Sociology Today; Problems and Prospects

By Robert K. Merton; Leonard Broom et al. | Go to book overview

2 1
Problems in Methodology

PAUL F. LAZARSFELD

Columbia University


The Scope of Methodology

Tired social scientists and hostile outsiders sometimes ask: what has social research all added up to in the last fifty years? Is there any sociological finding that has not been anticipated by philosophers or novelists? The answer has to be qualified. True, it is unlikely that any surprising "discoveries" will be made for quite some time to come. But it is this very fact that forces the modern social scientist toward his main tasks: parsimonious organization of knowledge through systematic theory, and development of empirical methods to gauge how much regularity there is in the social world, to find the conditions under which these myriad proverbs, aperçus, and visions are true.

If coherence and precision are among the main objectives of the contemporary sociologist, then the very nature of his work involves decisions as to the direction of efforts, the selection of topics, the merit of procedures themselves. Sociologists are supposed to convert the vast and ever-shifting web of social relations into an understandable system

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1
Work on this paper was in part supported by a Ford Foundation Grant to Columbia University for the study of advanced training in social research. I am indebted to Dr. Patricia Kendall for much editorial help.

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