Sociology Overview: The Method of Sociology

Sociology in part is the scientific study of human interaction. It can properly be referred to as a scientific study because the scientific method is used in searching for and accumulating knowledge in this particular field of inquiry.

Since sociology is a scientific study and since sociologists use the scientific method of investigation, you may still wonder whether sociology is a science, in the same sense that chemistry and physics are sciences. The answer is in the affirmative.

Some would raise objections to this answer. They would say that sociologists have not yet developed measuring devices as efficient as those employed in the physical sciences and have therefore not been able to reduce their findings to very precise quantitative terms. Consequently, they would say, sociology has not been brought to a point where it can properly be called a science. Sociologists themselves agree that because chemistry and physics evolved long before sociology, the physical scientists have had more time to perfect their methods of investigation and to add to their respective bodies of knowledge. But those same sociologists are likely to insist that sociology is a science nevertheless. How so?

The chemist or physicist is a physical scientist; the sociologist is a social scientist. But these designations refer only to their respective areas of investigation and particular bodies of data. Both are scientists, making use of the scientific approach and the scientific method. Leslie White (1949, pp. 1-6), an anthropologist, contributes some highly stimulating thinking on this subject. The word "science," he says, should be thought of as a verb. An investigator "sciences." She/He "deals with experience according to certain assumptions and with certain techniques." Psychology is what psychologists do, according to this conception. This, White (1949, pp. 1-6) declares, is just as valid a definition as that psychology is the study of mind, or of behavior. The basic assumptions that the psychologist uses are also those of the chemist or biologist. "We must ...view science as a way of behaving, as a way of interpreting reality, rather than as an entity in itself, as segment of that reality" (While, 1949, pp. 1-6).

Applying White's (1949, pp. 1-6) thinking, sociologists are scientists. They engage in "sciencing."

However, we need not think of "science" as being exclusively a verb. It may also be a noun. The sociologist "sciences," but the product of her/his sciencing is a body of knowledge we call "sociology," a social science.

What is this use of the scientific method? It includes the utilization of concepts, theory, and research. These are inextricably bound together.