POSITIVISM IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES In the 1900s emerged the scientific paradigm of positivism, wherein researchers participate in the

community of study in order to gather data, and to write according to what they see—in an objective, detached manner (Denzin and Lincoln, 2003). Positivism suggests that societies can be studied in a scientific manner like that of the natural sciences (Babbie, 2001) as the social world follows the same organized, linear and observable laws as the natural world (Baldus, 1990). Stace (1944: 215) attempts to operationalize the definition of positivism:

“A set of words purporting to express a factual proposition P is significant only if it is possible to deduce or infer from it….some propositions (at least one) Q, the truth or falsity of which it would be logically possible to verify by direct observation. If no such directly observable deductions from P are possible…P is not really a proposition”

Positivism in this essence requires direct observation of phenomena in order to prove a hypothesis. Failure to achieve direct observation renders the hypothesis invalid. Stace (1944) however qualified this statement and added that since some facts are not directly observable and we cannot reject their truthfulness, direct observation cannot be considered as a must, but indirect or partial observation qualifies to determine the truth. Positivism requires observation and rejects abstraction. A hypothesis then for positivism can only be proven through experiential and experimental observation. There is no room for speculations and unexamined assumptions that are not proven by observation. Abbagnano (1967) discusses three forms of positivism: the social positivism of SaintSimon (which later influenced the works of Auguste Comte) which says that the scientific man through the destruction of theological and metaphysical doctrines had freed himself from the shackles of the Middle Ages and is now free to reunite and organize itself according to a new system and hence humans are evolving; evolutionary positivism which supports social positivism but forwards that progress is in a biological and physical sphere; and lastly, critical positivism, which states that facts are “… relatively stable groups of sensations connected to and dependent on each other.” Critical positivism posits that science is the only tool that humans can use to be able to confront the numerous sensations he encounters to be able to survive; the purpose of science to

Max Weber (1949) contends that the social sciences cannot be absolutely value. time and geographical locations whereas there is a certain degree of constancy and universalism when it comes to the objects of research in the natural sciences.free research. Weber (1949) points out. results derived from experimentation or observation are not consistent over time and space. that the researcher can no longer pull himself apart from the perspective of the community. The positivism of the natural sciences looks for generalizations and laws— uniformity and consistency—that cannot be achieved in the study of human relationships. however. the methods used to derive these results are sometimes unrepeatable. though.” He debunks Nietzsche’s (1982) perspectivist stance— . that he can no longer see the whole picture.free. He differentiates the social scientist from the natural scientist. it is the isolated and impartial empirical investigation of social phenomena. The positivist approach also does not allow for metaphysical contemplation. because apathy is not the same as objectivity. according to Weber (1949) for a researcher to arrive at a rational understanding of any phenomena if not for a “… logical and historically-defined standard of value… beyond individual sentiment. In addition. Positivism’s demand for scientific evidence and the detachment of the researcher from the research in order to avoid input of abstracted information is an aim towards an objective truth—a value.humans is as such— to help it to survive by helping it adapt. What do we exactly mean if we say value.free? It is not. It is impossible. Results may vary over cultures. It is therefore to function as an ‘objective’ science—objective in the sense that it should be observed from a certain distance. because in the gathering and investigation of phenomena a researcher must be able to be objective but the formation of systems in a society can never be value-free. This level of familiarity with the participants should not extend so much. People are dynamic and animate. the same as value-indifference. This brand of positivistic natural sciences is not entirely applicable to the social sciences due to the differences in their focus and goals of research. saying that social scientists must take into account the meanings that actors attribute to their interactions when considering connections (Weber 1949). Instead. Momin (1972) clarifies. Social science research should be value-neutral. and not by giving it faculties for speculation or contemplation. or his own perspective for that matter. assumptions which are based from abstraction or logic and not from scientific experience. like pulling oneself out from the picture in order to see the picture. however. Unlike in the natural sciences.

as he differs from the common man by his ability to understand and explain what he sees around him. because in doing so are throwing away their human potentials—. the very nature of social science research requires the researcher to make sense of different phenomena via interpretation. One such writer is Alvin Gouldner (as cited in Chriss. experience which actually separates the social scientist from the average person and thus distinguishes the work of a social scientist from one who is not. and thus in the process devalue our participants. . Several critiques emerged as a reaction to Weber’s methods of sociological research. However.keeper. even ourselves. As researchers seeing the etic perspective. then does this not mean that his interpretation is prejudiced at some point and therefore unreliable? In the social sciences. and speculative imagination…” all for the sake of an unverified speculation that objective science is the best science. If the researcher cannot separate himself from the object of research. social science can be viewed objectively and the researcher can proceed to be objective in data gathering and interpretation. we hold certain ethical standards because as interpreters of data we have the power to mislead our readers. Such a dispassionate framework only puts to waste the knowledge drawn from experience of a social scientist. we may ask. “their playful impulses. their unverified hunches. 1976). because the insider’s view of his/her actions may be in discrepancy of the outsider’s judgment of the insider’s actions. It is against the ethical researcher to disregard the emic perspective and unwise even to do so. Weber (1949) countered this by saying that once a particular end or value has been established. but a record. there is what we call the emic (insider) and the etic (outsider) perspective. A researcher in the positivistic field is not an interpreter. to objectivity. 1999) who lamented over social scientists’ blind devotion to positivism. and not act as a mere recorder. The whole interpretation of research in the social sciences must then adhere in relation to its participants. and these two points of view may collide (Harris. to quote. value-free science is absurd because it requires rationality but throws away the worth of experience. Positivism requires the researcher to record data as it is and not tamper the objectivity by interpreting it. As Gouldner (1962) says. therefore mixing subjectivity into the research which allegedly dilutes the reliability of the data.that the interpretation of data involves unavoidable bias and selective observation from the point of view of the researcher because the researcher could only see so much.

Absolute objectivity in the natural sciences is possible only because they deal with inanimate objects and living beings which are not as complex as humans. which could be wrong. positivism becomes a problem in social science especially in research primarily because it is not possible to separate experience from research. that in order not to taint social research with our own biased interpretations. without being involved. . the very cause and effect of it.In dealing with the society at hand. In general. then.acquainted with the participants to be able to provide ‘solutions’ or in the least explanations for their problems. from the very circle from which it wants to enact change and progress? For the social sciences to be adapting a value-free methodology is in support of the anomic status quo which the discipline must be solving. but value-free social sciences washes its hands from the responsibility of dealing with the problems of society because it cannot possibly know the nature of its problems. What is the consequence of such an action? As social scientists we are expected to address the problems of humanity through the study of humanity. The very impersonality of an objective social science delegates the members of society to that of an object as the natural sciences tend to treat their study. This is the same with treating social science as value free. because the study of human beings requires the social scientist to be well. To do so would be apathetic. How indeed can the social sciences be of any particular help to the plight of the people if it chooses to separate itself from the very beings that it wishes to support. rigid scientific methods cannot work because the researcher needs to be in a certain level of immersion in the society or the community to be able to understand and thus interpret. We cannot of course reject the assertion of Weber in ‘defense’ of objective research. The aura of the dispassionate and the detached is the prevailing social condition during those times. and so. Weber (1949) says that when teaching.free social science is just that: maintaining the status quo. An impersonal social science can never yield solutions to personal problems. sociologists should avoid indoctrinating students with their own perspectives and judgments and instead teach them the facts. Elbridge Sibley (1971) sums the problem in her statement: "sociologists are simultaneously charged with irresponsibility in standing aloof from the struggles for social justice and with serving assiduously as handmaidens of the forces of social injustice. we should take care not to insist on our own beliefs. according to Gouldner (1971) the proposition of such a value. in order to deliver the truth.” Positivism entails value. if we take it from Weber.free social sciences. then.

Instead. N. it is profitable for a researcher to hold in check these biases not from distancing himself from his participants but by gaining a more thorough understanding of them through an interactive. humans are not governed by an easily-distinguishable and irrefutable universal law. 414-419).). . REFERENCES: 1. two. we need a great deal of experience to be able to decide for ourselves the best course of going about in a research.We can say therefore that it is not altogether possible to be very objective in social research because of the nature of the study of human beings does not deal with constant entities like that in the natural sciences. Edwards (Ed. We are not saying that because the social sciences is not value-free. Abbagnano. (1967). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. Likewise. 6. it is excusable for a researcher to exaggerate or input his prejudice in a research. As opposed to the natural sciences. and therefore it is unwise for a researcher to assume that since Society A is X then Society B is also X. In P.way communication. Not all knowledge is acquired through formal education. and therefore a researcher as opposed to a layman has knowledge and experience enough to hold his prejudices from rendering his research invalid. New York: Macmillan. Positivism. Hence not all phenomena can be explained by rigid science because some beliefs are entirely unscientific. It requires a certain degree of awareness of the plight of the people because there are many angles and many reasons to explain a single phenomenon. The social sciences is still a science. but also from tradition. Since we are dealing with complex and multidimensional beings. a biased social science is not also what we are aiming for.

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