Essay-style Questions: Science

  1. Evaluate the ways in which scientific thinking and methods have influenced sociological research.

    (Marks available: 20)


    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 1


    You need to briefly relate scientific thinking to the enlightenment and modernity - the idea of showing something to be true rather than simply claiming something is true.

    Sociology as a discipline is associated with explaining modern society and to a certain extent originally based upon the ideas of the natural sciences.


    1. Origins of Sociology are closely associated with the ideas of natural science.
    2. Comte considered Sociology the science of society. Positivists argue that Sociology could and should use the methods of the natural sciences.
    3. The scientific method has been very powerful in terms of understanding the natural world. Key concepts are: reliability, replication, objectivity, causation and control. This was a strong influence because of its effectiveness in the natural sciences.
    4. The quantitative research tradition in Sociology adapts the traditional scientific techniques and applies them to social research. This is plain in research methods such as the survey and techniques such as structured questionnaires.
    5. However, Sociologists have also considered that traditional scientific techniques are totally unsuited to the study of human social behaviour and to that extent scientific thinking and methods have been rejected by many sociologists who prefer qualitative research methods.
    6. People are too different from the subjects of natural scientific research. So many of the advantages of the scientific method are not applicable to the traditional scientific approach - for example, replication and control.


    Generally, the methods of traditional science have either been radically adapted by sociologists so that they can still be used - the comparative method, structured questionnaires, or totally rejected - interpretive Sociology.

    Scientific research has been important in generating debate in Sociology as to how data can be collected.

    As already stated, Sociology emerged as a critique of modern society and as a way of studying such societies. Consequently, the scientific method was the method that Sociology originally sought to emulate. So one way another - either in acceptance or rejection - the method of the natural sciences has had a profound affect on Sociology.

    In a wider sense of the term 'science', systematic, methodological data collection and the search for causal relationships and showing rather than claiming things to be 'true', Sociology is clearly a scientific discipline.

    (Marks available: 20)