Wednesday, 14 March 2012

So what is sociology about anyway?


Seriously folks, what is sociology? Trite statements like "the study of society", "human interaction" and "group behaviour" don't cut the mustard. And, so much of it seems to be only slightly advanced from story-telling.

Sociology is the scientific study of society. It is a social science which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity. It focuses on the influence of our relationships around us and how they affect our behaviours and attitudes.

Well that's the definition in wikipedia. The problems however are that sociology appears to have become more focused on qualitative enquiry that on either experiment or quantitative analysis. More insight is gained from work in the consumer behaviour sub-discipline of marketing - mostly because the practitioners want real, solid, empiricism.

So sociology has problems. Here's Fabio Rojas from on the subject:

Politics: As a group, we simply are too far from the average person in political outlook. People write us off as kooks.

By which he probably means that too many sociologists are just too left wing! And more:

We hate math: I’m not talking about statistics, I’m talking about the near absence of formal theory building in sociology. It’s relegated to various small pockets like formal soc psych, math soc, networks, rational choice, etc. The average sociologist doesn’t acquire formal theory as a tool. At a deep level, most insight in social science is not mathematical, but by completely tossing math, we throw out something that is quite useful and brings credibility.

Hence the focus on qualitative and "critical enquiry" and the desperate urge to claim them as equivalent to quantitative analysis and the scientific method.

My problem is that the subject material of sociology is so fragmented that it leaks into economics, politics, urban & human geography, anthropology and what might be dubbed "cultural studies".


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