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The Meanings of Methodology



Are sociology and related social sciences real science?

Where is science in social science?

Research methodology is what makes social science scientific A question for which there are multiple answers does not mean that anything goes; it means that social researchers choose from alternative approaches to science.

.Each side claims that the frame of thought they promote provides a means for acquiring knowledge about social phenomena, and each regards the efforts of the other as at best misguidedThey differ on what phenomena should be attended to, how one is to approach phenomena and how the phenomena are to be analyzed. (Carl Couch 1987: 106)


Until the early 1800s, only philosophers and religious scholars studied or wrote about human behavior. Classical theorists: argued that the social world could be studied using science.

They contended that rigorous, systematic observation of the social world, combined with careful, logical thinking, could provide a new and valuable type of knowledge about human relations. What does such a science look like, and how it is conducted?

Some people went to the already accepted natural sciences and copied their methods. Argument: the legitimacy of the natural sciences rests on the scientific method, so social scientists should adopt the same method. Many researchers accepted this answer, but it poses certain difficulties.

First, there is a debate over what science means, even in natural sciences. Second, some scholars say that human beings are qualitatively different from the object of study in the natural sciences. The unique human characteristics mean a special science is needed to study the social life of people.

The three approaches in the chapter are based on a major reevaluation of social science that began in the 1960s. The three alternatives to social science are the core ideas distilled from many specific arguments. The approaches are different ways of looking at the world---ways to observe, measure and understand social reality.


Positivist social science is used widely and positivism broadly defined, is the approach of natural sciences. It arose from the a nineteenth-century school of thought by the Frenchman who founded sociologyAuguste Comte. Comtes major works in six volumes outlined many principles of positivism still used today.

Varieties of positivism go by names such as logical empiricism, the accepted or conventional view, postpositivism, naturalism, the covering law model and behaviorism. It is also associated with many specific social theories. Best known is its linkage to the structural-functional, rational choice and exchange-theory framework.

Positivist researchers prefer precise quantitative data and often use experiments, surveys and statistics. They seek rigorous, exact measures and objective research, and they test their hypotheses by carefully analyzing numbers from the measures. Positivism says that there is only one logic of science to which any intellectual activity aspiring to the title of science must conform (Keat and Urry, 1975: 25).

In this view, differences between the natural and social sciences are due to the immaturity or youth of the social sciences and their subject matter. Eventually, all sciences including social sciences will be like the most advanced science, physics. Differences among the sciences may exist as to their subject matter but all sciences share a common set of principles and logic.

Positivism sees social science as an organized method for combining deductive logic with precise empirical observations of individual behavior in order to discover and confirm a set of probabilistic causal laws that can be used to predict general patterns of human activity.


Interpretive social science can be traced to German sociologist Max Weber and German philosopher Wilhem Dilthey. In his major work Introduction to the Human Sciences, Dilthey argued that there were two fundamentally different types of science: Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft.

The former is based on Erklarung or abstract explanation while the latter is rooted in an empathetic understanding, or Verstehen of the everyday lived experience of people in specific historical settings. Weber argued that social science needed to study meaningful social action, or social action with a purpose.

Interpretive social science is related to hermeneutics, a theory of meaning that originated in the nineteenthcentury. It emphasizes a detailed reading or examination of text, which could refer to a conversation, written words or pictures.

A researcher conducts a reading to discover meanings embedded within text.

Interpretive researchers often use participant observation and field research. Other ISS researchers analyze transcript of conversations or study videotapes of behavior in extraordinary detail, looking for subtle non-verbal communication, to understand details of interactions in their context.

The interpretive approach adopts a practical orientation. It is concerned with how ordinary people manage their practical affairs in everyday life, or how they get things done. The interpretive approach is the systematic analysis of socially meaningful action through the direct detailed observations of people in natural settings in order to arrive at understandings and interpretations of how people create and maintain their social worlds.


Versions of this approach are called dialectical materialism, class analysis and structuralism.

This can be traced to Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and was elaborated on by Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse.

ISS criticizes positivism for failing to deal with the meanings of real people and their capacity to feel and think. It also believes positivism ignores the social context and antihumanist. CSS agrees with these criticisms of positivism and also believes that positivism defends the status quo.
Critical researchers criticize the interpretive approach for being too subjective and relativist.

CSS defines social science as a critical process of inquiry that goes beyond surface illusions to uncover the real structures in the material world in order to help people change and build a better world for themselves.


Why should one conduct social scientific research? What is the fundamental nature of social reality?

What is the basic nature of human beings?

What is the relationship between science and common sense?

What constitutes an explanation or theory of social reality? How does one determine whether an explanation is true or false?

What does good evidence or factual information look like?

Where do social/political value enter into science?


PSS: To discover natural laws so people can predict and control events. ISS: To understand and describe meaningful social action. CSS: To smash and empower people to change society radically.


PSS: Stable preexisting patters or order that can be discovered. ISS: Fluid definition of a situation created by human interaction. CSS: Conflict filled and governed by hidden underlying structures.


PSS: Self-interested and rational individuals who are shaped by external forces.

ISS: Social beings who create meaning and who constantly make sense of their worlds.
CSS: Creative, adaptive people with unrealized potential, trapped by illusion and exploitation.


PSS: Clearly distinct from and less valid than science. ISS: Powerful everyday theories used by ordinary people. CSS: False beliefs that hide power and objective conditions.


PSS: A logical, deductive system of interconnected definitions, axioms and laws.

ISS: A description of how a groups meaning system is generated and sustained.

CSS: A critique that reveals true conditions and helps people see the way to a better world.


PSS: Is logically connected to laws and based on facts. ISS: Resonates or feels right to those who are being studied. CSS: Supplies people with tools needed to change the world.

PSS: Is based on precise observations that others can repeat. ISS: Is embedded in the context of fluid social interactions. CSS: Is informed by a theory that unveils illusions.


PSS: Science is value-free, and values have no place except when choosing a topic.

ISS: Values are an integral part of social life; no groups values are wrong, only different.
CSS: All science must begin with a value position; some positions are right, some are wrong.


All are empirical

All are systematic

All are theoretical

All are public

All are self-reflective

All are open-end processes


- Advocacy of feminist-value position and perspective. - Rejection of sexism in assumptions, concepts and research questions. - Creation of emphatic connections between the researcher and those that he or she studies. - Sensitivity to hoe relations of gender and power permeate all spheres of social life.

- Incorporation of the researchers personal feelings and experiences into the research process. - Flexibility in choosing research techniques and crossing between academic fields. - Recognition of emotional and mutual-dependence dimensions in human experience. - Action oriented research that seeks to facilitate personal and societal change.


- Rejection of all ideologies and organized belief systems, including all social theory. - Strong reliance on intuition, imagination, personal experience and emotion. - Sense of meaninglessness and pessimism, belief that the world will never improve. - Extreme subjectivity in which there is no distinction between the mental and the external world.

- Ardent relativism in which there are infinite interpretations, none superior to another. - Espousal of diversity, chaos and complexity that is constantly changing. - Rejection of studying the past or different places since only here and now is relevant. - Belief that causality cannot be studied because life is too complex. - Assertion that research can never truly represent in the social world.


1. There is no single, absolute/correct approach to social science research. 2. It means that what you try to accomplish when you do research will vary with the approach you choose. 3. The various techniques used in social research are ultimately based on the assumptions of the different approaches.