so he couldn’t ask them what they thought.
So, the goal of complete objectivity is still hard to reach. In the study monograph, the researcher should say which value he thinks is most important. Research workers should have a lot of training and skills. Research should use different ways to gather data, and the results from each method should be checked against each other. In the study monograph, field limits must be made clear.
Sociology As Interpretative Discipline
Sociology that is based on positivism tends to think that society can almost totally change the way its members act through socialisation. Some sociologists, on the other hand, think that the above view is an overly socialised view of man. They don’t agree with the theory that a person is just a small version of society.
According to them, each person’s unique experience is shaped by his or her identity and the worldview that is passed down through society. Also, they point out that people change all the time, and they see the positivist method as an attempt to make people into passive beings. But these sociologists haven’t completely rejected the positivist approach. Instead, they think it’s not good enough and want to add to it with new methods that look for new data. These sociologists think that their field is more like writing than the natural sciences because they try to find patterns of meaning in the things they observe.
But these critics of the positivist method don’t all agree on everything. One thing that all of these critics have in common is that they stress how important underlying meanings are to understanding social behaviour. Other than that, these critics have a lot in common.
On one end, there are anti-positivist approaches like those of ethnomethodologists, and on the other, there are reasonable critics of positivism like Max Weber, whose approach tries to build a bridge between the extreme positivist approach and the extreme form of interactionism.Weber says that geist, or consciousness, is what makes social fact what it is. People give meaning to the things around them, including other people, because they have awareness. These meanings affect how people act afterward.So, if you want to understand social reality, you have to think about these meanings and reasons. The meanings that people give to these things are partly based on community norms and partly on the personal experiences of the people involved.
So, if you want to understand social behaviour, you shouldn’t just watch it from the outside. Instead, you should try to figure out what it means and why. For this to work, a new way needs to be found for the viewer and the actor to connect on an empathic level. Empathic liaison is when the spectator tries to put himself in the place of the actor. The sociologist should try to figure out what the character meant and why he or she did what they did. He then tries to figure out why the actor did what he did based on these meanings and reasons. This is the heart of what MaxWeber meant by the “Verstehen Approach.”
Other interpretive sociologists, called “Symbolic Interactionists,” are happy to work with a fairly simple set of assumptions about how we learn about social events. They take the meanings that people give to social events at face value and use these as the basis for their own systematic readings. The word “symbolic interactionist” is used because meanings, goals, and traits are communicated through symbols. So, knowing how symbols work can help you figure out what the other people in the situation are trying to say. For example, a cross-x could stand for a way that barbarians killed people or a faith movement. Winston Churchill turned the V-sign into a symbol of national ambition. The V-sign means victory. Symbolic interactionism is based on the following theory: 1. The individual and society are seen as intertwined, since a person can only become a human in a social setting.
2. People are thought to act based on the meanings they give to things and events, rather than just responding to external forces like social forces or internal forces like drives.
Meanings aren’t just there from the start; they come up as people talk to each other. Some meanings are made, changed, grown, and changed over time through interactions, rather than being set in stone.
4. Actors interpret the meanings and purposes of others by putting themselves in the shoes of others during interactions. Through the process of self-interaction, people change how they see their situation, practise different ways of interacting, and think about what might happen. These meanings that guide actions come out of interactions through a number of complicated ways of interpreting what is going on.
5. Herbert Blumer’s way of symbolic interactionism says that the sociologist who wants to study a certain area of life must immerse himself in that area. He shouldn’t try to fit facts into categories that have already been set up. Instead, he should try to understand how the actor sees social reality. Since what people do is based on what they think it means, a sociologist must understand how people make sense of their actions. This means that he has to act like the unit whose behaviour he is studying.
Another method in social anthropology that can also be called an explanatory method starts with a description of the meanings that people usually give to social events. Just explaining what these things mean would be the same as doing an anthropological study of the people, which is just a report on their culture. These sociologists want to figure out what’s going on in society as a whole.
So, they have to go beyond trying to figure out what the events mean and try to find patterns and regularities in these meanings that they can use as themes in culture. More patterns and regularities that run through themes can be shown as configurations of themes, which, when taken as a whole, may be seen as the most important parts of a society. Ruth Benedict, a social scientist, describes some American Indian cultures as “Dionysian,” which means they are prone to extreme and frantic states of being, and other cultures as “Apollonian,” which means they are always looking for balance in their behaviour and cultural expressions. She did this by following these traits as they showed up in many different ways in the cultures of the people she studied. All of these interpretations of meaning at different levels of abstraction are based on and driven by the goal of creating concepts that give sociologists a general way to understand how people act and think. Another group of sociologists, called Ethnomethodologists, tries to figure out what makes social relations make sense.
Patterns of behaviour are the result of a generation’s worth of common sense. People have to act in a sensible way for social order to work. So, social interactions must be understood in terms of these common sense meanings. However, for ethnomethodologists, the basic problem of Sociology goes back even further than this. They start with the theory that society only exists to the extent that its members think it does. So it’s important to know how each person sees social reality. But sociologists also have to be interested in how people figure out what social events mean to them. They say that the goal of sociology shouldn’t just be to find and write down the meanings that people give to situations. Instead, it should be to figure out how people come up with those meanings in the first place. Sociologists agree that it’s important to understand how the world looks to the people who live in it, but they say the main focus should be on how people come to see the world the way they do. Some of the most important Ethnomethodologists are Harold Garfinkel and Circourel.Since most meanings are communicated through symbols, sociologists who want to study how people in a society figure out what something means usually pay attention to speech exchanges in which people are trying to figure out what each other is saying.
The focus is on how people figure out what each other means when they are talking to each other in real life. In Circourel’s study of Juvenile Delinquency, for example, he looks at how the police, probation officers, courts, and other groups label young people as juvenile delinquents.
The facts that interpretive sociologists need to back up their analysis are very different from the facts that positivistic sociologists need. So, new forms of information are used, but a lot of the time, interpretative sociologists also use the same methods that positivist sociologists use to collect data. For example, Weber’s study, “The Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism,” was based on official statistical records and historical papers. Direct observation is also used a lot, and it is often paired with a lot of verbatim recording of the players’ conversations. Sometimes, lab methods have also been used, like in the famous experiment by Garfinkel, in which students were asked to take part in an experiment with psychotherapeutic procedures. Interpretive sociologists also use case studies, life histories, personal diaries and letters, and other biographical records to learn about the emotional side of social behaviour.