The Use of Official Statistics in Sociology: A Critique of Positivism and Ethnomethodology

The Use of Official Statistics in Sociology: A Critique of Positivism and Ethnomethodology

The Use of Official Statistics in Sociology: A Critique of Positivism and Ethnomethodology

The Use of Official Statistics in Sociology: A Critique of Positivism and Ethnomethodology

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1 has identified two types of argument relating to the production of official statistics and their use by social scientists: that concerned with the making and recording of observations and that concerned with the processing and assembling of statistical materials out of observers' reports. These appear to show that official statistics do not and cannot correspond to the structure of 'real-world' objects and events and that they cannot be taken as a more or less reliable account of some real situation. Following a short exposition, I shall argue that these positions must lead to an agnosticism with respect to what Douglas calls 'real-world' objects and to a complete and systematic relativism. These consequences are a necessary effect of their authors' 'positivist' conception of knowledge as founded upon individual experience together with their effective denial of a pre-theoretical observation language by the sociologising of the categories of observation and description.

First, consider the question of observation. Any observer, whether he be a probation officer, census enumerator, sociologist, or whatever, proceeds by making reports on the events, situations, or objects which he has observed. In writing up his report he uses certain features of the observed event to assign the event itself, or certain individual participants thereof, into what appear to be the appropriate categories. In the case of suicide statistics, for example, the coroner or some other official has to decide whether a given corpse is indeed dead and whether it is to be counted as a suicide. He makes his decision on the basis of certain investigations. Or again, a police officer has to decide whether a certain incident falls within the definition of a crime, which of several possible categories of crime it is to be recorded . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.