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Scientific Status of Sociology

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Is Sociology a Science? A Classroom Exercise for Promoting Discussion*

Royce A. Singleton, Jr. College of the Holy Cross

*I wish to thank Dave Hummon for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, 1998. © 2005 Royce A. Singleton, Jr.

Is Sociology a Science? A Classroom Exercise for Promoting Discussion

Abstract Though sociology was founded on the idea that the social order is subject to scientific study, the “science” question remains controversial. By learning about this controversy, students can learn much about the discipline. This paper describes an exercise, together with data collected from six classes, that asks students to project their personal images of scientists and social scientists. These images invariably contain half-truths and misconceptions that can be used to address three related questions: (1) What is science? (2) How is sociology scientific? and (3) What are the major challenges to sociology as a science? I draw upon my own students’ responses to show how the exercise can generate a wide-ranging discussion of these issues.

Is Sociology a Science? A Classroom Exercise for Promoting Discussion The question of whether sociology is a science has a long history in the discipline. It was addressed by virtually all the classical social theorists. But for some time the debate about the scientific status of sociology was muted. In the post-World War II period up to the early 1960s, quantitative methods were ascendant and theorists and methodologists alike embraced sociology as a positivist endeavor. Since then, however, a sharp division has arisen “between those who are committed to sociology as a science and those who remain skeptical and critical of such pretensions” (Turner and Turner, 1990:7). Examples of this split are…...

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