I. The Sociological Perspective
A. Sociology as science
1. The problem of human variability: Sociologists use the scientific method like
other scientists, but the phenomena that we study - human beings - pose special
challenges to the researcher. Human behavior is not as predictable as atoms,
comets, flowers, or rats. Hence, there are no "laws" of human behavior, as there are
laws of physics, because human social patterns change and vary. Conducting
controlled experiments in sociology is complicated by the complexity of human
social behavior. The number of variables that a researcher has to "control for"
make it difficult to compare groups across different settings.
2. The problem of human subjectivity: The other challenge is that when humans
study humans, their findings can be biased by the researchers' personal values and
prejudices. There are ways of controlling bias, but no sociologist can be
completely objective about their subject matter. Subjectivity can be an asset in
research, since researchers share biology, psychology, and culture with their
subjects, all of which help researchers to understand what their subjects are doing
and thinking. The sociologist is as much an artist as a scientist, who (like all good
scientists) must possess intuition, imagination and curiosity.
B. Sociology is not common sense; seeing the forest from the trees
1. In American culture, the conventional wisdom is that behavior is caused by
individual motivations and decisions, which is true but incomplete.
a) the sociological perspective holds that individual decisions are bounded and
constrained by social limits, or what Emile Durkheim called "social facts."