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The Science of Sociology

Updated on June 19, 2013

Auguste Comte (1789-1857)

Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte | Source

The name "sociology" coined by Auguste Comte (1789 - 1857), is used to describe the scientific study of the human society and their social interaction.1 Comte, being one of the most influential philosophers of his time, though an in-depth study of human society and their interaction with each other would allow them to better understand the changes in the society. At that time, they were feeling the aftereffects of Napoleon's reign.


THE LAW OF THREE STAGES

Comte observed the changes in society and concluded that societies evolve through three stages. They are the Theological Stage, the Metaphysical or Philosophical Stage, and the Positive or Scientific Stage.

Fetishism: The belief that all inanimate objects have souls.

Polytheism: The belief that a different god (ex. God of fire, god of wind) controlled all natural elements.

Monotheism: The belief that there is only one god that controls all.

The Theological Stage

The Theological Stage refers to the period in which deities were used as an explanation for things that happened. This stage was subdivided into three categories: Fetishism, Polytheism, and Monotheism.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The fire godsWater gods controlled the water aloneVolcanoes were thought to have spirits and at one point, it was the belief that there was a supreme being that was responsible for it.The monotheism stage- the belief in only one god or supreme being.Does the grass have a soul?
The fire gods
The fire gods | Source
Water gods controlled the water alone
Water gods controlled the water alone
Volcanoes were thought to have spirits and at one point, it was the belief that there was a supreme being that was responsible for it.
Volcanoes were thought to have spirits and at one point, it was the belief that there was a supreme being that was responsible for it. | Source
The monotheism stage- the belief in only one god or supreme being.
The monotheism stage- the belief in only one god or supreme being. | Source
Does the grass have a soul?
Does the grass have a soul? | Source
Source

The Metaphysical or Philosophical Stage

In this stage, supernatural beings are no longer accepted as the reason behind the happenings of the world. Instead, mysterious and abstract forces are thought to have the upper hand (ex. Karma, nature).

The Positive or Scientific Stage

This stage is simply the understanding that all areas of life are a science first. It is the belief that everything happens for a reason because of cause and effect. Everything can be discovered and explained through thorough scientific research and analysis.

RESEARCH METHODS

There are many ways to study and assess the different changes in society. This can be done by scientific methods such as the distribution and collection of questionnaires or by observation. There are however, many other methods used by sociologists to gain information.

The Observation Method

The Observation Method takes on two different forms: The Participant Observation and the Non-Participant Observation.

The Participant Observation Method

In this method, the researcher becomes a part of the group being studied. He partakes in all the group's activities and adapts their lifestyle. In this way, he is able to fully understand and assess the group. He will gain more information from the group than he would if he were not a member. He will be able to study practices of the group that may be hidden from an outsider.

This method has its drawbacks, however. By being part of the group, the researcher must keep in mind that he is there for research purposes. If he loses himself in his study group and begin thinking and the way they think, it might prove a bias on his results, especially if the group is being compared to a control group.

Conducting a Participant Observation by becoming one of the subjects (a dog walker)
Conducting a Participant Observation by becoming one of the subjects (a dog walker) | Source

The Non-Participant Observation Method

The researcher may also choose to go about his research by means of a Non-Participant Observation Method. By using this method, the researcher distances himself from the sample. For example, while a researcher using the participant observation method would join his sample at the factory and engage in the same work they do. One using a Non-Participant Observation Method would merely observe and assess the factory workers. This method is not entirely reliable, as the sample would behave differently while an outsider is in their presence.

A Non-Participant Observation on a group of teenagers
A Non-Participant Observation on a group of teenagers

Many sociologists, while not disapproving of the Participant and the Non-Participant Observation Methods, prefer the use of scientific methods when doing a research. This natural science method of research suggests that all data collected and analyzed be subjected to a structured and unbiased view. Positivists, for example, see the society as merely going through a cause and effect cycle. They think human behavior can be measured and weighed in the same way as matter.

Some sociologists use resources such as questionnaires and structured interviews to gain reliable information that can be assessed and analyzed in a scientific way.

1Henry L. Tishler, (2004)

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