The challenge of distinguishing between what is scientific and what is not scientific is referred to as the demarcation problem. Several...
Is sociology a science?
The challenge of distinguishing between what is scientific and what is not scientific is referred to as the demarcation problem. Several demarcation criteria have been proposed to make this distinction, but the most influential was offered by a philosopher of science named Karl Popper.
Popper proposed that the distinction between a scientific theory and one that is not is that a scientific theory must be falsifiable. This means that there should be some condition which, if it were found to be true, would prove the theory wrong. For example, the statement “all house bricks sink in water” is falsified in the instance that we are able to observe a brick floating in a pool. In the absence of this observation however, the statement could form a part of our best available scientific theory of brick behaviour.
Applying this test to the field of sociology can produce a variety of results. For example, rational choice explanations of crime can be tested; if it can be demonstrated that criminals are generally ‘irrational’ in their decisions to commit crimes (all things being equal) then this theory can be proven wrong. On the other hand, there are approaches to sociology which are impossible to falsify, either because they place subjectivity at the heart of their analysis or because they are inherently normative in nature (that is, they are more concerned with how society should be rather than explaining how it is). The majority of approaches to sociology fall into this latter category, and so, on balance, it can be argued that sociology is not a science.