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Positivism and Ethnomethodology: Beliefs Characteristics and Criticisms

Sociology, as a discipline, is diverse, with various paradigms existing to explain the social world. Positivism is one of the most influential paradigms and is often associated with the scientific study of society.

It is based on the belief that social phenomena can be understood using the same methods as those used in natural science. This article provides a detailed overview of the positivist paradigm in sociology, discussing its beliefs, characteristics, and the hypothetico-deductive method.

Furthermore, it delves into the main weaknesses and criticisms of positivism, highlighting their implications on studying the social world.

Positivist Paradigm in Sociology

Beliefs of Positivist Paradigm

The Positivist paradigm in sociology rests on three core beliefs. Firstly, it views sociology as a scientific study that seeks to generate knowledge about the social world by investigating its structures, systems, and processes.

This means that positivist sociology is interested in uncovering universal laws that help to explain social phenomena. Secondly, positivists argue that social reality can be studied in an objective and logical way, similar to the natural world.

In other words, the researcher can remain impartial and neutral throughout their study, and their findings will be independent of their personal bias. Thirdly, the positivist paradigm uses the hypothetico-deductive approach, which is a systematic method of generating and testing hypotheses.

Characteristics of Positivist Paradigm

Positivist sociologists use quantitative data to study the social world. This means that they measure and analyze social phenomena numerically through the use of statistics.

Furthermore, positivists use a closed questionnaire, structured interviews, or experiments to gather data that can be reliably replicated. Additionally, positivist sociology regards social facts as objective phenomena that can be studied independently of the individuals who created them.

Moreover, positivists seek to establish causality, which means that they are interested in the relationship between a cause and an effect within a social phenomenon. Another characteristic of positivism is that it is concerned with social change, as opposed to just describing social phenomena.

Finally, positivist sociology values research detachment, ensuring that the researcher’s personal beliefs do not interfere with the research process.

Hypothetico-Deductive Method

The hypothetico-deductive method involves six stages: observation, conjecture, hypothesis formation, testing, data analysis, and conclusion. At the observation stage, the positivist sociologist observes and records a social phenomenon.

Based on this observation, the sociologist formulates a hypothesis that defines the relationship between two or more variables. They then test their hypothesis by collecting numerical data that can be analyzed statistically.

After data analysis, the conclusions can be drawn, and the hypothesis confirmed or rejected. If the hypothesis is confirmed, universal laws that explain social phenomena can be formulated.

Weaknesses of Positivism

Critique of Positivism by Verstehen

Verstehen is a critique of positivism that posits that human behavior is not just objective but also subjective. In other words, individuals have personal experiences, emotions, and beliefs that significantly influence their actions, which positivists cannot account for.

Verstehen argues that positivism fails to recognize the social context of behavior, which is crucial for a complete understanding of social phenomena. Furthermore, it asserts that the desire for social change cannot be achieved through the study of social structures alone, without considering the human dimension.

Critique of Positivism by Max Weber

Max Weber, another prominent critique of positivism, argued that cultural factors play a big role in human behavior. According to Weber, individuals create their own meaning, rather than it being an objective reality.

This means that researchers’ cultural biases can reflect their findings, rendering them subjective. Weber’s critique suggests that the positivist paradigm is inappropriate because it assumes that social phenomena can be understood independent of the cultural context.

He further argues that social research needs to account for the cultural factors to be objective.

Other Criticisms of Positivism

Apart from Verstehen and Weber’s criticisms, other arguments question the validity of positivist sociology. For example, some scholars argue that there can be no objectivity in social sciences because raw data is interpreted by the researcher, which is subjective.

Furthermore, positivism has failed to produce universal laws, making it difficult to predict social phenomena. Additionally, critics have argued that positivist methods cannot be applied to the study of human society because human beings’ behavior is not uniform or predictable.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the positivist paradigm in sociology is concerned with the scientific study of society using the hypothetico-deductive method, objective, and logical. Its use of quantitative data, closed questionnaire, structured interviews, and experiments have elevated it in the field of social research.

However, criticisms, such as the human dimension, cultural influence and subjectivity, have rendered positivism as inadequate in understanding human society.Ethnomethodology is a sociological theory that emerged in the 1960s and challenges the assumptions of the positivist paradigm. It is interested in how people create and sustain their reality through shared meanings and patterns of social interaction.

This article provides a detailed overview of ethnomethodology, discussing its beliefs, characteristics, and its criticisms.

Ethnomethodology

Beliefs of Ethnomethodology

Ethnomethodology is founded on two fundamental beliefs. Firstly, it holds that human behavior cannot be explained by causal laws, but rather by the meaning individuals give to their actions.

There is no objective reality, but rather a socially constructed one that individuals make sense of through their interactions. Secondly, ethnomethodology argues that society does not determine individuals’ actions.

Rather, society is created through individuals’ ongoing meaning-making practices that maintain order and stability. In this sense, society involves an active process of creating, sustaining, and modifying the world of everyday life.

Ethnomethodology focuses on the analysis of rules, norms, and practices that underlie social interaction. Instead of constructing models or testing hypotheses, ethnomethodologists study the routines, conventions, and taken-for-granted practices that people use in their everyday lives.

This approach results in the investigation of the socially shared understandings, assumptions, and explanations that people use to make sense of and navigate their social world.

Characteristics of Ethnomethodology

One key characteristic of ethnomethodology is its use of the techniques of participant observation and conversation analysis. Ethnomethodologists engage in close observation of real-life social situations to identify and describe the rules and practices that individuals use to make sense of the world.

They use the data collected through these methods to analyze the communicative features of interaction, such as the use of language, gestures, and facial expressions. Another key feature of ethnomethodology is its emphasis on the normalness of social interaction.

Ethnomethodologists argue that individuals take the social world for granted and, therefore, do not engage in conscious reflection of their actions. Hence, they take implicit meaning as obvious and, therefore, do not require explanation.

Ethnomethodology’s concern is not with the extraordinary, but rather its focus on everyday social interactions. Ethnomethodology is also notable for its method of ‘breaching experiments’ which are experiments designed to disturb and disrupt normal social interactions in order to reveal the implicit beliefs and norms that people take for granted in everyday life.

For example, a breach experiment could involve an ethnomethodologist sitting silently in a lecture theatre, drawing attention to the silent and implicit rules of listening and engagement that are necessary for communication and interaction.

Criticisms of Ethnomethodology

Some scholars have criticized ethnomethodology for lacking a clear research focus and structure. Ethnomethodology is often accused of being too concerned with the empirical observation of social situations and not providing a clear theoretical framework for analysis.

Furthermore, the emphasis on the everyday leaves out the analysis of larger social structures and power relations that underlie social interactions. Another criticism of ethnomethodology is its neglect of inquiry into subjective accounts and experiences of social interaction.

Ethnomethodology places an emphasis on the observable aspects of social interaction, but it fails to account for the subjective experience of individuals. In other words, emotional responses and interpretations of the social world by individuals are neglected in the methodological approach.

Furthermore, some scholars have criticized ethnomethodology for its focus on the micro-interactions that occur in everyday life, which can miss the bigger picture of social phenomena. Critics argue that the focus on everyday life is not enough to understand broader social issues such as economic inequality.

Conclusion

In conclusion, ethnomethodology is a sociological theory that places an emphasis on the everyday practices that individuals use to create and sustain their social reality. Its focus on the analysis of rules, norms, and practices that underlie social interaction provides an alternative to the causal explanations of human behavior proposed by positivism.

Ethnomethodology’s emphasis on the normalness of social interaction and breaching experiments are among its unique characteristics that have been criticized as inadequate in explaining broader social issues. However, ethnomethodology’s valuable insights into the implicit assumptions and beliefs that people hold in everyday life provide a valuable insight into how people create meaning and navigate their social world.

In summary, this article provided a comprehensive overview of two significant sociological paradigms, positivism, and ethnomethodology, highlighting their beliefs, characteristics, and criticisms. While positivism emphasizes the scientific study of society and the hypothetico-deductive method, ethnomethodology posits that social reality is created and sustained through shared meanings and patterns of social interaction.

Both paradigms have their strengths and weaknesses, and we hope this article has provided useful insights for readers wishing to understand the complexities of sociology. FAQs:

1.

What is positivism?

Positivism is a sociological paradigm that posits that social phenomena can be understood using the same methods as those used in natural science.

2. What are the beliefs of positivism?

Positivism believes in the scientific study of society, objectivity and logic, and the hypothetico-deductive method. 3.

What are the characteristics of positivism? Positivism characteristics include quantitative data, closed questionnaire, structured interviews, experiments, social facts, cause and effect, research detachment, and a desire for social change.

4. What is ethnomethodology?

Ethnomethodology is a sociological theory that emerged in the 1960s and challenges the assumptions of the positivist paradigm. It is interested in how people create and sustain their reality through shared meanings and patterns of social interaction.

5. What are the beliefs of ethnomethodology?

Ethnomethodology believes that individuals give meaning to their actions, and society is created by individuals’ ongoing meaning-making practices that maintain order and stability. 6.

What are the characteristics of ethnomethodology? Ethnomethodology uses participant observation and conversation analysis, emphasizes the normalness of social interaction, and uses breaching experiments.

7. What are the criticisms of positivism and ethnomethodology?

Positivism has been criticized for its inability to account for cultural and subjective factors in human behavior, while ethnomethodology has been criticized for not providing a clear theoretical framework and neglecting inquiry into subjective accounts of social interaction.

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