Key Problems of Sociological Theory

By John Rex | Go to book overview

II
EMPIRICIST SOCIOLOGY

I N the first chapter we were concerned with general methodological problems and considered various models of scientific method drawn from the natural sciences. We are now in a position to consider some of the types of social research which predominate at present and to consider whether they could not be more profitably pursued if the sociological investigator had a clearer conception of the subject-matter and the aim of sociloogical research.

One cannot help being reminded in the consideration of much contemporary social research of the remark of Merton's to the effect that most sociologists could be divided into two classes, firstly those who said, 'I don't know whether what I am saying is true, but at least it is significant' and, secondly, those who said 'I don't know whether what I am saying is significant, but at least it is true'. In this chapter we will be concerned with sociological research of the second class.

What strikes one at once about most of the social research which one reads about today is the absence of any clear and specifically sociological frame of reference guiding the formulation of hypotheses. To a large extent the situation appears to be very much the same as that of which Durkheim wrote on the first page of The Rules of Sociological Method,

the designation 'social' is used with little precision. It is currently employed for practically all phenomena generally diffused within a society, however small their social interest. But, on this basis there are, as it were, no human events that may not be called social. Each individual drinks, sleeps, eats, reasons; and it is to society's interest that these functions should be exercised in an

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