Sociology and Science – Some Key Terms

 

  • Bias – where someone’s personal, subjective feelings or thoughts affect one’s judgement.
  • Falsification – where scientists attempt to design experiments to disprove a hypothesis rather to prove a hypothesis correct.
  • Generalisability – the extent to which research findings can be applied to other (similar) cases
  • Hawthorne effect – where respondents alter their behaviour because they know they are being observed. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of overt laboratory and field experiments.
  • Hypothesis – a theory or explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. A hypothesis will typically take the form of a testable statement about the effect which one or more independent variables will have on the dependent variable.
  • Hypothetico-Deductive Model – a method of gaining knowledge by proposing a hypothesis and then doing experiments to obtain observable data which can then be used to either affirm or reject and reformulate the hypothesis.
  • Objective knowledge – knowledge which is free of the biases, opinions and values of the researcher, it reflects what is really ‘out there’ in the social world
  • Realism – The view that sociology can be scientific in the way in which ‘open systems’ sciences such as meteorology are scientific, but not scientific in the way in which ‘closed systems’ sciences such as physics or chemistry can be scientific:
  • Social Facts – according to Emile Durkheim, these are forces which exist externally to the individual and constrain that individual, such as language.
  • Socially constructed – Interpretivists argue that official statistics are socially constructed – that is they are the result of the subjective decisions made by the people who collect them rather than reflecting the objective underlying reality of social life. For example Crime Statistics do not reflect the actual crime rate, only those activities which are defined as crimes by the people who notice them and who then go on to report those activities to the police.
  • Subjective knowledge – knowledge based purely on the opinions of the individual, reflecting their values and biases, their point of view. See also ‘objective knowledge’.
  • The Scientific Method – see the Hypothetico deductive model
  • Value Freedom – where a researcher’s personal opinions, beliefs and feelings are kept out the research process so that data collected is not influenced by the personal biases of the researcher.
  • Verstehen – a German word meaning to ‘understand in a deep way’ – in order to achieve ‘Verstehen’ a researcher aims to understand another person’s experience by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes.
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